March 2011 - Reports
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Chelsea 2 Manchester City 0    
Sunday 20th March 2011 : Roland Gearey for GYKO at Stamford Bridge

The persistence of Chelsea was outdone only by the patience of the crowd. This was one of those occasions when expensive sides seem intent on producing shoddy football. The victors can be faulted only slightly. Even when they were caught up in the dreariness, Chelsea still had a desire to attack and deserved the late goals. Manchester City did not change their conservative stance until it was too late. The injured Carlos Tevez was badly missed but a club with City's funds is supposed to have redoubtable alternatives.

In a sense they do. Edin Dzeko cost £27m when bought from Wolfsburg in January but is yet to score in the League. It might be of help to him and any other attacker if there was more freedom and attacking intent from City. It is Chelsea who have at least the potential to dominate. Fernando Torres is still to score since the £50m move from Liverpool but there was enough flair around him to deter the crowd from brooding about his work.

The scorer of the opening goal, for instance, must reinforce the belief that Chelsea can be rejuvenated so that they stay to the fore even during a time of partial reconstruction. David Luiz is an inspired recruit. He cost some £21m from Benfica and the purchasers are right to think they have pulled off a coup even at that substantial price.

The Brazilian looks capable of everything, whether it is trenchant defending, skilful bursts into midfield or, in this case, the scoring of an opening goal. With 79 minutes gone he headed home a free-kick delivered by the substitute Didier Drogba. It will not come easy for the Ivorian to accept that, at 32, he must spend more time on the bench but it may be that he can be an asset even if there is limited time at his disposal. Drogba, of course, might feel he can displace Torres, although there is no indication that the manager, Carlo Ancelotti, has lost even the merest trace of his faith in the striker.

The equanimity comes more readily when results are pleasing. Chelsea may be revitalising themselves and, as if David Luiz's impact did not suffice, the value of Ramires is gradually being disclosed. He has seemed diligent, with a bad habit of collecting yellow cards that gives him seven following the caution here, but there was a dazzling glimpse of other attributes in stoppage time. The midfielder beat both Joleon Lescott and Aleksandr Kolarov before putting a stylish shot past the goalkeeper Joe Hart.

Beyond the outcome itself the atmosphere around Chelsea was bright. Irrespective of who identifies and signs players, recruitment is going well at present. Ancelotti, in any case, looks like a person who had never supposed he would wield absolute power. After all, he used to work for Silvio Berlusconi's Milan. At City, on the other hand, the issue of squad-building is liable to be a topic of recrimination.

The quality of the displays is far from a fair reflection of the sums committed to the project. After the epic fees it is disconcerting to watch what again appeared to be a run-of-the-mill team. Roberto Mancini is probably determined to keep vanity at bay but there is a fear that he has gone too far with this puritanism. City, for instance, mustered one goal in two matches as Dynamo Kyiv eliminated them from the Europa League.

Dashing football is not necessarily a luxury or proof of naivety. City, with their conservative manner, have scored markedly fewer Premier League goals than any of the other sides in the top four. Yaya Touré is an impressive all-round footballer but one has to wonder if City meant to buy a gifted holding player and turn him into an attacking midfielder. At Stamford Bridge the role seemed not to suit the Ivorian and it may be that any impact has come against poorer opponents. Touré was replaced before the end.

Elsewhere it was a conundrum that someone with the ability of David Silva was never a source of deep anxiety for Chelsea. A balance has to be struck but City's owners must have had in mind spectacle and entertainment that would see their team admired, even if a little resentment of their affluence lingered. Although the very idea makes no sense, Mancini looked hell-bent on putting together a diligent line-up that are hard to overcome.

That is a starting point but the tolerance of the owners will be unusual indeed if they do not begin to wonder whether there might be another manager who can go about his business with more dash and personality. In the light of the situation overall it was to be anticipated that José Mourinho would be tipped as a prospective manager of City.

He already has a job, of course, at a club of some standing and, if Real Madrid should part with him, Mourinho is also pictured as a successor to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. Even so, Mancini may have to introduce panache if he is not to find himself expendable.


