Pace-setters Manchester City marched to a 10th consecutive victory, just about seeing off newly promoted Brentford who, for their part, gave a respectable account of themselves against the very best the Premier League has to offer.
Phil Foden scored what turned out to be the winner with a cool first-time finish from inside the box 15 minutes in, but the visitors struggled to break their hosts down again — apart from two offside goals — in a match which was finely balanced right until the final whistle.
The result sees City remain top of the Premier League, now eight points clear of Chelsea in 2nd. It's the third time they've been top of the English pyramid at the turn of the year and they went on to claim the title on each of the past two occasions (in 2011/12 and 2017/18).
Brentford, meanwhile, remain in 14th, still a comfortable nine points above the drop zone.
Story of the game
Brentford head coach Thomas Frank had a grand total of 11 long- and short-term absentees to contend with ahead of tonight's match, and his struggles in selecting a match-day squad were reflected pretty well by the fact that the Dane named seven substitutes out of a possible nine.
Opposite number Pep Guardiola also selected just eight on the bench, two of which were goalkeepers. Clearly both the wave of Covid-19 cases in the Premier League and the intensity of the festive fixture list were taking their respective tolls on these two sides.
The hosts' steadfast commitment to remarkably high, aggressive pressing, even against opponents who are so famously good in possession, looked as if it would give the Bees their best chance of overcoming what feet like an otherwise insurmountable task.
Ederson was the first of the goalkeepers to be called into action when Frank Onyeka raced through before unleashing a tame effort 10 minutes in. Moments later, a cross from Yoane Wissa deflected off Ruben Dias and towards goal, but the Brazilian was equal to it again.
Brentford weren't seeing much of the ball at all but they didn't need it — in fact, they probably didn't even want it — as their game-plan of high pressing and fast-paced, direct attacks was working perfectly well. As such, they should have been ahead with 15 minutes on the clock.
Ethan Pinnock headed back into the mix from a corner and Wissa found himself in a similar position to a few minutes earlier. This time he hacked it across goal and Ederson again got a leg to the ball; it looped in the air and arch marksman Ivan Toney just couldn't jump high enough to divert it home, but Joao Cancelo still had to prod the ball off the line.
What a let-off for City, on the back foot in terms of chances thus far. But they responded in truly characteristic fashion by taking the lead with a well-worked goal: Kevin De Bruyne received possession on the right edge of the box and immediately delivered into the middle where Foden was lurking to caress it coolly past Alvaro Fernandez.
The score was all that mattered but a wave of relief nonetheless swept across Guardiola's face after a VAR check confirmed the opener; City had weathered a bit of a storm from Brentford, but proved that all it took was one moment of magic for them to unpick their nonetheless resilient opponents.
With a weight lifted off their shoulders, City steadied their ship after going a goal to the good, and navigated the rest of the first-half relatively trouble-free, but it should be said that they caused Brentford very few concrete problems too. This game was still very finely balanced heading into the second period.
The visitors had the first chance after the break with what was so nearly a carbon copy of the first goal — De Bruyne crossed from the right and Foden was there to meet it but this time with his head, glancing towards the back post, though Fernandez was grateful to watch it bounce wide of the target.
Foden did indeed have the ball in the net a second time just a few moments later, on this occasion successfully heading home after a cross from Gabriel Jesus, however, the linesman correctly called offside and the goal was chalked off.
Buoyed on by a boisterous crowd, Brentford were doing absolutely everything to keep one from becoming many more, and were succeeding spectacularly in that regard. Jesus and Jack Grealish on either flank each repeatedly picked the ball up in positions from which they'd usually deal the defence considerable harm, but the Bees were impervious for the most part.
It meant that, like their first goal, City would need to conjure genuinely supreme quality in order to double their advantage — of course, that's not something Guardiola's side are lacking, and De Bruyne nearly summoned the goods just past the hour mark with a driven shot from the edge of the box which rattled off the bar. A couple of inches to the right and that would've been game, set and match.
City thought they'd put the match to bed when Aymeric Laporte headed home a superb free-kick from De Bruyne but, once again, VAR again intervened correctly to chalk the goal off for offside.
The match got increasingly frenetic with each passing minute, and as Brentford piled men forward in search of an equaliser, gaps appeared for the visitors on the break — one such opportunity was nearly exploited to full effect as Jesus embarked on a superb solo run down the right and into the box, but Fernandez was equal to his eventual effort.
And that was how proceedings would draw to a close — it was a game which could, on one hand, easily have been won much more emphatically by City, and yet Brentford remained in the running right until the very end. It left much to be pleased about for both of these sides.
Brentford: Fernandez; Pinnock, Jansson [c], Bech; Roerslev, Jensen, Onyeka (Bidstrup 75'), Baptiste, Thompson (Ghoddos 82'); Toney, Wissa (Canos 69').
Unused subs: Cox, Stevens, Peart-Harris, Forss.
Manchester City: Ederson; Cancelo, Dias, Laporte, Ake; De Bruyne, Fernandinho [c], Bernardo; Jesus, Grealish, Foden.
Unused subs: Steffen, Carson, Mbete, Zinchenko, Gundogan, Palmer, Mahrez, Sterling.
Referee: David Coote
City, meanwhile, are back in the capital city on New Year's Day when they visit Arsenal.