Tuesday 20 February 2018

Ruthless City fire warning shot

Manchester City evidently have no need of Luis Suarez after all, or Mario Balotelli for that matter, though the defending champions did not brush Aston Villa aside quite as dismissively as the scoreline suggests.

While Villa fell apart somewhat in the second half, they almost had a right to after two borderline penalty decisions went against them in quick succession, allowing City to turn a workaday 1-0 lead into something much more emphatic.

From that point City cut loose to the extent that even Scott Sinclair got some time on the field, while Villa's stout defending in the first half went unrewarded. Five goals to nil was not an unfair reflection of the match, it just flattered City's rather stolid attacking efforts before half-time when they had been slightly lucky to turn round in front.

City could not be accused of caution or any lack of attacking commitment.Villa spent the first few minutes pressed back on the edge of their own penalty area as City came at them from a bewildering variety of angles, with David Silva prominent in most attacks, yet apart from a close-range Carlos Tevez header that went over the bar and a driven cross from Maicon that found no takers in front of goal the home side did not have a great deal of end product to show for their passing and possession. Edin Dzeko again began on the bench and Balotelli was left out after picking up an injury in midweek.

Once they realised City did not pack a direct punch Stephen Ireland and Barry Bannan began to contest the midfield and Villa produced a couple of attacks of their own. The first two saves of the game were made by Joe Hart, the first a reaction stop when Vincent Kompany almost put through his own goal from Matt Lowton's cross, the second a fingertip save to claw away a header from Christian Benteke.

Gael Clichy produced a shot that tested Brad Guzan with the best move City had put together midway through the first half, but by the half-hour stage the locals were beginning to urge their side to get a move on and stop over-elaborating.

Maicon and Silva continued a supply of inviting crosses from the right, yet each time the ball would arrive at the feet of a player in a green shirt rather than a blue one.

Finally, on the stroke of half-time, City took the lead with one of the scruffier goals they will score this season. First Tevez brought a save from Guzan with a low shot, and from the resultant corner Kompany and Tevez tried and failed to get shots in before Silva arrived ahead of Matija Nastasic to get the crucial touch.

If that was an underwhelming way for City to take the lead, the way they extended it was ludicrously soft.

Yaya Toure had just missed a close-range shot from Silva's corner and was in the process of congratulating Ron Vlaar on his last-ditch challenge when the players' attention was drawn to the assistant referee on the touchline, Adrian Holmes, who was indicating that a penalty be awarded.

At that point no one in the ground, including the referee, had a clue why, but Jon Moss was persuaded that a handball had taken place and pointed to the spot, from where Sergio Aguero stroked the ball past Guzan. Replays showed that Andreas Weimann had jumped with an arm raised, but whether there was any contact was much less clear.

Almost farcically, City were presented with a second handball penalty 12 minutes later, when Bannan missed the ball with his feet but caught it with his trailing arm as he dived in to try to dispossess Silva. This time Tevez took the penalty and scored in a similar manner, before Aguero made his final contribution to the match before making way for Dzeko by cutting in from the right and beating Guzan.

If that was a goal that suggested Villa had become dispirited, no one could possibly blame them. More tired defending was in evidence when Tevez scored his second, tucking away Samir Nasri's cross after it had been allowed to reach him at the far post. Tevez also sent Sinclair clear for what should have been a sixth goal, only for Guzan to stand up to his shot.


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