Chelsea Cech, Ivanovic, David Luiz, Terry, Cole, Ramires, Essien, Lampard, Kalou (Zhirkov 77), Torres (Drogba 70), Malouda (Anelka 70).

Subs Not Used: Turnbull, Mikel, Bosingwa, Ferreira.

Booked: Ramires, David Luiz.

Goals: David Luiz 78, Ramires 90.

Man City Hart, Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov, De Jong, Toure Yaya (Balotelli 80), Barry, Milner (Adam Johnson 81), Dzeko, Silva.

Subs Not Used: Taylor, Wright-Phillips, Boateng, Vieira, Boyata.

Booked: Milner, De Jong, Barry, Kolarov.

Att: 41,741

Ref: Chris Foy (Merseyside).

Manchester City 1 Dynamo Kyiv 0    Balotelli cocks it up!!
Thursday 17th March 2011 : GYKO at the COMSTAD

City's participation in Europe is over for another year, smouldering out on an evening that will be remembered as the nadir of Mario Balotelli's first season in English football.

Roberto Mancini's players put in a valiant effort, winning this second leg via Aleksandar Kolarov's low drive, but Balotelli's red card after 36 minutes left them short in attack and, for all their endeavour, the damage inflicted in the Valeriy Lobanovskiy stadium last week proved to be too great. Balotelli was "stupid", to use Mancini's description, delivering a crude, studs-up kick into the chest of Goran Popov, reminiscent of Nigel de Jong's now-infamous challenge on Xabi Alonso in the World Cup final.

Whether City would have worn down their opponents had Balotelli stayed on the pitch we will never know. But Mancini certainly appeared to think so and the manager was entitled to feel badly let down. "If it was 11 versus 11 we would probably have scored two or three goals," Mancini said after a match that leaves the FA Cup as City's solitary hope of a trophy. "At 2-0 it was a very difficult game but a stupid red card and 2-0, 11 versus 10, it's hard ... there is a big difference."

Mancini had initially been reluctant to criticise a player he has tried to coddle at times since signing him from Internazionale last summer but, asked whether he was angry, his response was clear. "What do you think?" he replied. "If Mario thinks, he could be a fantastic player. But this is his problem. When he does stupid things like tonight it's difficult for him, for me and for the team."

In the circumstances the 10 men acquitted themselves well. Kolarov's goal came three minutes after the red card, arrowing his shot through a congested penalty area after David Silva had touched a free-kick into his path, and what followed was a courageous and spirited attempt to break through the Ukrainian team's defence again. Dynamo, despite the extra man, seldom played with any ambition. They had also resorted to diving, time-wasting and just about every other trick in the book long before the end. But the extra man told.

City were the superior team for long spells but there were few clearcut chances in the second half and the late onslaught that might have been anticipated never really materialised. By the final whistle they looked a tired side, running out of ideas and, for that, Balotelli will have to accept a significant proportion of the blame. There is nothing new about this 20-year-old blurring the boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not but, until now, the good has outweighed the bad, even if there have been moments when it has been a close call.

This, though, was a footballer guilty of reckless naivety and, in doing so, endangering himself to the possibility of losing a certain amount of trust from the supporters.

Balotelli had suffered a couple of heavy tackles himself and the tell-tale signs were there of a player allowing emotion to get the better of him, running towards the Turkish referee, Cuneyt Cakir, at one point and gesturing wildly. His time on the pitch also incorporated missing the kind of chance he would usually convert blindfolded and inadvertently getting in the way of a goal-bound Silva shot and, taking all that into account, he had reason to be frustrated.

Even so, little defence could be applied to the way, jumping for an aerial challenge, he jabbed out his left leg and planted his studs into Popov's chest before dragging them all the way down to his opponent's thigh. It was a night of bizarre refereeing from Cakir, with eight players booked. "Every time, dive; every time, whistle, whistle," Mancini said afterwards. But this was a clear sending-off and the latest demonstration that Balotelli is a player who can veer out of control far too easily. The striker has had two red cards and nine yellows in 20 appearances this season.

