FOX Soccer Exclusive
Man City starting to motor
The Blue Moon is on the rise again. We’re going to hear a lot more of the song the Manchester City fans love to sing. Because the performance Roberto Mancini needed has been delivered.
Sunderland was the victim at a vibrant Etihad Stadium, where City looked what the history books will forever say that they were last season. "They played with the swagger of true champions," said Niall Quinn, the former City and Sunderland center-forward.
The amiable Irishman almost winced while he said it, for Quinn was a member of the Sunderland board until February, but City’s owners from Abu Dhabi have paid handsomely for an elite squad and, when the 11 chosen by Mancini on any given day do their stuff, the mid-table masses cannot expect to live with them.
City had gone into its seventh Premier League game of the season with concerns about the defense, which had leaked eight goals compared with leader Chelsea’s three, but there is no better way to defend than by keeping the ball and Mancini’s men displayed a ferocious hunger for it from minute one to 90.
PREMIER LEAGUE RESULTS
|Saturday, October 20|
|West Brom||1-2||Manchester City||Recap|
|Sunday, October 21|
|More: Scores | Stats | Premier League|
At least ten of them did. Mario Balotelli, the great enigma, had one of his dilettante days, wasting possession several times in the hour before he was replaced by Sergio Aguero and disappeared down the tunnel, ignored by a stone-faced Mancini. Aguero made quite a difference, almost immediately half-volleying a majestic goal from one of many superb crosses by star man Aleksandar Kolarov to make the three points safe.
Kolarov is proving an inspired acquisition from Lazio, one of Mancini’s former clubs in Italy. The Serbian left-footer cost $24 million but seemed to have a limited future when City signed Arsenal left-back Gael Clichy in the summer of last year. Instead, Kolarov has found his best form and already scored twice this season, against Real Madrid away and now Sunderland, each time with a free-kick.
It would be hard to imagine a better pair of modern full-back performances than that supplied by Kolarov and Pablo Zabaleta – another who has come under challenge for his place, in this case by the newcomer Maicon – on Saturday. They were as much wingers as full-backs, forcing Sunderland’s wide attackers to track back and chase them.
The clean sheet City kept for the first time since the closing stages of last season, when shut-outs against Newcastle away and Manchester United at home offered the opportunity to clinch the title on the final day, was almost incidental. It was a masterly team performance, even before Aguero’s arrival and the addition to his goal of a deflected free-kick by James Milner, which made the scoreline a more realistic 3-0.
If City continue to play like this, better teams will fall at Fortress Etihad. Winning your home games is a good habit and City have made it a trademark. The last visiting team to win there was Everton in December 2010. That was 33 Premier League games ago. And only three of those has been tied. That’s six points dropped in the best part of two years.
A couple of days can be a long time in football, however, and what made City’s performance all the more impressive at the weekend was the fact that the players kicked off against Sunderland only 63 hours after leaving the same field following a Champions League game against Borussia Dortmund.
Mancini made a point of it, complaining before the Premier League game that it had been chosen by television as the first of the weekend, starting lunchtime. Other countries would be more considerate towards their European representative, the Italian claimed, not without some justification (though it hardly helped Barcelona’s vain attempt to negotiate Chelsea in the semi-finals of last year’s Champions League that the Catalans were obliged to wedge a Clasico against Real Madrid in between.)
But the memory of the Dortmund game was uncomfortable enough. Mancini’s men had been outplayed for most of the night and salvaged a point only through a debatable penalty for hands. They still don’t quite punch their weight in Europe and this is something Mancini will have to address, starting with home-and-away games against Ajax that each must be won to raise hope of qualification for the knockout stages.
Otherwise it will be recalled that, when with Inter in Italy, Mancini never did so well in the Champions League; it was Jose Mourinho who won it for that club in 2010. Europe will be seen as his weakness. So there are twin pressures on Mancini and there is nothing unique about that in the sort of territory he inhabits. But he goes into the international break with the look of an English champion again. That will do for now.
Patrick Barclay is one of England's most experienced soccer writers. He has covered the game for every broadsheet newspaper and attended eight World Cups and nine European Championships. Barclay is the author of biographies of Jose Mourinho (Further Anatomy of a Winner) and Sir Alex Ferguson (Football - Bloody Hell!) You can follow him on Twitter @paddybarclay.
More Stories From Patrick Barclay