Manchester City showed no mercy in thrashing a troubled Aston Villa 6-1 on Super Sunday as Sergio Aguero's hat-trick made him the top non-English scorer in Premier League history.
Villa were as woeful as City were devastating in the first half as the champions went in 4-0 up; Riyad Mahrez struck low at the near post for the opener (18), and then pounced on debutant Danny Drinkwater's mistake for the second (24).
Aguero struck finely into the top corner from the edge of the box (28), and it was four just before the break as Kevin De Bruyne's world-class cross found Gabriel Jesus at the back post (45+1),
Just before the hour mark Aguero scored his record-breaking 176th Premier League goal with a slotted finish from 10 yards (57), and his 177th came from another lapse in the Villa defence (81). Villa scored a late consolation through Anwar El-Ghazi's penalty (90+1).
The result means City have won nine of their last 10 in all competitions as they sit second, still 14 points behind Liverpool, who have a game in hand. Villa are now 18th and a point behind Watford after their 3-0 win at Bournemouth.
Aston Villa: Nyland (4), Konsa (4), Mings (5), Hause (4), Elmohamady (5), Douglas Luiz (3), Drinkwater (3), Hourihane (4), Taylor (4), Grealish (5), El Ghazi (5)
Subs: Trezeguet (6), Nakamba (5), Lansbury (NA)
Man City: Ederson (7), Stones (7), Cancelo (8), Rodrigo (7), Fernandinho (7), Mendy (7), De Bruyne (8), David Silva (8), Mahrez (9), Jesus (7), Aguero (10)
Subs: Otamendi (6), Foden (6), Gundogan (5)
Man of the match: Sergio Aguero
How City steamrollered sorry Villa
Jesus and Aguero were starting together for just the 11th time in the Premier League, and the first time since September 2018.
But even more unfamiliar was the sight of Drinkwater, making only his second Premier League appearance since March 2018, and it showed in the first half as the on-loan Chelsea midfielder played an unfortunate part in City's first two goals.
He was flimsy in the challenge to allow Mahrez to drift into the box and beat Orjan Nyland with a low effort at the near post, before dwelling too long in the penalty area as City stole in before Mahrez smashed home from close range.
It was 3-0 shortly after as Aguero struck into the top left corner from 20 yards through the gloves of Nyland, their third goal in just 11 minutes.
The fourth, just before half-time, was more down to City's magic, and in particular De Bruyne. The Belgian whipped a beauty across the face of goal from the right, evading Villa's defence, but finding Jesus at the far post to tuck home.
City didn't slow down after the break, going 5-0 up as David Silva slipped in Aguero to tuck home low into the right corner for his record-breaking 176th Premier League goal.
Jesus wanted in on the act again, seeing a goal-bound effort cleared off the line brilliantly by Tyrone Mings, and then blazing over in space at close range.
The big news for City saw Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero both start for Manchester City for the first time since September 2018. Meanwhile, Ederson returned from suspension and John Stones made his first league start since December 7.
Dean Smith mades five changes from their last Premier League encounter; two of them enforced with Wesley and Tom Heaton out for the season. There was a Villa debut for Danny Drinkwater, who had played only once in the Premier League since March 2018. Ahmed Elmohamady, Conor Hourihane and Anwar El Ghazi were also given starting berths.
And his strike partner Aguero completed his hat-trick with nine minutes remaining, fed by Mahrez as Kourtney Hause sloppily game away possession, and firing past Nyland at his near post.
Ederson may have left the only City player disappointed, as his clean sheet was thrown away through Ilkay Gundogan's late tackle on Trezeguet in the box. El Ghazi stepped up, slotting home well to the left.
With Liverpool seemingly out of reach, this game was more about confidence for Pep Guardiola's City, and it came in abundance. In stark contrast, Villa looked bereft of belief, and face a vital last few weeks of the January transfer window as they look to make up for their injuries.
What the managers said
Aston Villa boss Dean Smith: "It was a chastening experience, that's for sure. We know they are a top-class team, but some of the goals we conceded were dreadful. The three players who scored for City are worth more than my whole squad. But we shouldn't be sitting here, losing 6-1, and be happy with ourselves. We're not, we're embarrassed by some of the goals we conceded.
"I'm not going to make excuses with the injuries; there are players out there who have earned the right to be Premier League footballers. Scorelines like that are very difficult to take. But playing Man City and Liverpool aren't going to define our season. We've got three games coming up against teams around us."
Man City boss Pep Guardiola: "Chasing down Liverpool? Forget about it. We would have liked to fight against them, but we could not. For many reasons, we could not.
"Tonight we go to sleep, finally after a long time, second in the table, and we are close to qualifying for the Champions League next season."
'Mistake to play Drinkwater'
After a while out of action, it wasn't the best of debuts for Danny Drinkwater; Graeme Souness felt he shouldn't have played, but his manager Dean Smith insists he will eventually make Villa better.
Souness: "I think it was a mistake to play him. Some players need five or six games, some need 10 games. There is no way he can be fit from just being in the gym. Playing City is one of the hardest games you can face as you're going to be without the ball for long periods.
"He never laid a finger on anyone - but he wasn't alone. Dean Smith left him on to give him a good 75 minutes and hopefully that will get closer to match fitness. But he wasn't ready for that kind of game today."
Smith: "I thought he started quite brightly; he's made an error for their second goal, but we made the error by trying to run the ball out from the back. He needed that game today, and he's got 75 minutes under his belt, and will get better.
"Danny Drinkwater will make us a better team."
Manchester City striker Aguero was hailed as a "legend" after setting a new record for the most Premier League goals by an overseas player, and the most hat-tricks in Premier League history.
Guardiola: "He (Aguero) is a legend and the legend rose tonight. I think that Henry is one of the most incredible players I have seen in this league and I think that he will be proud that Sergio is the guy that broke his record. He was a legend and with Sergio it's the same."
Aguero: "I'm so happy for the record. But I thank my team-mates because they helped me this year. I'm so happy. I want to keep scoring more goals, but it all depends on my team-mates. If they pass to me, then it's fine."
But is he the best forward Guardiola has managed? Not quite...
Guardiola: "The best is Messi."
Sky Sports' Nick Wright...
'Sergio Aguero turned 31 during the summer. This is his ninth season at Manchester City and with Gabriel Jesus - one of the finest young strikers in the game - in the most prolific form of his career, he has never faced stiffer competition for his place in the side.
'And yet, at a time when he should be beginning to slow down, a time when his heir apparent should finally be stepping into his shoes, Aguero just keeps getting better.'
Sublime City - the best stats
- Sergio Aguero scored his 12th Premier League hat-trick, making him the outright record holder for hat-tricks in the history of the competition, one ahead of Alan Shearer on 11.
- In all competitions, Man City's Kevin De Bruyne has assisted 15 goals this season - five more than any other Premier League player.
- Manchester City's Riyad Mahrez is the only Premier League player to both score and assist 20 goals since the start of last season in all competitions (21 goals, 23 assists).
- Gabriel Jesus has started 76 matches for Manchester City in all competitions - he has been directly involved in 71 goals in those matches (54 goals, 17 assists).
Villa now go to Brighton in the Premier League on Saturday at 3pm, while Manchester City host Crystal Palace at the same time.