He also has 10 goals, which is a measure of why Mancini brought him to the club in the first place, knowing full well that it would be a turbulent ride at times. But Balotelli did not deserve the crowd's applause as the assistant manager, Brian Kidd, chaperoned him to the tunnel and, in keeping with a controversial evening, there were unconfirmed reports after the match of Balotelli stopping his car to remonstrate with a group of Kyiv supporters.


Man City Hart, Kolarov (Milner 88), Lescott, Kompany, Richards, Barry (Adam Johnson 71), Toure Yaya, De Jong, Balotelli, Tevez, Silva (Dzeko 76).

Subs Not Used: Taylor, Wright-Phillips, Vieira, Boyata.

Sent Off: Balotelli (36).

Booked: Tevez, Kompany, Silva, De Jong, Toure Yaya.

Goals: Kolarov 39.

Dynamo Kiev Shovkovskiy, Danilo Silva, Leandro Almeida,Yussuf, Popov, Gusev, Eremenko, Vukojevic, Yarmolenko (Betao 90), Ninkovic (Zozulya 45), Shevchenko (Garmash 62).

Subs Not Used: Koval, Rybalka, Nesmachniy, Guilherme.

Booked: Yussuf, Ninkovic, Leandro Almeida.

Att: 27,816

Ref: Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey).

Manchester City 1 Reading 0    Now for WEMBLEY
Sunday 13th March 2011 : GYKO at the COMSTAD

Manchester can start planning for a match that, for those involved, will combine hope with dread, bring the winners to the point of euphoria and the losers down to their knees. City versus United, blue versus red, the two old rivals can look forward to renewing hostilities in an FA Cup semi‑final that will have enormous significance for this divided city.

It will be the first time these feuding neighbours have met at Wembley and, for City, the joy of Micah Richards's winning goal should go much further than setting up another battle of wills with Sir Alex Ferguson's team. It will be their first FA Cup semi-final for 30 years and, for a club of this ambition, it represents another important step in their development under the ownership of the Abu Dhabi United Group. In total, United have featured in 27 semi-finals compared to City's 11, but Roberto Mancini was emboldened enough after this victory to hold his fingers a centimetre apart as he discussed the difference between the two clubs. "It's this much," he said, eyes sparkling.

Richards struck after 74 minutes, directing a firm and precise header beyond the Reading goalkeeper, Alex McCarthy, after David Silva had swung in a corner from the left. Until that point the Championship's 10th-placed side had thwarted their opponents, playing with strength and organisation, but the goal was deserved on the balance of play.

At times, it was a scruffy performance from a City team perhaps showing signs of fatigue after playing six games in 17 days but they were still markedly superior, controlling large swaths of the match, even if it was a performance that was occasionally lacking fluency and pockmarked with misplaced passes.

Brian McDermott, the Reading manager, said afterwards that his team had deserved a draw, which was stretching the point a little, but there was certainly dignity in defeat for the side that had knocked out Everton in the fifth round.

They were compact, organised and frequently made life difficult for their opponents, despite heading north with a squad troubled by considerable injury problems. Yet the last Championship side to be left in the competition were a little too conservative to exert any genuine sense of providing another upset.

Instead, the pressure was virtually all one way and, despite passages when the home crowd grew volubly concerned, there were only sporadic moments when Mancini's team looked vulnerable. Richards's goal prompted a brief flurry from the visitors but, even then, they could not create a single clear opportunity to endanger Joe Hart and produce the goal that would have taken this tie to a replay.

Instead, a jaded City stuck manfully to the task of wearing down their opponents even in those moments when their frustrations were obvious. There were groans in the stands and, in the midst of a performance of hard running but little end-product, a riled Carlos Tevez was guilty of a sly stamp on Zurab Khizanishvili. At one point the referee, Lee Probert, summoned Tevez and ran his finger along the "Respect" motif on his shirt, but City's leading scorer was not punished for an offence that angered the Reading players.

Tevez was otherwise a constant menace to the visiting defence. Yaya Touré's driving runs from midfield were another feature and Shaun Wright-Phillips worked hard on his return to the team. David Silva, as is increasingly the case, was the hub of most positive City moves, the Spaniard playing the ball long and short, always seeking gaps in the visiting defence and exploiting the space between midfield and attack.

