Date: 16th October 2011 at 12:31pm
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Corners continue to be turned as Manchester City march to the top of the Premier League.

With a vital Champions League match against Villareal on the horizon on Tuesday immediately followed by the Derby in Stretford, Roberto Mancini could be forgiven for fielding a team consisting of players who maybe did not endure two internationals in five days last week and some who might have been regardedas being ‘on the fringes’ as the start of the season.

Whereas last season there may have been reasons to doubt the abilities of players like Milner and Johnson, Richards and Lescott and even the application of Mario Balotelli, yesterday against an overwhelmed Aston Villa, the value of squad rotation came good.

It looked like a City old boys reunion as Dunne, Ireland and Given lined up for the visitors and City may once have viewed Heskey and Bent up front and Agbonlahor’s pace with trepidation, but there is a new steel about this football club now. Players that didn’t come to terms with rotation last season are now playing like they want to ‘be part of it’ and are throwing more than their hats in to the ring in their respective bids to gain starting favour with Mancini. They showed why City were able to dispense with former crowd favourites and replace them with true international football stars.

With the Etihad bursting at the seams all we hoped for was that McLeish didn’t send out his team in Birmingham format to simply defend the 18 yard box and try to go home with a draw. Maybe he should have done.

What came around was not a classic but it did include classic goals.

Villa have better playing resources than their cross-city counterparts, so at least they tried to give City a game, perhaps sensing that by not including Silva and Dzeko, the blues could be vulnerable if Villa were to get in front. But all they achieved was to become the first visiting team to score at the Etihad in the Premier League and went home empty handed.

City knew that a win would take them to the top of the league on merit and whereas in the past they have failed to deliver in situations like this, today there a determination to send their fans home in the knowledge that they go to Old Trafford next weekend proudly above their cross-city counterparts in the table.

At first with two excellent saves we started to think that it was going to be Given’s day but his penchant for conceding corners from shots that he should collect would cost his team today.

In fact Villa created the first problem for City early on when Agbonlahor surprised Lescott and Richards resulting in a very competent save from Hart. After that it was very much all City.

Ahead of the half hour after Given had made a couple of excellent saves, City gained a corner on their right. Bent beat Kompany to Johnson’s flag kick. His header bounced into Richards and on to Balotelli who with his back to goal executed an overhead kick into the only part of the net that wasn’t guarded. Pure magic. Mario was able to go the Villa section and gain retribution for the abuse he took when slipping earlier on.

The rest of the first half passed with little trouble but 1-0 probably flattered Villa, who seemed to have waved the white flag already.

Kicking-off the second half City once again played their ‘set piece’. The ball was immediately played to Yaya Toure who sent a 50 yard cross field ball in the direction of Johnson, wide right. It actually fell invitingly for Warnock to clear but he didn’t and it rolled into the path of Johnson who in turn rolled in just inside the far post for a classy looking goal.

Balotelli continued to sting Shay Given’s hands and a few minutes later, City once again had a corner on the right. Johnson delivered the identical near post ball, Bent didn’t follow it in but Kompany did to send a perfect header beyond Given for 3-0.

Ten minutes later a clash in the six yard box left Richards concussed and had to be replaced by Kolo Toure. However whilst City were short-handed and with Milner filling in as an emergency right back, the maligned Warnock got on the end of an Agbonlahor cross that eluded the central defenders and found the back of the net with a powerful shot that went in off the bar.

If this was to give Villa hope it was very much false hope as just five minutes later the goal of the match was to emerge. Milner was on half way and played a delicious left to right cross field ball to Johnson. Adam drew a defender and passed to Barry who shunted in on the Milner who had continued his run from half way. Without breaking stride Milner hit a beauty with the outside of his foot curling away from the hapless Given and into the in-goal side netting.

So the 47000+ went home singing about being top of the league and for once looking forward to Derby Day

As the ‘se vende’ signs go up at Tevez house and ‘oferta liquidacion’ gets stamped on his forehead it is becoming a case of ‘the talisman is dead, long live the talisman’ and that new talisman is emerging in the unlikely shape of Mario Balotelli.

Malinged by me after the Dinamo Kyiv debacle, he seems to have arrested his demons and after scoring four in four is looking like he cannot be ignored. Yeaterday he was all power in his running, magic in terms of the goal he scored, furious with Yaya’s wayward pass and even mischievous in his relationship with the opposition’s fans.

They ridiculed him for slipping on the astro turf surrounds in front of them. He got up and warned them to be quiet and finally, as promised, executed them with a goal of quality.

Milner has at last staked a claim for his berth. His all action style can easily take over from Tevez, whilst those with more skill up top can take over the scoring duties.

Johnson is stepping up to the plate rather than grumping and will create problems for most opposing defenders.

The back line looks far more settled with Lescott and Kompany in the centres and with de Jong back in harness the midfield is not only solid, but also fluent in the knowledge that Nigel will look after them if they get forward.

So City will go into another ‘important week in the life of..’ in good shape with Aguero returning to fitness, Hargreaves getting there and a team playing with confidence. United will be a difficult proposition at the swamp and also rested their key men yesterday.

Me? I hate Derby Day at Old Trafford when life’s little favours tend to favour Stretford, but as they are not in the top ten for Premier League clean sheets and we have goal potency across our striker range an interesting Sunday afternoon is on prospect.


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