Bernardo Silva scored twice as in-form Manchester City capitalised on Chelsea's defeat to West Ham by beating Watford 3-1 at Vicarage Road to move top of the Premier League table.
City have now won their past 14 games against Watford and this latest victory wasn't in doubt from the moment Raheem Sterling headed home just four minutes in, scoring against the Hornets for the sixth match in a row.
Aymeric Laporte had already seen a shot cleared off the line by that point and Jack Grealish missed a series of good chances teed up by Phil Foden before the brilliant Bernardo Silva slotted in (31) to double the advantage.
After the break, Silva cut in on his left foot to bend a beauty into the top corner (63) for his fifth goal in five league games, while Foden and Grealish hit the woodwork in a dominant display from the reigning champions.
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Half-time sub Cucho Hernandez did pull one back for Watford (74), following up his own shot against the far post, and Josh King pinged his low cross just wide moments later but City regained control to see out the final stages and make it five Premier League wins on the spin.
Claudio Ranieri hadn't lost to City in his previous nine matches as a manager against them but after losing six of his first eight games in charge at Watford, this comprehensive defeat underlined the big task he has on his hands to lift them away from danger. Watford remain 17th, three points above the relegation zone, although their fixture list now becomes easier.
At the other end of the table, City are at the summit for the first time this season, one point ahead of Liverpool and two clear of Chelsea.
Watford: Bachmann (7), Femenia (6), Ekong (5), Cathcart (5), Rose (4), Louza (5), Joao Pedro (6), Sissoko (6), Cleverley (5), Dennis (6), King (5)
Subs: Hernandez (8), Kucka (6), Ngakia (N/A)
Man City: Ederson (7), Walker (7), Dias (7), Laporte (6), Cancelo (7), Gundogan (8), Rodri (7), Bernardo Silva (8), Sterling (8), Grealish (6), Foden (8)
Subs: Mahrez (6), De Bruyne (6), Jesus (6)
Man of the match: Raheem Sterling (Man City)
How it happened...
As well as their remarkable record over Watford, City arrived at Vicarage Road with a replenished squad and almost took the lead inside two minutes, when Aymeric Laporte - back from suspension - headed fit-again Foden's corner goalwards, but Joao Pedro hooked off the line.
But there was no protection for Daniel Bachmann in the Watford goal when unmarked Sterling met Foden's cross from the left to put City ahead moments later to keep up his scoring streak against the Hornets.
City - and Foden in particular - were pulling Watford apart but Jack Grealish spurned two more good chances created by his team-mate with barely 11 minutes on the clock.
Watford eventually managed to get something of a foothold, with Emmanuel Dennis shooting from a tight angle, but a deflected effort from City's £100m man almost caught out Bachmann and Grealish then shot over as the visitors reasserted their authority.
- Watford made one change from the side which started against Chelsea and that’s a forced one, with Danny Rose replacing the injured Adam Masina, as he did in that game.
- Pep Guardiola made five changes to the Man City side which beat Aston Villa in midweek, with Kyle Walker, Ilkay Gundogan, Jack Grealish, and Phil Foden all back from injury, while Aymeric Laporte returned from suspension.
- Oleksandr Zinchenko, Nathan Ake, Fernandinho, Riyad Mahrez, and Gabriel Jesus came out of the City side.
Silva eventually added the deserved second after playing in Ilkay Gundogan and pouncing on the loose ball after his team-mate's shot was saved.
Watford made two substitutions at half-time, with Cucho Hernandez and Juraj Kucka sent on, but Bachmann was soon back in action, saving from Sterling before pushing a Foden shot onto the post and out for a corner.
Gundogan shot over after instigating a swift counter, but Bernardo was inch-perfect with his finish into the top corner for City's third, bending a sweet left-foot effort beyond Bachmann from just inside the box.
A wicked deflection on a Grealish shot looped the ball onto the Watford woodwork again soon after but against the run of play it was Watford to hit the net next, with Hernandez taking matters into his own hands, blasting against the far post before converting the rebound.
