Fifty-one minutes into a rain-swept evening in north London the chant went up from the cluster of fans bathing in the warm fortune of this season's football. It was time for Manchester City folk to remind everyone they were, again, top of the league. It has taken a while properly to overtake the campaign pace-setters, Arsenal, and their advantage is, for now, slender. But such is the almost regal sense of certainty in City's play that they look as if they have absolutely no intention of relinquishing their position.
They appear so much improved from the version that won the 2012 Premier League. Of the many refinements Manuel Pellegrini has added to this team a level of composure that nearly topples off the scale is awesome to observe. The new regime has added a smoothness, a silkiness, an absolute sense of control. If they could bottle this purring confidence, this certainty in the way they do things, a spray of that elixir would do wonders for most of us on an anxious day. They could sell enough even to help out with the financial fair play obligations.
A distaste for holding midfielders was a topic of conversation in the Tottenham camp before the game. Tim Sherwood and Les Ferdinand had argued against the impact of such a strategic player. Sherwood's suggestion that a midfield shield is "overrated", and Ferdinand's opinion that Claude Makélélé began some kind of negative chain reaction in English football, clanged as City held Tottenham in a vice-like grip from the start. Cutting off the supply lines to the dynamic Sergio Agüero would have a been a reasonable idea. For Sherwood's team it was impossible to know where to start.
A riveting opening half-hour set the tone and City's manoeuvring of the ball was hypnotic. There was such sureness in their play, such control. Everyone with the exception of the only truly defence- minded players in the side in Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany – who scored City's fifth goal in the 89th minute – and Martin Demechelis wanted the ball all the time.
Manuel Pellegrini has instilled this sense that the gold standard is required for 90 minutes. Such are the lofty expectations they have of their game, when Edin Dzeko lifted an effort over the bar having ruthlessly teased Kyle Walker, the Bosnian shook his head, admonishing himself for his imperfections. Only flawlessness is acceptable. With David Silva switched on to pull strings with aplomb, and Agüero's blistering running frightening the life out of Tottenham, the home crowd quickly fell silent at what they were watching. When Agüero smacked a post early on there was a collective Tottenham gulp. It was a reminder of what happened when they were shredded by this team at the dog end of André Villas-Boas's tenure.
Agüero's cameo was astounding, as he demolished Tottenham's defence before limping off clutching a hamstring before half-time. His goal epitomised how devastatingly precise City can be. Silva's threaded pass was measured to the millimetre. Agüero's instinctive dink into the corner was like a golden golf shot, chipped gently to land and roll sweetly in.
Tottenham did rally and briefly unnerved City. But four minutes into the second half hopes of a recovery for the home team were dealt a heavyweight blow with the dual award of a penalty and sending-off for Danny Rose. Yaya Touré was relaxed, languid – and lethal. A third from Dzeko against 10 men ensured that was that, and a deflected strike from Stevan Jovetic served notice of yet more skill at Pellegrini's disposal.
If anything is going to undermine this City procession, it will surely arrive in the shape of mishaps away from home but their swagger is not now significantly less on their travels than it is at the Etihad. This was supposed to be a test of their credentials but it looked almost effortless.
In theory they have the hardest run-in of the top three Premier League contenders, with away matches at Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Everton in quick succession. They have no fear these days now about excelling away, as well as at home, in the Premier League.