Reading defended ably, with Khizanishvili standing out and their two central midfielders, Jay Tabb and Mikele Leigertwood, working tirelessly to close down their opponents. Nonetheless, City still created several presentable chances before Richards's goal, with Wright-Phillips, Silva and Tevez aiming their shots straight at McCarthy.

The mood was becoming increasingly tense by the time Richards advanced for the decisive corner. The defender's credentials in the opposition penalty area were a feature of his early days in the team but have not been witnessed so much in the last couple of seasons. This was a prodigious leap, with a twisting header that went in off McCarthy's outstretched hand.

The celebrations at the final whistle were a mixture of jubilation and relief. And the last time City played United in the semi-finals? That was 1926 when they won 3-0 at Bramall Lane only to lose by a single goal to Bolton Wanderers in the final.


Man City Hart, Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov, De Jong (Barry 83), Vieira (Balotelli 70), Toure Yaya, Wright-Phillips (Boyata 90), Tevez, Silva.

Subs Not Used: Taylor, Dzeko, Jo, Razak.

Booked: Kompany, Richards.

Goals: Richards 74.

Reading McCarthy, Tabb (Howard 86), Gunnarsson, Khizanishvili, Harte, Kebe, Karacan, Leigertwood, McAnuff (Robson-Kanu 62), Long, Hunt (Church 76).

Subs Not Used: Andersen, Griffin, Antonio, Taylor.

Booked: Long.

Att: 41,150

Ref: Lee Probert (Wiltshire).

Dynamo Kyiv 2 Manchester City 0    Out in the Cold
Thursday 10th March 2011 : Konstantin Chernichkin for GYKO at the Valeriy Lobanovskiy Stadium

The temperature was several degrees below zero, Manchester City's midfield operated as if semi-frozen and a suddenly allergy stricken Mario Balotelli departed early, feeling sickly.

All in all a Ukrainian night illuminated by Andrey Shevchenko's clever feet and perfect balance proved pretty awful for Roberto Mancini's side who have much to do if they are to survive the second leg at Eastlands.

The disappointing Edin Dzeko especially will need to improve appreciably if he is to preserve City's Europa League hopes by upstaging his long-term hero Shevchenko in Manchester.

The latter's subtle, seamless, seemingly timeless - even if they did go mising for a while at Chelsea - skills were behind most of Dynamo's best, principally counter-attacking. moves. Appropriately the former Chelsea striker volleyed Dynamo into a first-half lead before the almost equally impressive Oleh Gusev sealed victory courtesy of another volley.

"We made two mistakes for the goals and you can't make mistakes in games like this," said Mancini, whose players never really tested Dynamo's goalkeeper. "Kiev is a good team but the right result could be 2-1, maybe. They were stupid goals to conceded. I'm frustrated. It will be a different game at Eastlands but 2-0 is not a good result."

It did not help that Balotelli appeared late for the second period after apparently turning mutinous and initially refusing to come out following a sudden allergic reaction which prompted his face to swell dramatically before he was sick.

Although City's medical staff, who are aware the Italian reacts badly to certain types of grass, gave the striker two antihistamine injections their failure ensured he did not last long, being withdrawn shortly after collecting a ninth booking of the season.

"Mario had an allergy, I don't know what, his face was swollen, I don't know why," said Mancini. "He wanted to come out for the second half but he had this problem 10 seconds before the re-start. I came out one minute before the players and I didn't see it but another guy told me. After that Mario came out and said, 'I can play' but his face was swollen."

It would have been less confusingly bizarre had hypothermia been the problem.

The patches of frozen snow adorning the stadium's attractively tree lined perimiter served as a reminder that spring's thaw comes late to Kiev and the rock hard pitch was duly more akin to plastic than grass.City though made a deceptively sure-footed opening, leaving Dynamo hearts in mouths when Balotelli connected with Aleksandar Kolarov's well flighted second-minute corner only to miscontrolhis volley sending it harmlessly over the bar.

