Verdict: Manchester City 4 Aston Villa 1
Goals: Balotelli 29, A Johnson 46, Kompany 51, Milner 70 for City. Warnock 64 for Villa.
City’s run of good results against Villa continued in what was ultimately a comfortable victory. Mario Balotelli broke the deadlock with a delicious bicycle kick, and another second half blitz was capped by James Milner’s finest goal for the club.
The victory moved City to the top of the Premier League, a fitting reward for the club’s best ever start to a top flight campaign. One difference from last season is how Mancini can rest key players and still get the result. If we’re to mount a title challenge this will be a key factor.
Balotelli, Milner and Johnson have stepped in and produced match winning contributions. In midfield it was last season’s triumverate of de Jong, Barry and Yaya who provided the platform for success.
Gael Clichy was excellent once again. At Arsenal he must have had a reputation for being weak in the air as McLeish stationed Heskey against him after David Moyes had put Fellaini on the full-back in the last home match.
Gael again leapt well and completely negated the tactic. When it came to keeping pace with Clichy as he motored forward, Heskey was nowhere to be seen, making it a comprehensive victory for the Frenchman.
On the other flank an injury to Micah Richards saw Kolo make an appearance at right-back. He looks very well suited to the role, enjoying good technique, pace, reading of the game, and being quick on the turn. His authority within the side ensured he saw plenty of the ball as well.
Owen Hargreaves made his league debut, coming on to help close the game out in the Vieira role. Hopefully his involvement will grow, with a start against Wolves in the Carling Cup next week.
Inevitably the headlines were taken by Mario, though thankfully it was for his footballing attributes rather than the pantomime villain relationship with Villa fans. Once again his willingness to shoot gave our approach play the cutting edge it can sometimes lack.
Arguably Milner’s strike, which restored the three goal cushion, was better than Mario’s. From then on the game was an exercise in keep-ball for a full 20 minutes. With players being rested this was ideal preparation for the two huges games coming up.
No doubt Mancini will rotate his side for the Villareal game, and he can do it from a position of great strength and confidence.