Vincent Kompany’s first goal in 20 months and Sergio Aguero’s 11th in 11 games helped Manchester City to a 3-0 win at Southampton.
Kompany marked his latest return to the City rearguard in what has been an injury-plagued season by heading a 55th-minute opener.
Leroy Sane grabbed a second moments before Aguero chipped in with his 29th goal of the season to seal victory.
This was a potentially tricky assignment ahead of a crunch week for City, with an FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal next weekend followed by a midweek Manchester derby.
Had Southampton secured the third straight win they were looking for, Pep Guardiola’s men could conceivably have been facing a United side just a point behind them.
But after City skipper Kompany found the net for the first time since August 2015, Sane and Aguero ensured they kept Jose Mourinho’s side at bay in the race for a top-four finish.
Aguero had two chances to open the scoring in the opening five minutes but failed to convert a Gael Clichy cross at the far post and then pulled his shot across goal.
Southampton had barely got out of their own half for the first 15 minutes, but out of nothing they created the best opportunity of the opening period only for Dusan Tadic to blaze over from 15 yards out.
City continued bossing possession, but without really threatening, until the 37th minute when Aguero’s deflected cross found David Silva, who hit the side-netting.
Sane then danced into the area and was tripped by Fraser Forster, but the Saints goalkeeper had got the faintest of touches to the ball and, much to City’s frustration, referee Neil Swarbrick awarded a corner.
After the break Forster got a firmer hand onto a stinging drive from Jesus Navas to palm the ball over the crossbar.
However, from the resulting corner, swung in by Silva, Kompany got his head to the ball first and Forster was unable to prevent it bouncing into the net.
Then came a milestone moment, of sorts, for much-maligned City keeper Claudio Bravo, who routinely caught a header from Maya Yoshida.
Bravo had failed to stop any of the last seven shots on target he had faced, meaning it was in effect the first save he had made since January 2.
City, perhaps inspired by Bravo’s heroics, promptly wrapped up the win with two goals in three minutes.
First Silva’s through-ball sent De Bruyne through and he squared for Sane to sweep past Forster for his ninth of the season.
Then, in the 80th minute, De Bruyne chipped the ball into the Saints six-yard box and Aguero nodded home at the far post to seal an ultimately comfortable, and potentially precious, victory.