Mancini warns City slickers that real test about to come
Manchester City 5
Aston Villa 0
ON the face of it, this dismantling of Aston Villa was perfect preparation for Manchester City's Champions League date with destiny against Real Madrid, yet for Roberto Mancini, it was not quite perfect enough.
As Real scout Francisco Garcia Hernandez compiled his dossier for Jose Mourinho, it would have been heavy on City's strengths and light on their weaknesses.
There was a clean sheet and a commanding performance by goalkeeper Joe Hart, two goals apiece for Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero and, with immaculate timing, a return to the top of the Premier League just in time for Real's arrival in Manchester.
But tearing apart an inexperienced Villa team that appears destined for a battle against relegation is, according to City's demanding manager, no preparation at all for a game which could define his club's season.
Some kind of perfect was good enough against Paul Lambert's players, but the Italian insists it will require another level of perfection to secure the victory against Real which is required to keep City's Champions League flame flickering.
"Unfortunately, this result will not count for anything against Real Madrid," Mancini said. "It is important for the Premier League and I think it was a good performance.
"But would it be good enough to beat Real? I don't know about that. They are one of the best teams in the world and, to beat them, we will have to give a perfect performance."
Despite Mancini's reticence in relation to City's prospects against the Spanish champions, the manner in which his team brushed Villa aside hinted at the resolve within the dressing-room to overcome the negativity that has stalked the club at times this season.
The storm clouds that have accompanied City's Champions League campaign have not been such a distraction in the league, where the champions remain unbeaten.
David Silva's return to fitness has coincided with the recent return to form, as has the developing defensive partnership between Vincent Kompany and Matija Nastasic.
Mancini admits that Silva's big-game mentality and the solidity being provided by Kompany and Nastasic will be crucial if City are to overcome Real.
"If you have players who have won the World Cup, like Silva – or who have won everything, like Yaya Toure – then playing against Real Madrid is the essence of football," Mancini added.
Whether Mario Balotelli will figure against Real remains to be seen. The Italian forward, dropped against Spurs last Sunday for a poor attitude in training, missed the victory against Villa after sustaining a back injury in training, prompting the manager to admit that the 22-year-old's involvement is far from certain.
But the reality, as proved against Villa, is that Balotelli has now become a peripheral figure in Mancini's plans – a controversy-magnet whose performances on the pitch hardly justify the hype which surrounds him.
Barring one stunning save from Hart to keep out Christian Benteke's 20th-minute header, City were untroubled by Villa, yet Mancini's players toiled in front of goal until Silva broke the deadlock with his first of the season following the visitors' failure to clear Samir Nasri's 43rd-minute corner.
From that point, City dominated, but they were helped on their way by assistant referee Adrian Holmes, whose bewildering intervention on 53 minutes led to referee Jon Moss awarding a penalty for a 'handball' by Villa's Andreas Weimann which no one else seemed to see.
Aguero converted the penalty to make it 2-0 and then Tevez, also from the spot, made it 3-0 before further goals from Aguero and Tevez completed the rout. (© Daily Telegraph, London)