For the first time in a long time, United played before City and Liverpool did the Blues a big favour by taking a share of the points at Anfield and giving City the chance to go two points clear at the summit should they secure the win against Villa.
Mancini rang the changes after a busy International week where players had played two games in four days and with an eye on Tuesday`s must win game in Europe. The team read as follows: Hart, Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy, De Jong, Barry, Milner, Johnson, Toure and Balotelli. Dzeko, Silva and Nasri were on the bench along with Pantilimon, Hargreaves, Kolarov and Toure.
City started the game playing left to right as Villa kicked off and immediately launched a long ball at the City defence. The ball was quickly gathered and the Blues began passing the ball around with their usual pace and panache.
Five minutes in and City had enjoyed the lion`s share of possession but the final pass was lacking each time they tried to spring Balotelli through the Villa defence.
First moment of uncertainty by City came when the ball was played into City`s box after a neat pass by Ireland. Richards, Kompany and Lescott left the ball for each other and it took De Jong to clear it to touch.
Eleven minutes in and Joe Hart made a world class save after the ref allowed Villa to play on when Agbonlahor had clearly fouled Lescott to gain possession of the ball. With Lescott floundering in his wake, the Villa striker ran through on goal and tested Hart.
City were looking poor in all honesty after a good opening five minutes. Toure was contributing little and Barry and De Jong were being pulled from pillar to post.
That all changed on fourteen minutes when De Jong played a lovely ball through to Toure on the inside right channel. Toure cut the ball back to Balotelli who struck a neat shot. The rebound fell to Milner who`s shot was poor but he was in an offside position.
Possession stats for the first seventeen minutes were slightly in City`s favour split 53/47%. The football was not fluid and some of the City players weren`t looking quite up to the task today. Johnson hadn`t put a foot right since kick off and Toure was lumbering around midfield like a parked bus!
First corner of the match came on twenty minutes after work by Richards and Johnson found Balotelli in the Villa box. The ball found Lescott who rose majestically but headed wide of the Villa goal.
Milner worked a chance for City on the left on twenty two minutes, playing the ball to Barry who had made a neat run through the Villa defence. Barry cut the ball back but three City players lined up for the shot all missed the ball.
City nearly made it one nil on twenty five minutes when Balotelli shot from the left side just outside the Villa box. The ball bounced just in front of Given, but the Irishman was able to deal with it competently.
City were starting to gain more momentum in the game and on twenty seven minutes, City were awarded a corner on their right. The ball was played into the box and bounced down off Richards. Balotelli reacted quickest as the ball bounced up, with his back to goal, he acrobatically but the ball in the net with an overhead kick. One nil City.
De Jong had clearly got up to pace in the game as he patrolled the thirty yard area like a rabid Bull Mastiff. He snapped up every ball that came near him and found a blue shirt with each pass. Milner was running and moving brilliantly and even Toure was starting to find space to run into.
Villa had a shot through Bent on the thirty fourth minute, right on the edge of City`s box. The rebound fell to Warnock who shot straight at goal.
As the half played itself out, City hadn`t been fantastic, in fact they hadn`t been really good, but they were going in with a one goal lead. Winning whilst playing ugly was not something old City could ever do, new City though, were a different proposition.
No changes at half time as City kicked off. If they could hold on for forty five more minutes they would be top of the League and not by luck, by merit.
Within a minute of kick off, Toure saw Johnson and Balotelli making runs. He played a ball over the defence and Johnson ran on to the perfectly weighted pass to put the ball past Given and into the Villa net. Two nil and Johnson had made a positive impact on the game at last!
On fifty minutes Toure was at the centre of things again playing a brilliant one two with Clichy. He got to the by line and cut back a wonderful ball to Balotelli who was upended in the box. It looked a dead cert penalty but the ref was on the spot and waived play on.
Within a minute City had earnt another corner. Johnson curled the ball in to the near post. Kompany rose majestically and placed the ball past Given into the Villa net. Three nil and one of the Premier League`s only unbeaten teams were being made to look pretty awful by City. The Blues had gone up a gear after half time and Villa who had managed to hold on in the first half had lost their grip on the game.
First yellow of the game came on fifty eight minutes as Barry went through late and from behind on Agbonlahor. Villa failed to take advantage of the set play and City were soon attacking again and on sixty minutes Milner found Clichy on the left. Clichy found the by-line and cut the ball back. It came off a Villa defender and from the resultant corner, Richards and Given collided. Richards was left semi-conscious on the ground with a nasty cut to his head, whilst Given was left with nasty stud marks down his midriff.
