Manchester City closed in on the Premier League title as the leaders fought back to win 2-1 at Aston Villa on Wednesday in their first match since withdrawing from the European Super League.
Pep Guardiola’s side were rocked by John McGinn’s opener for Villa after just 20 seconds.
But City recovered impressively as Phil Foden equalised before Rodri put the visitors ahead.
City defender John Stones threatened to derail his team’s charge when he was sent off for a reckless foul on Jacob Ramsey just before half-time.
However, Villa were reduced to 10 men as well when Matty Cash earned a second booking for chopping down Foden in the second half.
City are 11 points clear of second placed Manchester United and need a maximum of eight points from their remaining five games to clinch a third Premier League title in four seasons.
“Not the start I dreamed of but we reacted very well. It was a really good performance,” Guardiola said.
“Phil Foden’s influence in our games is massive. He’s becoming a serious player.”
City’s bid for an unprecedented quadruple was shattered in Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final defeat against Chelsea.
That loss, coming a week after 10-man Leeds won at the Etihad Stadium, raised the possibility of a remarkable late-season collapse from a City side who led the table by 17 points just a few weeks ago.
But their gritty display at Villa Park was a big step towards the title given their remaining fixtures feature few daunting tests.
“After this game it doesn’t look like the Super League distracts us. Of course everyone was concerned, but the players were focused on this game,” Guardiola said.
“The Premier League is the most important title to win. We are so close.”
Before returning to the title race, City face Tottenham in the League Cup final at Wembley on Sunday and then travel to Paris Saint Germain for the Champions League semi-final first leg next week.
City’s bid to win the Champions League for the first time is unlikely to have much neutral support after their involvement in the failed European Super League.
But Guardiola earned praise when he criticised the controversial plan prior to City becoming the first club to withdraw on Tuesday evening.
City back on track
Relieved to be able to focus on football again, Guardiola made eight changes from the loss to Chelsea, with Kevin De Bruyne absent as he recovers from foot and ankle injuries.
City were caught cold in the first minute when Stones misjudged Tyrone Mings’ free-kick.
Ollie Watkins flicked his cross into McGinn’s path and the midfielder guided a clinical finish past Ederson from 12 yards.
But Guardiola’s team had won their previous 16 away games in all competitions and they responded emphatically.
Riyad Mahrez’s stinging strike was repelled by Villa keeper Emiliano Martinez before Foden equalised in the 22nd minute.
Foden drilled a pass to Mahrez on the edge of the Villa area and the Algerian picked out Bernardo Silva’s over-lapping run.
Silva’s low cross reached Foden eight yards out and the England playmaker planted a cool finish past Martinez.
City’s sustained pressure was rewarded in the 40th minute as Silva dinked a cross towards Rodri and the Spanish midfielder glanced his header over the out of position Martinez from close-range.
Just as City looked in complete control, Stones made needlessly wild and high lunge as he tried to stop Ramsey’s break four minutes later.
Peter Bankes gave a booking but after consulting the pitchside monitor the referee ruled it was a red card offence, sparking a furious reaction from Guardiola as he berated fourth official Anthony Taylor.
Guardiola’s frustrations began to ease when Cash, booked moments earlier, saw red for a crunching foul on Foden in the 57th minute.
That was the signal for City to go into game-management mode as they kept Villa at bay for a priceless win.
Son fires Spurs to win
Tottenham made a winning start to life after Jose Mourinho as Son Heung-min’s last-minute penalty sealed a vital 2-1 victory against Southampton in their first match since withdrawing from the controversial European Super League on Wednesday.
Mourinho was sacked on Monday after 17 turbulent months in charge of the north London club, but his shock exit was overshadowed by the fall-out from the bitter Super League row.
Languishing outside the top four and knocked out of the Europa League by Dinamo Zagreb, Tottenham would have benefitted more than most from the proposed Super League.
But instead they were forced to become one of six Premier League clubs to withdraw from the reviled breakaway tournament on Tuesday after a furious backlash.
Celebrating the Super League’s demise and calling for Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy to quit, a handful of fans gathered outside the stadium holding signs that read: “We said no to Super League” and “Thanks for NO memories. Time to say goodbye. Levy out”.
The Super League was dead in the water just 48 hours after its creation, forcing Tottenham to focus on a more traditional way of making it into Europe’s elite.
Against that backdrop, a win in the first match of the post-Mourinho era was essential and they achieved it thanks to their first recovery from a half-time deficit this season.
Danny Ings put Southampton ahead, but Gareth Bale equalised before Son converted a last-gasp penalty.
Tottenham move into sixth place, two points behind fourth-placed Chelsea, who have a game in hand in the race to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
Mourinho’s failure to lead Tottenham into the top four and a deteriorating relationship with his squad proved his downfall.
The axe fell just six days before Tottenham’s bid to win a first trophy since 2008 against Manchester City in the League Cup final at Wembley on Sunday.
Leipzig boss Julian Nagelsmann is the bookmakers’ favourite to replace Mourinho.
But for now, former Tottenham midfielder Ryan Mason has been placed in charge on a caretaker basis and this was an encouraging start before he has to pit his wits against City boss Pep Guardiola.
Winning start for Mason
Aged just 29, Mason, who has been working in Tottenham’s youth academy, is the youngest boss in Premier League history and the first younger than 30 to manage in the English top flight since QPR’s Frank Sibley in 1977.
“I thought it was fantastic. I’m so proud of the boys,” Mason said.
“Tonight was important for many reasons; a change of manager, a lot has gone on at the club in the last 48 hours. It was important to get back to winning ways.”
Southampton deservedly took the lead in the 30th minute when Ings timed his run perfectly to meet James Ward-Prowse’s corner with a superb glancing header into the far corner.
Tottenham were without England captain Harry Kane after the striker suffered an ankle injury in Friday’s draw at Everton.
In Kane’s absence, Tottenham were toothless in the first half, but they improved after the break.
Bale provided a rare moment of inspiration as he equalised with Tottenham’s first shot on target in the 60th minute.
Pouncing on Lucas Moura’s blocked shot, the Wales forward curled home from an acute angle inside the Southampton area.
A helping hand from VAR set up Son’s winner as Moussa Djenepo’s foul on Harry Winks was upgraded to a penalty after initially being ruled a free-kick just outside the area.
Son made no mistake from the spot to give Tottenham their first win in four games.
Later on Wednesday, leaders Manchester City can move a step closer to a third Premier League title in four seasons if they win at Aston Villa.
Guardiola’s side, knocked out of the FA Cup semi-finals by Chelsea on Saturday, are eight points clear of second placed Manchester United with six games left.