Mancini had paired his trademark blue and white scarf with a bobble hat but watching the gradual erosion of David Silva's initially powerful creative influence - one glorious ball to Micah Richards saw Dynamo's goalkeeper hurtle off his line and collide with the City defender to deny a potential goal - he must have been tempted to tear it off in frustration. And, as if being newly tight-marked was not bad enough, Silva soon became partly culpable for Dynamo's opener.

Deceived by some smart skill on Andriy Yarmolenko's part, the Spaniard failed to cut out a cross that was gleefully pounced on by Shevchenko. He may be 34 now but the one time Milan striker's reflexes seemed razor sharp as he expertly dispatched a close-range volley beyond an possibly slightly hesitant Joe Hart. Bar one wonderful piece of skill which had seen him take out two defenders before delivering a clever pass, the local hero had begun fairly quietly in his new deep lying, persistently roving role but now Shevchenko was shaping the entire game. Delighting in giving Kolarov, in particular, a hard time, he might have scored a second before the break had he secured a better purchase on another volley.

The post-interval period was dominated by Balotelli's malady but he did at least retain sufficient strength to ensure a tactical withdrawl following an unpleasantly late tackle on Ayila Yussef which ensured a yellow card.

Although Carlos Tevez's arrival galvanised City, the visiting midfield was still struggling to conjure chances for Mancini's front three.

Ably marshalled by Ognjen Vukojevic, Dynamo had no such problems and deserved their second goal, registered when Hart and Richards hesitated, permitting Gusev to meet a cross deflected by Vincent Kompany with an incisive scoring volley.

It could have been worse, though, had Hart not denied Gusev with his legs shortly before Shevchenko departed to a standing ovation.


Dynamo Kiev Shovkovskiy, Danilo Silva, Khacheridi, Yussuf,Popov, Gusev, Vukojevic, Eremenko, Yarmolenko,Shevchenko (Ninkovic 88), Milevskiy.

Subs Not Used: Koval, Betao, Garmash, Kravets, Leandro Almeida,


Booked: Yussuf.

Goals: Shevchenko 25, Gusev 77.

Man City Hart, Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Zabaleta,Toure Yaya, Barry, Kolarov (Wright-Phillips 82),Balotelli (Tevez 57), Dzeko, Silva.

Subs Not Used: Taylor, Boateng, Vieira, De Jong, Boyata.

Booked: Balotelli, Tevez.

Att: 16,000

Ref: Florian Meyer (Germany).

Manchester City 1 Wigan Athletic 0  Dire Stuff
Saturday 5th February 2011 : GYKO at the COMSTAD

When you are down at the bottom of the league very little in the way of luck comes your way, and after giving a much better account of themselves away to Manchester City than they had done at home to Manchester United last week, Wigan left empty-handed through their own carelessness. A goalkeeping howler of schoolboy proportions by the normally reliable Ali al-Habsi presented City with the points on a day when they were well below their best, giving Wigan the hollow satisfaction of having played the better football but thrown away the result. They could and should have escaped with a draw, but the late substitute Conor Sammon was unable to make his first opportunity in English football a memorable one, pulling his shot past a post when an equaliser appeared a formality.

If this was not City's worst performance of the season it was certainly one of their least plausible, like some of the excuses being advanced in defence of Kolo Touré's failed drugs test. The defender was an impassive spectator at this game; he had not been expected to attend, but made a surprise late appearance. He is still welcome at both stadium and training ground as City intend to remain supportive of the player while the FA's investigative procedure runs its course. The club would not confirm or deny Arsène Wenger's interpretation of events regarding the medication Touré may have been using, they were surprised that the Arsenal manager took it upon himself to go public on the matter. "We were very tired," Roberto Mancini said. "This victory is for Kolo, he's a fantastic man."

It was a far from fantastic victory. For the second successive game Roberto Martínez felt Wigan ought to have been playing 10 men, and even playing 11 the visitors could easily have caused an upset. For much of the time Wigan were the only side with any ideas. "City used their experience," the Wigan manager said. "There were a lot of technical fouls every time we got into attack situations. Micah Richards should have seen a straight red for his tackle on Tom Cleverley, but the overall number of fouls shows how the game went."