First sub of the game came on sixty four minutes as Banan replaced Heskey. Silva was ready to come on just before Richards` injury but disaster struck whilst Richards was off the pitch. With Milner at emergency right back, Villa launched the ball into the City box. N`Zogbia was in a clear offside position and clearly touched the ball. Warnock ran onto the offside pass from N`Zogbia and buried the ball past Hart. Three one to a dubious and dodgy goal.
Two substitutions by Mancini followed on sixty six minutes as Kolo Toure replaced Richards and Silva replaced Yaya Toure.
Seventy minutes in and the best goal of the game was made and finished by the player that was at fault for Villa`s goal. Milner picked the ball up in the left back position and played a seventy yard inch perfect cross field ball to Johnson. He then ran full length of the pitch to receive the return pass on the edge of Villa`s box from the confusing winger. A volley of ridiculous brilliance put the ball past the despairing Given to make it four one to City as Mancini`s charges oozed class.
Five minutes later and the totally wonderful Balotelli played a ball over Warnock to Johnson. Johnson played a reverse pass to Silva who waltzed through the Villa defence and shot just wide when he should have cut back to Balotelli whose sublime movement found him unmarked on the penalty spot.
City`s final substation of the game saw Owen Hargreaves come on for Johnson. Not wanting to be outdone by his fellow enforcer De Jong, Hargreaves put in two crunching tackles with seconds of being on the pitch.
Balotelli was looking ridiculously good his flicks, passes, movement and vision were truly world class. The attitude seemed to be under control and even when fouled and kicked he walked away. When barracked by the Villa fans he answered them with a goal.
On eighty minutes City held on to the ball for sixty passes. The only way Villa could get the ball back was by fouling as Bannan went in on De Jong from behind and received Villa`s first yellow card of the game.
Even Lescott was getting in on the act as he jinked and tricked his way past the Villa midfield and was only stopped by a foul.
Total football doesn`t describe the second half performance. Pace, Skill, Flair, Fluency, Teamwork, Effort, Vision none of these words do justice to City`s performance. At the start of the season there were mutterings of City being the English Barcelona and on this second half performance those mutterings will get louder and louder. .
City played out the game with wonderful movement and passing not allowing Villa a sniff of the ball. After a slow start they gathered pace and steam rollered Villa and Mario Balotelli showed why they call him Super Mario. His ball control, pace, strength and positional sense are utterly amazing when you think he is so young. I bet Fergie is worried his noisy neighbours are going to steam roller his Champions elect next week.
Joe Hart – 8
Only had three saves to make all game and couldn’t do anything about the Villa goal. Great distribution and a world class save from Agbonlahor.
Micah Richards – 8
I don’t understand why Micah is not first choice right back for England. He is twice the player of anyone played at right back in the last twelve months. Put his body on the line again and ended up with a nasty injury.
Vincent Kompany – 8.5
Won everything in the air. Won everything on the ground and even foraged into the opposition half looking a bit like Cruyff. Scored a great goal as well.
Joleon Lescott – 8.5
Could have had a goal. Won everything thrown at him and joined in the total football playing one two’s and showing Villa all the tricks and flicks he knew.
Gael Clichy – 8
Solid performance once again. Pace strength and great positional sense.
Nigel De Jong – 8.5
Oh how we missed you Nigel. Tackled like Rottweiler, passed like a Brazilian.
Gareth Barry – 8
Another great performance by Barry. Tackled and passed brilliantly and showed that even if you can’t run quickly, you can dictate the pace of a game.
Yaya Toure – 8
Started slowly but got into the game after twenty minutes. Looked good.
James Milner – 9.5
Played the pass of the season and finished the move with a twenty five yard bullet. Was clearly upset at being at fault for Villa’s goal whilst playing at temporary right back but made up for it with a brilliant performance.
Adam Johnson – 7.5
Scored a goal and had an assist from a corner but still the most frustrating and hard to appreciate player in the squad.
Mario Balotelli – 10
This guy is going to be one of the World’s greatest ever player. Fact. He has everything.
Kolo Toure – 8
Came on for the injured Richards and didn’t put a foot wrong.
David Silva – 8
Came on for Yaya Toure and couldn’t be faulted.
Got stuck in from the second he came onto the pitch. Can’t wait for him to play next week and show Fergie what he is missing.
Roberto Mancini – 10
A masterclass of tactics. Rested his first choice forward four and found the second choice players just as good. Wow Roberto! The sixty plus passing move near the end of the game was just brilliant to behold.
Alex Mcleish – 6
His team were unbeaten before they met City. Got taught a lesson today.