Chelsea 2 Manchester City 0
Sunday 20th March 2011 : Roland Gearey for
GYKO at Stamford Bridge
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
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
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
Chelsea Cech, Ivanovic, David Luiz, Terry, Cole, Ramires, Essien,
Lampard, Kalou (Zhirkov 77), Torres (Drogba 70), Malouda (Anelka
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.
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
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
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.
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
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),
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Subs Not Used: Koval, Betao, Garmash, Kravets, Leandro Almeida,
Goals: Shevchenko 25, Gusev 77.
Man City Hart, Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Zabaleta,Toure
Yaya, Barry, Kolarov (Wright-Phillips 82),Balotelli (Tevez 57),
Subs Not Used: Taylor, Boateng, Vieira, De Jong, Boyata.
Booked: Balotelli, Tevez.
Ref: Florian Meyer (Germany).
Manchester City 1 Wigan Athletic 0 Dire
Saturday 5th February 2011 : GYKO at the
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
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
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,
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
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
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
Man City Hart, Richards (Boyata 83), Boateng, Lescott, Zabaleta,
Barry, Vieira, Toure Yaya (Jo 80), Kolarov, Silva, Balotelli (Tevez
Subs Not Used: Taylor, Michael Johnson, Dzeko, Wabara.
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.
Ref: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).