Kevin De Bruyne dazzled on a goalscoring comeback as Manchester City eased to a 4-0 Premier League win at AFC Bournemouth.
Before the match, Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe spoke of the lessons learned by his side since they conceded twice inside 11 minutes to lose 5-1 at the Etihad Stadium in October.
But City caught them cold once more, striking three times before the 19-minute mark, with De Bruyne to the fore on his first appearance since he suffered medial knee ligament damage during January’s League Cup semi-final tie against Everton.
Fernando’s first goal of the season got Manuel Pellegrini’s much-criticised team up and running, while two and three came from more familiar sources.
De Bruyne combined brilliantly with David Silva and Sergio Aguero to score for the 13th time this term before the latter headed his 22nd in all competitions this season.
City wrapped up the win with a rasping Aleksandar Kolarov strike in injury time.
They sit three points ahead of West Ham in fourth and will look ruefully upon the run of two wins from seven matches without De Bruyne that all but ended their Premier League title ambitions.
Lewis Grabban and Eunan O’Kane replaced the injured Benik Afobe and Harry Arter in the Bournemouth line-up.
De Bruyne returned as one of five changes to the City side that lost 1-0 to United in the Manchester derby.
Josh King pulled a shot across the face of goal on the end of a fifth-minute Bournemouth counter-attack but Willy Caballero, deputising for calf-injury victim Joe Hart in the City goal, was a virtual spectator as his team-mates ran riot during the opening stages.
Fernando reacted quickest to guide Jesus Navas’ deflected seventh-minute corner into the net and De Bruyne’s revitalising impact on a City attack without a goal in their previous three outings was already clear by the time he added a spectacular second.
Silva darted on to Aguero’s chipped pass and cushioned a first-time flick for De Bruyne to fire home a volley on the edge of the box.
The Belgium international might have doubled his tally when he lashed a shot over following slick interplay down the left from Silva and Gael Clichy, but Aguero was on hand to pile further misery on Howe’s side.
Navas dug out an excellent cross from the right byline for the Argentina striker to muscle above Adam Smith and head in at the far post.
Fernandinho rattled Artur Boruc’s crossbar with a vicious dipping drive before Caballero was finally called into action, making a sharp reaction save to deny Charlie Daniels.
Within a minute of the restart, Boruc saved brilliantly when De Bruyne showed exquisite technique to arrow a volley towards the bottom corner.
The former Wolfsburg man continued to impress before making way for Kolarov to a warm ovation in the 57th-minute.
O’Kane dragged a shot wide as he sought a consolation for Bournemouth, who are now 13th and 11 points above third-bottom Sunderland,
Kolarov linked up with Samir Nasri – making his first appearance since October due to injury – to dart through a flagging Bournemouth defence and rifle number four with the game’s final act.
But it is De Bruyne’s re-emergence that will leave City in buoyant mood ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final trip to Paris Saint-Germain.
Key Opta stats:
– Fernando scored his first goal since March 2015, when he netted against West Brom.
– Only Sergio Aguero (17) has scored more Premier League goals for Man City this season than Kevin De Bruyne (6).
– David Silva (11) is second only to Mesut Ozil (18) for assists in the Premier League this season.
– No player has scored more Premier League goals in 2016 than Aguero (10, level with Harry Kane).
– Man City have scored seven first-half goals against Bournemouth this season.
– The Cherries conceded nine goals in their two games against City this season, scoring just one in return.
– Man City scored more goals in this game (4) than they managed in their previous four away league games combined (3).