Verdict: Manchester City 5 Sunderland 0
Goals: A Johnson 9, Tevez (pen) 15, Silva 63, Vieira 67, Y Toure 73 for City.
Roberto Mancini sprung a surprise with a more attacking line-up and reaped the rewards with a five goal victory over struggling Sunderland. There was no joy for Gyan this time in his battle against Joleon Lescott and Joe Hart.
It turned out Pablo Zabaleta hadn’t made it back in time and Dedryck Boyata came in at right-back. Even more surprising was the sight of Ryan McGivern on the bench, and the left-back came on at right-back for the final quarter.
Gareth Barry found himself on the bench alongside James Milner. With those two having played at Wembley on Tuesday, sitting out this match should leave them sharper for the remainder of the campain.
After being frustrated by Sunderland at the Stadium of Light earlier in the season, Mancini went for it with Tevez, Balotelli, Silva and Adam Johnson forming an attacking quartet. Yaya Toure was left to form a midfield pair alongside Nigel de Jong, but couldn’t rein in his attacking instincts and was soon setting up the opening goal from a wide right position.
Adam Johnson played a one-two with the Ivorian and wrong-footed Mignolet with a sharp finish. Mancini singled out Johnson for praise afterwards, though his tendency to over-elaborate, particularly at corners, meant he did’t cause as much danger as he might.
Meanwhile Yaya was showing himself to be better suited to attacking than defending. Often he was slow to get goal-side of Sunderland midfielders when they had possession and as a consequence de Jong and Kompany were often stretched. It was frequently down to the excellence of these two that Sunderland were kept at bay.
“I am there to help the attacking players out.
“Win the ball, give it to them and let them play. Our main goal from the start of the season was to qualify for the Champions League and that is still the main target.”
Despite the plaudits coming his way for this high-scoring display, it would be a surprise to see Mancini so cavalier against Liverpool and United in the next two fixtures. A refreshed Gareth Barry is likely to return.
At times the attacking players seemed a little unsure of the new system themselves, and relied on their technique to give them time to find a pass. Balotelli and Tevez took turns in playing as the most advanced striker.
When not up front, Balotelli pulled out to the left where he can receive the ball in space and link up play. Tevez dropped into a playmaker role when Balotelli was central. This had mixed success due to the Argentine’s unreliable passing. The pair of them sought to link up, but this still needs work.
When the team-play did come together, chances were readily created by players of such individual quality. The roaming Silva is key to setting our attackers free, while the strength and power of Yaya is thrilling when he drives forward – if only he didn’t need to take a rest after every such exertion.
Without the extra defensive midfielder, it was noticeable how we weren’t able to knock the ball around the back-line. The possession stats showed a relatively even 51% for City and 49% for Sunderland.
However these figures also reflect Mancini’s attitude when we have a lead. The manager seems unperturbed by the opposition having the ball, so long as it’s not in a threatening area. It’s as though he likes to set them the challenge of trying to break down his defensive barricades.
A special mention should be made to Boyata who came in at right-back, where he has only played once before. Defensively Sunderland didn’t pose a strong test, but we know he is generally sound. The level of comfort when going forward was the startling thing.
With concerns about Kolarov defensively against Valencia or Nani at Wembley, Mancini could go for Boyata and Zabaleta as his full-backs if he wants to lock down the game. That would be quite a turnaround for the young Belgian after his red card trauma against Arsenal.
“I still think we can improve. We had a problem when we lost five or six players to injury and were playing every three days. But we had time to recover and prepare for this game. Now I think we can continue to have performances like this.”
Without having to worry about midweek fixtures, Mancini now has a fresher looking squad at his disposal. It was noticeable here how Vieira and Wright-Phillips both looked sharp and made a contribution following their introductions.
It all bodes well for the remainder of the season. Mancini has real competition for places in midfield and attack. Playing one game a week, everyone should be raring to go. It’s Anfield next and rarely have we looked in better shape for claiming a victory.