Melbourne City showed glimpses of title-winning swagger in Friday night's 2-1 win over Adelaide United at AAMI Park.
Bruno Fornaroli's goals either side of half-time seized back the limelight from Tim Cahill absence and moved City to second in the A-League table.
A first A-League goal for Sergi Guardiola frayed City nerves but John van 't Schip's side held on.
Adelaide played their part in an entertaining game but took too long to click into gear, falling to a third-straight loss and their first away defeat of 2016.
When City purred into action, the champions couldn't lay a glove on them. City's link-up play in attack -- where Fornaroli and Fernando Brandan threatened at will -- dazzled the 10,053-strong crowd and the Reds' defence.
Brandan's show-stopping backheel nutmeg of former City defender Ben Garuccio showed City's intent.
Soon after, Luke Brattan -- playing as a No. 10 and auditioning for a place in the Socceroos' squad in front of coach Ange Postecoglou -- sparked the first goal. Brattan hassled Tarek Elrich out of the ball, allowing Brandan to feed Fornaroli on the edge of the box.
The Uruguayan bent his back and arched his shot inside the back post past Eugene Galekovic.
Fornaroli should have had two before half-time, sidefooting over the bar late in the half when a fiercer strike might have done the job.
With seconds left before the break, United almost made City pay for their missed chances when Ryan Kitto rattled the crossbar from Isaias' free kick.
City upped the ante in the second half and United couldn't go with them, earning successive yellow cards for late tackles and then conceding a second goal.
Brandan, the shortest man on the pitch, sent a header from Brattan's corner into Guardiola's outstretched arm. Fornaroli converted the penalty in style with a Panenka finish.
City looked on track for a routine win but, in trademark style, gave their home fans grief by struggling to close out the game.
On 64 minutes, Garuccio made amends for his earlier embarrassment by producing a perfect cross for Guardiola. The Spaniard couldn't miss from just a few metres out, and it was game on.
Iacopo La Rocca should have done better with his header from a free kick, while Elrich had Dean Bouzanis back-pedalling to tip a lob over.
When Dylan McGowan spooned a loose ball over from close range, it was clear City would stand firm for a steadying win.