The omens were promising for City ahead of their trip to struggling Blackburn. City have lost none of their last seven Premier League games against Blackburn, winning four of the last five and Rovers have kept just one clean sheet in their last eight Premier League games at Ewood Park winning just two of their last 10 Premier League matches at home. Rovers have committed more fouls (87) than any other team in the top flight whilst Man City have picked up just six yellow cards and no reds in the Premier League, fewer cards than any other team.
As for individual players, Manchester City players occupied five of the top 12 places on the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, including the centre back partners Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott. Between Kompany and Lescott, they had committed only 13 fouls in the Barclays Premier League this season, an average of one foul every 44minutes 5seconds for the partnership.
Mancini made a number of changes today with Zabaleta and Kolarov in for Richards and Clichy. In midfield, Milner replaced Barry and Johnson replaced Nasri who had in truth been poor for the last few games. Up front Mancini was true to his word and left Dzeko out, replacing him with the volatile yet brilliant Balotelli.
Blackburn kicked off left to right and City were soon in possession quickly settled into the now expected free flowing possession football. Balotelli was getting involved in a good way from the off as the Blue faithful chanted Mancini`s name. The city manager had the Blues set up with real width today as Johnson hugged the right touchline and Balotelli the left.
City`s first goal should have come on nine minutes when Silva made a dazzling run down the left side of the Blackburn box. His cross shot was parried by the keeper only to land at Balotelli`s feet. The bounce was awkward and the shot went high when the goal beckoned. Still nil nil but the alarm bells must have been ringing for Blackburn.
Silva nearly broke through the Blackburn defence again three minutes later after another mazy run, but as kick pulled his foot back to shoot, Samba snuck the ball away and played it long.
The City centre halves were looking excellent and Lescott was dominating every ball that came near him, winning headers and tackles and distributing the ball to a Blue shirt every time.
Blackburn broke on sixteen minutes when Milner gave the ball away in the Blackburn half. Within seconds the ball was in the City box as Hoylett ran fifty yards past three City players. Yakubu was unmarked in the box and Hoylett found him with an inch perfect pass. Just as Yakubyu was ready to pull the trigger, Milner who had chased all the way back slid in took the ball and passed it calmly out of defence. Simply brilliant.
Twenty five minutes into the game and City were forcing Blackburn deeper and deeper. The hard work and closing down were reaping dividends as City were seeing more and more possession and once they found the final ball surely a goal would be the result.
Within a minute disaster struck as Aguero went down holding his groin and immediately signalled to the bench that his game was over. Nasri stripped off and replaced Aguero as Dzeko remained on the bench and Balotelli took up a more central role.
Nasri`s first touch of the game was almost a goal as Pederson gave the ball away in his own box. Milner picked it up and played a great ball to Nasri on the edge of the box. He struck his shot well and on target but a Blackburn boot deflected it away from goal and back into play.
City earnt a free kick on their right just outside the Blackburn box after Johnson was brought down. Kolarov stepped up and went for goal. The shot was curling but went high and wide of Robinson`s far post.
Blackburn were under the cosh almost constantly and even when they were in possession City threatened to break at any time. They had pace in abundance and if not for some fantastic last ditch tackling by Samba, Blackburn would most certainly be losing this game, but with under ten minutes of the first half left, the score was still nil nil and Blackburn were still in the game.
City were still facing the same problem they had in previous games. For all their possession and movement they lacked pace in the build-up and allowed Blackburn to get men back to make blocks and tackles. If the rest of the game went on the same way, City would have to rely on individual errors by the Blackburn defenders to get the chances they craved.
With two minutes to go, Balotelli tried the amazing with an overhead kick which had Robinson beaten hands down but went just wide of the Blackburn goal. Balotelli was playing a good game today and had been involved in all the good work City were creating.
A minute later and Zabaleta provided some pace with a give and go on the right which found Balotelli inside the Blackburn box. His snap shot, under pressure, had the keeper beaten, but flashed just wide of the post. City just needed more of the same to settle the game.
The half time whistle was a welcome relief to Blackburn as their ten man defence had been under constant pressure for the full forty five minutes. City had played with patience and Hart had not been tested once in the City goal but counter to this City had only had four out and out shots themselves and needed to be more deadly in the final third.
City started the second half with an increased tempo and within a minute Silva had taken City`s fifth shot which had beaten Robinson and looked destined for the net until Samba once again got a block in. The Blackburn defensive man mountain was single handedly keeping his team in the game.
A nasty clash of heads between Kompany and Nzonzi saw the game halted briefly as Nzonzi went down looking badly hurt. Kompany, being the man he is, took a few seconds to clear his head and then went jogging back to his position as if nothing had happened.
Six minutes in and City nearly went ahead. Toure played a forty yard cross field ball to Balotelli stood on the very left edge of the Blackburn box. The Italian chested the ball perfectly into his path and struck a first time shot across the face of goal. Robinson stood rooted to the spot so quick was the move. He watched the ball sail past him and cannon back out off the far post. Balotelli was having an excellent game and had done everything he could, but score.
City were pressing Blackburn further and further back, defending from the front when not in possession and passing the ball around with skill and precision. There was only one thing stood in their way and that was Chris Samba.
The game was changed in the fifty sixth minute when after a Samba interception, City earnt a corner. The ball was cleared over to the City right where Adam Johnson who had been on the fringes of the game up until this point. The young wing wizard picked up the ball, cut inside and took three steps towards the Blackburn box. He struck a curling shot which ballooned out to the left and then cut back in to drop into the top corner of the Blackburn goal. Once again, Robinson was a spectator as a moment of sheer genius put City into the lead. One Nil.