The sub then fired in a low cross which was steered just wide of the near post by Joshua King as the Watford fans dreamed of a dramatic comeback. But City regained the upper hand and Kevin De Bruyne almost marked his return to fitness with a fine curling effort, but his strike drifted just over.
City's statement had been made though - and observers in Liverpool and west London will know they will now take some stopping.
Analysis: Reigning champions looking so strong
Sky Sports' Peter Smith at Vicarage Road:
"Watford were better in the second half but this was an ominous performance from Man City, as far as their title rivals are concerned.
"They've hit top spot in the Premier League, they have their best players back fit and available, and they have a handy run of games before playing Arsenal and Chelsea at the start of January.
"If they keep playing like this, they won't give Liverpool and Chelsea much chance to strike back before the calendar year is out.
"We seem set for a thrilling three-way title race and the leading trio have all had surprising slip-ups at times, which adds to the excitement - but City are in pole position now."
What the managers said...
Watford boss, Claudio Ranieri: "I'm satisfied because I'm thinking, we played three matches against big teams and we got three points. If someone said at the beginning 'Claudio, you'll have three points at the end of Man City', I'm happy. I know City was difficult because they move the ball quickly, with a lot of skill.
"At the beginning we pressed higher because we wanted to produce the same match against Chelsea. The second half losing 2-0 I said 'OK, try to do something more', I changed the system and we did better but we left a lot of chances to them. But it's difficult to defend against these men!
"Now we start a new Premier League for us. This month will tell us what we can do in the future."
Man City boss, Pep Guardiola: "Another good performance, and we continue the level we have done these last two months, three more points and now to Germany. Today one team dropped points, next week it can be us, it can be Liverpool. Now comes the toughest part of the season with many games. We're going to try to continue at this level, in this rhythm.
"Everyone is back, it doesn't matter who plays, playing a good level, consistent and winning games but in football everything can go down in one second. I'm more than pleased with what the guys have done in a tough period… we keep going with this rhythm."
Opta stats - City win at Watford again
- Manchester City are unbeaten across their last 19 meetings with Watford in all competitions (W17 D2), netting 62 goals in this run. They've only ever had a longer unbeaten run once before against a specific side - 22 games against Norwich from 1965-1981.
- Watford have failed to keep a clean sheet in any of their last 25 Premier League matches, the longest run of any side in the competition since Burnley's 29-game run between November 2009 and August 2014.
- Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has won all 10 of his managerial meetings with Watford in all competitions by an aggregate score of 42-4, his best 100% winning record against any side.
- Watford have conceded 41 goals in 13 games against Manchester City in the Premier League, the most they have conceded against any single side in the competition. The 3.2 goals per game that they have conceded in this fixture is the most by one side against another among all fixtures played at least 10 times.
- Bernardo Silva has scored six goals in his last eight Premier League appearances for Manchester City - one more than in his previous 61 games in the competition (5). He has scored more Premier League goals against Watford (5) than he has versus any other club.
- Phil Foden has scored 21 goals and assisted a further 15 in all competitions for Manchester City since the start of last season - his 36 total goals & assists are three more than any other player for the club over this period.
- Manchester City's Raheem Sterling has scored 11 goals in all competitions against Watford, his joint-best tally in his professional career, also scoring 11 goals against Bournemouth. Sterling has scored four goals in his last six games for Manchester City, which is one more goal than he'd netted in his previous 33 matches.
- Kyle Walker has now won 100 of his 130 Premier League appearances for Manchester City, in addition to winning 102 games in the competition with Tottenham Hotspur. Walker is just the third player to win 100+ Premier League games with two different sides after Ashley Cole (140 with Chelsea, 100 with Arsenal) and Phil Neville (175 with Man Utd, 105 with Everton).
Watford travel to Brentford on Friday Night Football, while City face RB Leipzig in their final Champions League group-stage clash on Tuesday (5.45pm), before hosting Wolves in the league on Saturday December 11 (12.30pm).