Flying Tevez hits treble to guide Blues into top four
Manchester City 4
NOW we know why the Carlos Tevez 'Welcome to Manchester' billboard so irked Alex Ferguson when the Argentine swapped Manchester United for Manchester City last summer.
Having publicly dismissed Tevez's qualities as insufficient to warrant his continued employment at Old Trafford, perhaps the bleak financial picture painted by United's annual accounts yesterday betrayed the real reason for the player's defection from red to blue.
By taking his recent strike rate to 11 in nine as City coasted past Blackburn at Eastlands, Tevez not only proved his class as a goalscorer, he also lifted Roberto Mancini's team into the top four.
City are now beginning to make actions speak louder than words. Win their game in hand on United and Mancini's team will close to within three points of the champions and it is Tevez's goals that are providing the hot breath down Ferguson's neck.
Patrick Vieira, Mancini's first signing as City manager, was restricted to a brief wave to the crowd prior to the game due to a calf injury sustained while in action for Inter Milan last Wednesday, ruling the former Arsenal captain out of this fixture. How the Frenchman actually fits into Mancini's plans remains to be seen.
Doubts remain over the 33-year-old's ability to compete in the unforgiving arena of the Premier League and the economical tenacity of Nigel de Jong at the heart of City's midfield suggests there is no immediate requirement for Vieira to displace the Dutchman.
Blackburn would have at least have granted Vieira a gentle re-entry into English football. Even prior to Tevez's seventh-minute goal, Sam Allardyce's players gave the impression of a team that would happily settle for emerging from Eastlands with a point.
With on-loan Chelsea forward Franco di Santo operating as a lone striker, Blackburn were always going to struggle to become the first team to deny Mancini a clean sheet. And their task became ever more difficult when Tevez put City ahead with his 13th goal of the season inside the opening 10 minutes.
Blackburn 'keeper Paul Robinson, whose excellent form this season has prompted genuine hopes of an England recall, will hope that Fabio Capello and goalkeeping coach Franco Tancredi did not see the weak punch that nudged Martin Petrov's corner into the path of Benjani on the edge of the six-yard box. The Zimbabwean forward, starting his first Premier League game since December 2008, guided the ball to the far post, where Tevez held off two defenders before bundling the ball into the net with his right thigh.
Another game, another goal for the Argentine, who was allowed to leave Old Trafford last summer due to Ferguson's belief that he 'wasn't worth' the £25m required to turn his two-year loan into a permanent contract. There are not many United forwards threatening to score at anything like the rate that Tevez is managing at the moment, yet Mancini will know that, if he sustains this form, the striker will fuel real belief at Eastlands of a push for the title between now and May.
City for the title? A month ago, such a suggestion would have sounded ridiculous, but the failure of United, Chelsea and Arsenal to pull clear of the pack has enabled Mancini to talk up a surge to the club's first league championship since 1968.
As Vieira pointed out last week, none of City's rivals can claim to have a forward line of such goalscoring potential. Even Benjani, seemingly heading for Notts County in August, looks capable of competing with Tevez, Emmanuel Adebayor, Robinho, Craig Bellamy and Roque Santa Cruz for selection.
After Richards had made a powerful 78-yard run on 40 minutes, Benjani accepted his pass and struck the post, with the defender able to fire in the rebound for City's second goal.
Trailing by two goals, Blackburn were backed into a corner, but Allardyce introduced forwards David Hoilett and Nikola Kalinic at the start of the second half in an effort to inject some purpose into his team.
Sitting just three points above the relegation zone, Blackburn cannot be complacent about their survival hopes but, if they continue to perform so anaemically, they will slide into real trouble.
City are only looking upwards, however, and Tevez ensured that they climbed into the top four when he scored his second of the game on 49 minutes.
Tevez started the move with a pass to Benjani from the halfway line, before sprinting towards the penalty area from where he collected the return ball and beat Robinson from 20 yards.
Tevez should have claimed a hat-trick when he wastefully headed wide from six yards on 59 minutes, but the next goal came from Blackburn, when Morten Gamst Pedersen curled the ball past Shay Given from 20 yards. But there was to be no denying Tevez and the Argentine scored his third in injury time to cap a memorable performance. (© Daily Telegraph, London)