The day was all about Mario Balotelli. With Newsnow brimming with tales that Mario is the latest of a seemingly endless line of City players feeling homesick it looked like a case of ‘here we go again’, following immediately on the back of Tevez-gate.
But based on yesterday’s performance it was more a case of being ‘sick of home’ for the prodigious striker.
I have to say that when I saw the line-up, like so many City fans I thought ‘Why not play your best team, get the game won and then take three off?’
But against the poorest Villa side I have seen in a long time, we could probably have fielded the EDT yesterday and not lost.
Villa looked to be short of options and lightweight all round. They were chasing shadows when Lichaj bundled Balotelli to the floor inside the box, following an excellent move involving the continually evolving David Silva. There was a queue to claim the ball for the spot kick with Tevez sitting on the bench nursing his hamstring. Yaya Toure, Silva and Balotelli all fancied it and up stepped Mario with a measured stroll-up that detected Friedel’s intentions before disdainfully stroking the ball a yard in the opposite direction. Hint of a smile? I thought so!
Once again the value of an early goal did wonders for prising apart the banks of four and five intended to be camped out in front of goal and once ‘in the slot’ Silva was to prove devastating. Almost every move revolved around this wonderful footballer as he shook off markers and moved the ball quickly to where it hurts. And so it did on 13 minutes when Silva played in Yaya, whose shot was blocked.
From the resultant Johnson corner, Lescott rose unopposed to direct a clear header to the far post. Bannan’s clearance was from a good yard behind the line and the assistant by the corner flag confirmed this. Was it really first headed goal of the season? Any way it was 2-0 and Villa looked a long way from being able to do anything about it.
Indeed they were all over the place, with no discernable shape and no real football being played. Warnock flattened Richards, who for once looked reasonably comfortable, and Richards flattened him back. One or two other so-called tackles from Houllier’s men looked a little suspect, but City were sitting comfortably, temporarily heading for the top of the league and still not out of second gear. Or were they? Just before the half hour a serial bout of keep ball involving 33 passes culminated in an exquisite one-two between the inevitable Silva and Yaya Toure. Silva’s shot towards the far post was spilled by Friedel and up stepped Balotelli to claim the simplest of tap-ins with Villa and Lichaj in particular looking for offside.
Villa did try to make something happen and could have disturbed the scoreboard writers, but for a timely interjection by Joe Hart. Albrighton made the chance. Every time City got the ball, it looked as though they could add to the claret clowns woes.
When Toure burst through in his inimitable style, drew the last defender and slipped the ball aside to Balotelli, there really should have been an early claim for the match ball. For once Mario was a bit slow off the mark and couldn’t get clear.
Ten minutes into the second half Albrighton turned to villain in every sense when Johnson’s in-out run foxed him into an untimely challenge and once again the ref was pointing to the spot.
It was time for Mario to claim the ball and he duly did despatching the penalty in identical fashion, leaving Friedel grabbing fresh air in the other corner. Poor old Brad looked totally shell-shocked, and his team not much more.
Mario is certainly getting into the swing of things as there was a salute to the fans and even more of a smile as he claimed his hat-trick.
A little later Mancini probably paid Villa their biggest insult in replacing the brilliant De Jong with ….Bridge. He also sent on Milner for Silva who left to a rapturous applause.
You don’t really have to close out a match at 4-0 but at least you can try to shut out the opoosition. For once City did that, without looking in danger.
The whole team contributed magnificently today, with star performances from David Silva, Yaya Toure, Nigel De Jong, Adam Johnson, Mario Balotelli and even Patrick Vieira. The list goes on.
Not only is there a feeling that City is gelling as a unit now, but even when we make five changes to a team that won easily in the end at Newcastle, there is still a togetherness and team ethic that enables us to destroy a team that, only the season before last, looked as though they could have been top four material. Not only that but this is the seond time in December that we have destroyed our opponents without any input from Tevez. That too is showing us as fans that things are changing even more quickly.
The scoreboard writers couldn’t wait to publish the league table proudly showing City at the summit, even if it was only to be for five hours or so. But we cannot underestimate the achievements of Roberto Mancini and his staff. Cynics tell us that it is not a good league this season. Why is that? Is it because Chelsea and United are not doing a Celtic and Rangers? Possibly. But weren’t the same pundits telling us that the league was in danger of becoming boring with only the same challengers year-in year-out? Was it not superb to hear ‘Four nil up we’re top of the league?’ at full voice from the signing sections either side of the away fans?
Harry Redknapp calls it well when he says there are no easy matches in this league. Look at the results yesterday. Would you have put Blackpool down for a win at Sunderland? No. Well, don’t put them down for a win on New Year’s Day either.
It is no longer green shoots at City. The full bloom might not be there, but spring is coming and with that we should see everything that City has to offer in full technicolour surround sound. And if Dzeko joins the revolution and United finally learn how to lose you just never know what we will be witnessing in May.
NEW YEARS DAY ON VMC:
Head for the VMC Match Day Experience Forum for the build up and beyond to the third part of City’s festive trilogy when Blackpool come to town.
Vital Man City on:
Vital Man City on: