Sergio Aguero turned in another scintillating performance with two goals against Stoke to send Manchester City top of the table on Christmas Day for the first time since 1929. With one-time hero Carlos Tevez due to be at the centre of talks between City officials and their AC Milan counterparts on Thursday, the man who stepped into his shoes as the most popular South American at the club took centre stage.
Signed for a club record £38million from Atletico Madrid in the summer, unlike Tevez, who remains back in Argentina and has been nothing but trouble for the past 12 months, Aguero has not been a moment's bother.
At least, he has not been a problem to City. Opposition defences may choose to disagree.
Beaten by their opponents in last season's FA Cup final, Stoke were the latest to feel the force of Aguero's power, the striker bagging a goal either side of the interval to take his seasonal tally to 15.
Adam Johnson enjoyed himself too, completing his first full 90 minutes in the Premier League since the middle of October and marking the occasion with a powerful first-half strike.
Although Kolo Toure suggested earlier in the week that City had a secret plan for facing Stoke, it was the visitors who had the weapon.
It was largely defensive though, with Pulis utilising four burly defenders, including Jonathan Woodgate at full-back, with another solid bank of four in front of them.
For a time it worked as City struggled to fashion a clear-cut opening.
Johnson did hit a thunderous effort against the bar but only thanks to a pretty hefty deflection off Marc Wilson.
It was a limited plan though, belying the fine run of form Stoke have suddenly found themselves in after a period in the doldrums.
And they were made to pay just before the half hour after Samir Nasri and David Silva worked a short corner routine that allowed the Spain star to race forward unopposed after his team-mate's dummy run had fooled two defenders.
Silva exploited the opportunity by slipping a pass through to Yaya Toure, who in turn squared into the six-yard area.
Thomas Sorensen was equal to Vincent Kompany's close-range effort but the Dane could only push the ball into the path of Aguero, who bundled home from barely a yard.
On the touchline, Tony Pulis was livid, believing the officials had missed an offside somewhere in the melee.
There did not seem to be a direct involvement of play at any stage though, and Pulis' ire was probably more to do with the knowledge that, once behind, Stoke were going to find it very difficult to fashion an equaliser.
Difficult became virtually impossible 10 minutes before the break when slack control from Jon Waters, who failed to kill Dean Whitehead's pass out of defence, allowing it to run onto Johnson.
The England winger did not require a second invitation, smashing a brutal effort through a packed penalty area, Sorensen partially unsighted as it flashed into the corner.
Johnson came close to bagging another just before the break when Sorensen unconvincingly shovelled his curling free-kick round the post.
The former Middlesbrough man was having a productive evening, although he was matched in that by Aguero, who after forcing Sorensen into another save, bagged his second.
It was a goal clinical in its efficiency as Gareth Barry slipped a pass out to Nasri, whose low cross from the right split the Stoke defenders and allowed Aguero to finish at the far post.
Aguero was 90 seconds too late to claim the Premier League's 20,000th goal but he nearly completed his hat-trick shortly afterwards, when he was sent through by Toure, but only succeeded in flicking his shot wide of the far post.
Blues manager Roberto Mancini took the opportunity to rotate his players, including replacing Silva with Mario Balotelli.
Although the game was winding down, Balotelli is not one for staying out of the way for long and was not happy when referee Mike Dean turned down his penalty appeal when Robert Huth used an arm to block a shot.
It was all pantomime stuff though, unlike City's title challenge, which is very real indeed.NORWICH CITY 3 MAN CITY 4 1. Joe Hart 5. Pablo Zabaleta 4. Vincent Kompany 33. Matija Nastasic 22. Gael Clichy 42. Yaya Toure 18. Gareth Barry 16. Sergio Aguero 90+3' 21. David Silva 56' 8. Samir Nasri 10. Edin Dzeko 81' Subs30. Costel Pantilimon 6. Joleon Lescott 81' 7. James Milner 56' 11. Scott Sinclair 14. Javi Garcia 90+3' 28. Kolo Toure 32. Carlos Tevez
Manchester City overcame the controversial sending-off of midfielder Samir Nasri to beat Norwich 4-3 in a thrilling Barclays Premier League clash at Carrow Road.
