Manchester City returned to second in the Premier League table with a comfortable 3-1 victory against Southampton at St Mary's to book a titanic title clash with league leaders Liverpool on Thursday, January 3.
The Champions were ruthless to score two quickfire goals on the stroke of half-time as a James Ward-Prowse own goal and a Sergio Aguero header firmly put City in the ascendancy before the break.
It was a cruel blow to the Saints who levelled proceedings with a stunning strike from their captain Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg to cancel out David Silva's early opener.
The victory ended a miserable run of form that saw Pep Guardiola's side earn their first win in three league outings to leapfrog Tottenham Hotspur in second.
It leaves them trailing table toppers and the leagues only unbeaten outfit Liverpool by seven points as the two English heavyweights prepare to go to war in four days time.
Meanwhile, it was back-to-back home defeats for Ralph Hasenhüttl and his team whose afternoon was further dampened by the sending off of Hojbjerg following a horrific challenge on Fernandinho.
Story of the match
Hasenhüttl handed a Premier League debut to Kanye Ramsey after making six changes to the team that was defeated at home to West Ham. The teenager became the youngest league debutant of the season at just 18 years and 81 days.
Guardiola was boosted by the returns of the irreplaceable midfield duo of Fernandinho and David SIiva whilst right-back Kyle Walker was frustrated to another league outing sat on the substitutes bench with Danilo yet again coming in on the right..
City began with their early possession game as the out-of-form champions looked to assert a stronghold on the game. Alex McCarthy denied the visitors an early lead with a fine save against the returning Silva.
The Saints had a glorious opportunity to score when Charlie Austin was played clean through and gaping goalbound. The Englishman lacked composure as his heavy touch spilt the ball into the path of Ederson who collected with ease.
Silva returns to open the scoring
The visitors were ruthless after an early let off and within seconds of Austins missed opportunity City found themselves one up. A devastating counter-attack allowed Riyad Mahrez to exploit a gap between the Saints backline gifting Bernado Silva space on the byline before teeing the ball back expertly to his fellow Silva who made no mistake in firing the opening goal.
The Citizens counter-attacking ability was oleaginous in class and Mahrez spurned a fine City move that started from the ever so composed Ederson.
The Brazilian goalkeeper's dexterous array of skills were on show when the City No.1 promptly executed a clever cutback to elude Hojbjerg in ice-cool fashion.
The visitors' dominance in possession failed to frighten a resurgent Southampton attack that came close when Ward-Prowse's delivery to the near post found Austin unmarked and the Englishman's header forced Ederson to make a fine stop.
Two quickfire goals cancel out Hojbjerg stunner
Southampton kept driving at City and their efforts were rewarded with a stunning equaliser. Southampton skipper Hojbjerb mugged the complacent Oleksandr Zinchenko in possession before the Danish midfielder drove at City's back-four to rifle his shot into the roof of the City net to strike a blow to his former Bayern Munich manager Guardiola.
The hosts meant business after levelling the scoring and there was a penalty shout for Hussl's side when Zinchenko was again under the microscope for a challenge on Ward-Prowse but referee Paul Tierney deemed it not a foul.
City may have been sweating after Hojbjerg's stunning effort to level proceedings, but, the visitors showcased why they are champions and quickly regained their advantage despite the run of play.
Another swift counter-attack from Guardiola's side allowed them to release Raheem Sterling down the left channel before the City winger darted through the Southampton defence to pull back a pass that deflected off his England compatriot Ward-Prowse and crashed into the Saints net.
City, like any ruthless predator, began to smell blood and their hunger paid dividends before the break as the Citizens found themselves two goals to the good before half-time when Zinchenko's exquisite delivery found the head of Aguero who ruthlessly tucked his header home past the helpless McCarthy to put the champions in a commanding lead.
The second half began with a familiar dominance of possession from the visitors and they came close to adding a fourth when Sterling played a smart pass back across the box that looked to find Aguero but Matt Targett recovered well to make a crucial block.
The ever so busy McCarthy was present once again to deny Sterling with a smart save. Aguero came close when a quick-thinking free-kick from Fernandinho found the striker with his back to goal. The Argentine forward turned elegantly before thundering a left-footed effort onto the top of the crossbar.
Hero to villain
Guardiola was left frustrated on the sideline when another penalty shout - this time for City was waved away following a tangle in the box between teenager Ramsay and Sterling.
The young debutant was chasing the England international who was plunging towards the Southampton goal and attempted to force a challenge that saw Sterling hit the deck, but, a spot-kick was quickly waved away by Tierney.
McCarthy proved to be a shining light for the hosts in the face of a rampant City force. The Saints No.1 was at it yet again to deny the visitors a fourth this time halting Mahrez with another smart stop.
A miserable afternoon for Hasenhüttl's side was finally rounded off when Saints goalscorer went from hero to villain. Hojbjerg's grotesque tackle on Fernandinho deservedly saw him sent packing to the dugout.
The win ensured City ended their losing streak although Hojbjerb's equaliser means the champions are yet to register a clean sheet since November with the daunting test of free-scoring Liverpool coming to the Etihad on Thursday.
The Citizens got the job done to highlight the hallmark of champions, now all eyes will roll to the titanic title encounter in four days time which will mark the most anticipated fixture of the season so far.