Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne struck in the second half as Manchester City reacted to Friday’s damaging loss at Wolves to claim a hard-fought 2-0 win over Sheffield United.
The champions looked weary at the Etihad Stadium, not only through fatigue as they played their second game in less than 48 hours, but perhaps with the realisation their hopes of defending the title are gone.
Yet they at least showed character to dig deep and get back to winning ways, although the visitors could point to two slices of luck involving the officials that went their way.
Firstly Lys Mousset had a goal disallowed by VAR for a marginal offside – one of many such controversial decisions in the Premier League lately – and referee Chris Kavanagh also impeded a Blades player in the build-up to Aguero’s goal.
But there was no doubting the quality of Aguero’s finish on 52 minutes and De Bruyne wrapped up the game with a fine strike eight minutes from time.
City were sluggish early on and their defence – with teenager Eric Garcia making his first Premier League start – looked uncomfortable.
Mousset spurned a glorious early chance to put the visitors ahead when he get on the end of a floated Callum Robinson cross but headed wide.
City struggled to create clear-cut openings although Riyad Mahrez, after cutting inside Enda Stevens, was denied by a good block at the near post from John Egan.
The hosts were restricted to long-range efforts but De Bruyne, Rodri and Raheem Sterling were all unable to work goalkeeper Dean Henderson.
United thought they had claimed the lead on 29 minutes when Mousset raced onto a long ball from John Fleck and fired home. City were furious because they thought Aguero had been fouled in the build-up but, while their complaints were brushed aside by Kavanagh, VAR came to their aid by ruling Mousset was marginally offside.
It was a let-off for City but they were caught out by a long ball again as Oliver Norwood picked out Mousset from just outside his own box. This time Mousset was onside but could only shoot into the side-netting.
The Blades had another chance early in the second half as Mousset teed up Muhamed Besic but he blasted over.
City made them pay as they snatched the lead with a typically emphatic finish from Aguero. There had been sloppy passing in midfield but De Bruyne rose above that to pick out the Argentinian with a fine through ball.
United complained as Kavanagh had got in the way of play prior to De Bruyne receiving the ball but such freak occurrences are just unfortunate. There was a VAR check but no reason to disallow the goal was spotted.
City wanted a penalty for handball 20 minutes from time as Egan slid in to block a Mahrez shot but nothing was given. Mahrez did win a free-kick on the edge of the area but De Bruyne curled over.
Mahrez and De Bruyne combined to wrap up the points in the closing minutes, the Belgian finishing powerfully after taking a nice touch inside the area.
Billy Sharp went close to grabbing a consolation but his header rebounded off the post and rolled along the line.