Another moment of genius by City`s man of the match came on fifty nine minutes when after neat interplay between Kolarov and Nasri saw the Frenchman break free of the full back and whip in a wonderful cross. Most players would have gone for the ball with his head. Not Balotelli. He leapt up into the air and acrobatically diverted the ball past Robinson and into the back of the net. Two nil to City and Blackburn must have been breathless with the quality and speed of the two goals.
Blackburn tried to attack as Kean brought on his first substitute but each time they were pressed from front to back and all too often the ball found its way back to Robinson who was forced to launch a long ball. This was bread and butter stuff to the Premier League`s current best defensive pairing as Kompany and Lescott made it look like training ground stuff.
The goal seemed to have invigorated Johnson as he put in tackles and chased balls down like never before in a City shirt. The game itself was a big chance for him to prove his worth for a starting position and whilst in the first half he had been distinctly average, he was looking much improved in the second.
First yellow of the game went to Zabaleta after he ‘anticipated` a tackle by Nzonzi in the box and went down looking for a penalty. Phil Dowd was in a perfect position and didn`t think twice about issuing the yellow for Unsportsman like behaviour.
With twenty minutes to go, the game settled into a tempo with City attacking, occasionally losing possession and quickly regaining it as they defended as well as they attacked. The Blues were looking a mouth-watering prospect.
On seventy two minutes, Blackburn won a corner. The excellent Balotelli quickly stole possession and played the ball through to the advancing Silva. Silva fed Nasri as the Frenchman ran into the box. They interchanged passes as if they meant to walk the ball into the goal but suddenly, Nasri found himself free. He struck the ball powerfully and saw it deflect off a Blackburn defender and wrong foot Robinson. The ball crossed the line to make it three nil and City were cruising to another solid victory.
First substitution for City came with twelve minutes to go as Johnson was replaced by Savic. Three up and Mancini changed things round opting for three at the back with Zabaleta and Kolarov moving into more advanced roles.
The last ten minutes saw the ground begin to empty as the disgruntled Blackburn fans showed the disgust at their Manager and their Team by leaving before the game was over. They nearly missed a goal by their own team as Yakubu struck a wonderful shot from twenty yards out. It had Hart worried as the City keeper scrambled across the face of his goal in an attempt to stop the ball. Hart was beaten but so was the far post as Blackburn`s best chance of the game came and went.
Four nil came in the eighty sixth minute. City won a corner on their left and Nasri stepped up to take the set play. He whipped in a cross as Savic made a run from the edge of the box. Blackburn went to sleep as no one tracked Savic and he leapt high to place his forehead on the ball and put a bullet header into the net past a disconsolate Paul Robinson.
Mancini picked this moment to bring on his next substitute as Dzeko replaced man of the match Balotelli with two minutes of normal time left.
This had been a second half lesson in football for Blackburn as City started with such an increased tempo. The home team seemed to disintegrate with the pressure City put them under and once again The Blues finished the game in high scoring style to show their rivals what they were made of. Four goals for and Hart being a bystander in the game being called on only occasionally to collect a cross.
A special mention today has to go to Mario Balotelli who played the game with a maturity and class that simply shone. This was his best game by far in a City shirt as he took the chance given to him by Mancini in the wake of Tevezgate. He looked world class both in his contribution to the game and his movement and abilty.
Joe Hart – 7.5
Didn’t do anything wrong as he didn’t really have anything to do apart from collect the occasional cross.
Pablo Zabaleta – 7.5
Looked great going forward and linked up well with Johnson. Put in some good tackles and was never caught out of position. Lost half a point for his silly dive.
Vincent Kompany – 8.5
Another outstanding performance by Vinny. Won every ball that came near him and I don’t think he lost a header all day.
Joleon Lescott – 8.5
Looked fantastic once again. Made one mistake in ninety minutes and was totally dominant in the air.
Aleksandar Kolarov – 8
One of his best games in a City shirt. Was well protected by Milner. Got forward when needed and was never caught out of position.
Yaya Toure – 7.5
A man mountain in midfield. Played the pass of the game, a wonderful forty yard right to left cross field ball to set Balotelli up for a great shot.
James Milner – 8.5
Showed discipline, strength and skill today. Lost the ball once and made a fifty yard dash to win it back just as Blackburn looked in with a chance. Edging ahead of Barry in the left sided defensive mid role.
David Silva – 8
Once again the wizard looked good. Despite being clattered and having two men on him he was instrumental in driving City forward.
Adam Johnson – 8.5
Had a quiet first half but came into his own in the second forty five. Scored a wonderful goal and supplemented his attacking play with some good tackles.
Sergio Aguero – 6.5
Struggled to make an impact on the game before coming off with an injury.
Mario Balotelli – 9
Showed today why Mancini has faith in him. Celebrated his goal and could have had two or three more. He suffered at the hands of the Blackburn defence but didn’t react in a negative fashion. Looks a class act.
Samir Nasri – 8.5
Had a good game when he came on to replace Aguero in the first half. Had a hand in three of the goals and seemed to lose his markers with ease. Linked up well with Silva.
Stefan Savic – 8
Came into a back three as Mancini pushed the fullbacks forward. Scored a magnificent header from a Nasri corner to make it four.
Let this be a lesson to Edin. Balotelli is a class act and is chomping at the bit to get your starting place. Toe the line and put in 100% or you will end up third choice.
Roberto Mancini – 9
Don’t know what he said at half time, but City started the second half with an increased tempo and soon reaped the rewards. His faith in Balotelli seems to be well placed. Put the debacle of Tuesday night behind him with a great win.
Steve Kean – 6
His tactics worked in the first half as he set out his team for a nil nil draw. All the good work was undone in the second half as his charges simply got left behind when City moved up a gear.