The champions, beaten at Sunderland on Boxing Day, were off to a flying start when they went 2-0 up inside four minutes after Edin Dzeko's quick brace.
Norwich reduced the deficit through Anthony Pilkington's deflected free-kick, before Nasri was shown a red card by referee Mike Jones on 44 minutes for putting his head into the face of Sebastien Bassong (pictured right).
Sergio Aguero's neat flick made it 3-1 at the start of the second half, before Russell Martin's header reduced the deficit again.
Dzeko put City back in command at 4-2 after his shot cannoned off the post and in off goalkeeper Mark Bunn, only for Martin's scrambled effort to set up a grandstand finish.
However, Norwich - who had beaten both Arsenal and Manchester United at Carrow Road during a 10-match unbeaten run - could not conjure an equaliser as they suffered a third successive league defeat.
City were ahead inside two minutes.
A long ball down the left was worked back inside by Aguero and David Silva for an unmarked Dzeko to sweep home from six yards
The champions swiftly doubled their lead.
Play was allowed to continue after a crunching tackle from Vincent Kompany on Bradley Johnson.
Aguero was away again, darting into the right side of the Norwich penalty area before drawing the goalkeeper and then cutting the ball back to present Dzeko with another tap-in.
The Canaries had been thrashed 6-1 here by City last season, and another such defeat looked on the cards as the Blues continued to press.
There was some brief respite on 13 minutes when Kompany tripped Robert Snodgrass just outside the Manchester City penalty area.
The Scotland international shaped to take the free-kick himself, but instead ran over the ball, as Pilkington drove in a low shot which deflected off Gael Clichy and past Joe Hart.
Bunn then needed to be alert to tip over a spooned clearance from former City full-back Javier Garrido which was dropping into the Norwich net following another lighting break from the visitors.
City remained a threat, as Yaya Toure flashed a 20-yard drive just wide following more patient build-up from the champions.
Things got ugly again just before the break when Bassong upended Nasri on the far touchline.
The duo squared up face-to-face, with Nasri pushing his head into the Norwich defender - which on consultation with the assistant referee resulted in a red card for the France midfielder, and a caution for Bassong.
The decision perplexed City boss Mancini, and left him with some changes to mull over at half-time the rain started to lash down.
Norwich made a substitution just before the interval, with striker Steve Morison hobbling off because of what appeared to be a thigh problem and on-loan Harry Kane replacing him for a first appearance since breaking his metatarsal in September.
City were soon back on the offensive following the restart and restored their two-goal cushion on 50 minutes.
Toure delivered a perfectly-weighted angled ball which Bassong could not cut out and dropped into the path of Aguero. The Argentina forward produced an exquisite chip to beat the advancing keeper and put City back in control.
To their credit, the home side continued to look to get back into the match, as a low shot from substitute Jonny Howson's was touched wide by Hart.
From the resulting short-corner, it was 3-2 when Bassong's header back across the six-yard box from Snodgrass' clever centre was guided into the top right corner by Martin on 63 minutes.
However, City quickly restored their advantage as the broke away down the right.
Dzeko sprung the offside trap to burst into the Norwich penalty area to beat Bunn at the near post, the ball bouncing off the woodwork, then the keeper's back and into the net.
A quite amazing match sparked into life once more with 15 minutes left when another Norwich corner caused panic in the City six-yard box as Hart could only half punch clear before Martin swept the ball in again from point-blank range.
Mancini looked to shore things up when he replaced Dzeko with defender Joleon Lescott.
Bunn redeemed himself with a brilliant one-handed save from Aguero at point-blank range.
Despite five minutes of stoppage time, there was to be no more drama as City closed out what could prove to be a crucial victory.Tuesday 1st January 2013 West Brom V Fulham Man City V Stoke Swansea V Aston Villa Tottenham V Reading West Ham V Norwich Wigan V Man Utd Southampton V Arsenal Wednesday 2nd January 2013 Chelsea V QPR Liverpool V Sunderland Newcastle V Everton
Source: Manchester City MAD