FA Cup verdict: Manchester City 3 Aston Villa 0
Goals: Y Toure 5 mins, Balotelli 25 mins, Silva 70 mins for City.
Thank you Gerard. City triumphed far more comfortably than had been anticipated after the Villa manager made eight changes from his previous line-up. An early strike from Yaya Toure put City on their way to a quarter final tie against Reading.
Initially both managers looked to have sent out weakened sides with Mancini electing to keep Tevez and Dzeko on the bench. The Italian admitted afterwards that playing Balotelli as a lone striker had been a gamble.
Houllier held back Ashley Young, Downing and Albrighton. However the key difference was in the defences. With Zabaleta, Lescott, Boateng and Richards, City had a solid back line that were able to absorb any pressure.
Villa on the other hand had Dunne and Friedel surrounded by inexperience and it soon showed when a poorly defended corner allowed the unmarked Toure to put City ahead after five minutes. For a big man, it was a remarkably sharp swivel and shot from Yaya.
After the morale sapping draw against Fulham it was just the start City needed. With a side set up to be patient, City could then do just that. Villa didn’t chnage their gameplan and continued to sit deep, hoping to catch us on the counter. Mancini wasn’t falling for that, and as a result we spent much of the time knocking the ball around in our own half.
Overall it wasn’t a great spectacle, though that was forgotten when Villa pushed sufficiently forward for Yaya to hit a beautifully weighted pass over the top. Balotelli timed his run across and behind the Villa defence so finely that he was able to ease up as he approached the ball. The subsequent half-volley was as good a strike as we’ve seen all season.
That’s the second great finish in as many games from the Italian 20-year-old, and we’re now starting to see why he has the ‘Super Mario’ moniker. The rest of his game still left plenty of room for improvement, but the biggest concern was another spell of limping after a knock on his knee.
Tellingly, Houllier failed to make any changes at half-time. After some initial pressure we were again in a comfort zone where the less than dynamic pairing of Barry and Vieira could remain unhurried.
Any hope of a Villa fightback was quelled with another perfectly timed goal, this time for Silva. It’s great to see the Spaniard get on the scoresheet as this is the one area of his game which could be improved upon.
Although he was man of the match, both the Spaniard and Micah Richards lacked a little sharpness on their return from injury. Villa were further restricted by Micah and captain Zabaleta, who were more effective full-backs than Boateng and Kolarov had been against Fulham.
It says everything for Villa’s attempts to get a result that Mancini brought on Tevez before Houllier made any changes. Little surprise that Mancini went over to shake the Villa manager’s hand with a smile on his face at the final whistle.
“I hope to have Vincent Kompany and Nigel de Jong back for the weekend and it was good that Edin Dzeko had a rest and Carlos only played for 30 minutes. It was a good night for us.”
The prospect of our first trip to the new Wembley is now tantalisingly close. The FA Cup is certainly being kind to us this year. Looking back, Notts County beating Sunderland spared us a tricky away tie, Villa barely turned up and now we face Reading rather than David Moyes’ bogey side. This is our best chance of reaching an FA Cup semi-final since 1981.
The Reading game comes sandwiched between the two Kiev fixtures and Mancini will once more have to rotate his players accordingly. We’ll certainly need to be fresher for the Chelsea game after that little run than we were for Fulham.