Although Richards and Gareth Barry were booked early for heavy challenges on Cleverley and Hugo Rodallega respectively, City at first appeared to have enough poise and balance to run through the Wigan defence. One surging run by Tevez took Antolín Alcaraz and Maynor Figueroa out of the game, only for the eventual shot to roll the wrong side of Habsi's right upright. David Silva just missed the other post a few seconds later, flashing a well-struck shot narrowly wide when he might have done better to notice Mario Balotelli in space and screaming for the ball to his left.

It seemed just a matter of time before the home side opened the scoring, yet Wigan wasted the best chance to take the lead when James McCarthy fired high and wide on the half-hour. The City defence seemed to have taken care of a threatening run from Victor Moses, only for Vincent Kompany to give the ball away again in his own penalty area when he had a chance to clear. A pass from a colleague could not have presented McCarthy with a clearer sight of goal or a more inviting opening, yet he rushed his shot when composure was needed and the opportunity was missed.

If Martínez was disappointed by that he looked positively crestfallen at what happened next. His defence parted like a flimsy curtain to allow City a goal that was barely deserved, at least in the manner of its scoring. First Adrián López slipped as he came across to challenge Silva, allowing his compatriot space to shoot, then Habsi let a fairly ordinary effort through his hands and then his legs to trickle over the line. It was hardly an auspicious moment for López, making his Premier League debut, though if Habsi was guilty of making the most basic goalkeeping error – not getting anything behind the ball – Latics can hardly point the finger given the number of times he has come to their rescue this season.

Wigan were unlucky at the start of the second half when Alcaraz's side foot volley struck a post from Ben Watson's corner. Perhaps the City defenders were not expecting anything quite so subtle from a centre-back for they were almost caught cold, with no one making a move to reach the ball. The visitors' attack predictably improved as soon as Charles N'Zogbia came on for the last half-hour, and Joe Hart had to make a sharp save to keep out a goal bound effort from McCarthy from the edge of the area.

City were not finding the second half quite the breeze they might have imagined, and Mancini responded by withdrawing Balotelli. Not for Edin Dzeko, as might have been expected, but for an extra midfielder in Aleksandar Kolarov. Another defensive substitution followed when Nigel de Jong came on for Silva, as City decided to protect what they held, though Dzeko did make an appearance in place of Tevez for the last few minutes. De Jong was warmly greeted after seven matches out through injury, though City fans were beginning to file out by then.

Wigan could not be faulted for endeavour but do not appear to carry the goal threat to escape their present predicament, as could be seen when Rodallega wasted a late chance with a tame shot straight at Hart and then Sammon missed his glorious opportunity to equalise in the final minute. City do have potent strikers, they just sometimes choose to keep them well hidden. Like Mrs Touré should have done with her slimming pills.


Man City Hart, Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Zabaleta, Vieira, Barry, Silva (De Jong 83), Toure Yaya, Balotelli (Kolarov 68), Tevez (Dzeko 86).

Subs Not Used: Taylor, Boateng, Jo, Boyata.

Booked: Richards, Barry, Kompany.

Goals: Silva 38.

Wigan Al Habsi, Lopez (Gohouri 69), Gary Caldwell, Alcaraz, Figueroa, Watson, Diame (Sammon 84), Moses (N'Zogbia 60), McCarthy, Cleverley, Rodallega.

Subs Not Used: Pollitt, Thomas, Di Santo, Gomez.

Booked: Gary Caldwell.

Att: 44,864 (including two car loads of Wigan Fans)

Ref: Stuart Attwell (Warwickshire).

Manchester City 3 Aston Villa 0   City March On
Wednesday 2nd March 2011 : GYKO at the COMSTAD

Manchester City are one game away from their first FA Cup semi-final in 30 years and the fact that that assignment comes against the 10th-placed side in the Championship will serve only to heighten the sense of anticipation within a club that so desperately craves silverware. Reading will visit Eastlands on 13 March and it is a measure of how poor Aston Villa were here that Roberto Mancini's team can expect Everton's fifth-round conquerors to provide a more challenging test.

