Bernardo Silva plundered his first Premier League goal of the season and Ilkay Gundogan scored a late penalty to send Manchester City top of the table in a 2-0 win against Aston Villa.
City stretched their unbeaten run to 16 games in all competitions with a ninth win in a row, as Pep Guardiola's side continued their formidable league form.
A sixth successive league win propelled Guardiola's side to the summit and marked the former champions out as the team to beat in the tightest title race for years.
Bernardo's sublime strike 11 minutes from time was enough to give City a hard-fought win, the only blot an injury to star man Kevin De Bruyne in the second half.
Villa's first-team were playing their first game since a 2-1 defeat at Manchester United on New Year's Day, an outbreak of coronavirus having forced their players to isolate.
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But Dean Smith's side looked better for the enforced break, defending diligently throughout and testing City when they had the chance to push forward themselves.
The first chance fell to City after three minutes, Rodri heading a De Bruyne corner back across goal for Bernardo Silva, who saw his close-range effort saved by Emiliano Martinez.
John Stones tried to convert the loose ball, but was thwarted by a combination of Villa defenders Matty Cash and Tyrone Mings.
At the other end, Villa embarked on a counter-attack with Ross Barkley surging forward in possession, but failing to pick out skipper Jack Grealish with a simple pass.
Twice just after the half-hour mark City came close to making the breakthrough, Foden the architect of both openings, a De Bruyne shot deflecting off Mings, Rodri's effort cannoning off team-mate Sterling.
Guardiola and opposite number Dean Smith exchanged words on the touchline after Martinez was warned again for taking too much time over a dead-ball situation.
Furious Smith complained that City had taken just as long to take a throw-in, which drew Guardiola into the discussion, the two managers ending the exchange with a smile.
Villa should have made more of a break a minute before half-time, Barkley going for goal, rather than playing in Grealish, who had run 50 yards on the overlap and was the better option.
Then it was City's turn, Sterling finding De Bruyne, who played an equally impressive ball to Foden, who took a touch before his shot was blocked by Cash.
Although City were dominant and looked the more likely to score, Villa had opportunities, not least in the 52nd minute, when Bertrand Traore took advantage of a slip by De Bruyne, who found himself the last line of defense, only to shoot tamely at Ederson.
The end-to-end contest continued two minutes later, with Joao Cancelo clipping the bar with a dipping effort, after being played in by De Bruyne.
City suffered a major blow a minute before the hour, when De Bruyne was forced off with what looked like a thigh problem.
The goal eventually came in the 79th minute, Rodri dispossessing Mings before finding Bernardo, who dispatched a confident finish beyond Martinez.
Villa were aggrieved Rodri had returned from an offside position, Smith receiving a red card for his complaints, but as Mings had touched the ball, it was a deemed new phase of play and the goal stood.
Gundogan sealed the win from the penalty spot in the 90th minute after Cash had handled the ball. City were worthy winners and are increasingly looking like the team to beat to the title.