To say Villa were disappointing would be an understatement. Gérard Houllier's decision to rest so many key players was baffling in the extreme and City punished them accordingly, Yaya Touré and Mario Balotelli scoring within the opening 25 minutes and David Silva ending any faint hopes of a Villa comeback with a crisp drive in the 70th minute. Houllier's side scarcely put together one noteworthy attack, demonstrating a peculiar lack of interest in a game that could have invigorated a mediocre season.

The Frenchman had to defend himself against allegations that he had experimented far too recklessly. Mancini had also left out some of his regulars, most notably Carlos Tevez, but he could at least cite the fact he is trying to negotiate a horribly congested fixture schedule. Houllier is not burdened with the same difficulties but chose to leave three of his more accomplished attackers – Stewart Downing, Ashley Young and Marc Albrighton – on the bench, even though Darren Bent was cup-tied. Fabien Delph, a central midfielder by trade, was deployed at left-back. Chris Herd was thrust into an unorthodox position at right-back. Their defence, already missing Carlos Cuéllar, James Collins and Luke Young, looked vulnerable and disorganised. In attack, they were sterile and lacked fluency.

Houllier argued afterwards that his selection was justified because the priority was Saturday's game at Bolton Wanderers, and he still considered Villa, 12th in the league, to be deep in relegation danger: "If I had to, I'd do it again." He also pointed out that his team was filled with internationals, though he was counting Under-21s and countries such as Australia and Bulgaria.

They were certainly generous opponents for a side of City's riches and the home side picked them off with a routine air. Touré was particularly impressive, reverting to the attacking role in which he has been most effective this season. Silva was busy and effective and Balotelli's finish to make it 2-0 was wonderfully taken even if, as ever, it was not that simple with the Italian.

In the first half there was a moment of classic Balotelli comedy when he could be seen complaining to Touré that he was cold before borrowing his team-mate's gloves. Of more seriousness, the 20-year-old still appears to be troubled by the knee problems that have truncated his first season and his apparently magnetic attraction to controversy shows no sign of fading either.

Balotelli was careless, to say the least, when he pushed his elbow towards Herd's face as they competed for a high ball on the hour. Mark Clattenburg, the referee who let off Wayne Rooney when the Manchester United striker elbowed James McCarthy at Wigan last Saturday, ruled that a yellow card was sufficient despite angry protestations from the away dugout. Mancini's response was to substitute Balotelli rather than risk him getting embroiled in any more trouble.

On the whole, however, there was plenty to admire about City once they had opened the scoring, Patrick Vieira flicking on Aleksandar Kolarov's corner and the ball striking the centre-half Ciaran Clark to drop kindly for Touré. Inside the six-yard area, Touré's finish was low and precise, sweeping his shot past the hopelessly exposed Brad Friedel.

From Villa's perspective, it was a soft goal to concede and the same accusation could be applied to their defending when Balotelli extended the lead. The pass from Touré was carefully measured and, running clear, Balotelli's shot was calmly side-footed into the top right-hand corner of Friedel's net. The striker now has 10 goals and nine bookings in his 16 appearances for the club.

Villa did marginally improve in the second half but it was still perplexing that Houllier brought on Young and Downing only after Silva had made it 3-0, the Spaniard firing a 20-yard drive into the bottom corner after Clark had only half-cleared Pablo Zabaleta's cross.


Man City Hart, Richards (Boyata 83), Boateng, Lescott, Zabaleta, Barry, Vieira, Toure Yaya (Jo 80), Kolarov, Silva, Balotelli (Tevez 60).

Subs Not Used: Taylor, Michael Johnson, Dzeko, Wabara.

Booked: Balotelli.

Goals: Toure Yaya 5, Balotelli 25, Silva 70.

Aston Villa Friedel, Herd, Clark, Dunne (Walker 83), Delph, Agbonlahor, Petrov, Bradley (Ashley Young 71), Bannan, Heskey, Delfouneso (Downing 71).

Subs Not Used: Marshall, Pires, Albrighton, Reo-Coker.

Booked: Petrov, Clark, Agbonlahor.

Att: 25,570

Ref: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).


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