MANCHESTER ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 24: Yaya Toure of City (L) celebrates with teammates after he scores their third goal during the UEFA Europa League round of 32 second leg match between Manchester City and Aris Saloniki at City of Manchester Stadium on February 24 2011 in Manchester England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
If there were nerves heading into the game they were quickly blown away by a fast start that effectively killed the game off within the first fifteen minutes.
Precariously poised at 0-0 after the first leg in Greece there was the worry that an away goal would put City in a deep hole given there inability this season to come back from falling behind. Important then that City struck first and they did not once, but twice through Edin Dzeko to set up an impressive performance and progression to the last sixteen.
In the absence of James Milner, with Nigel de Jong still not fit Roberto Mancini opted against bringing in a midfielder, instead restoring Carlos Tevez to the starting line-up and deploying David Silva at the tip of the midfield trio.
This lent a very attacking feel to the side, with Silva starting in a deeper-lying and more central position but essentially floating behind the trio of Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli. At times, Silva pushed further forward, as part of a trio in support of an advanced Dzeko (illustrated here by the Man City Issues blog).
The reality is of course that formations are fluid, not static mechanisms. They change according to variations such as the time of the game and whether the side is in possession and so on. As well as the side attacked on Thursday, Mancini did voice concerns as to whether the formation was sound enough to cope against sides who are smart in possession and retain the ball far better than Aris did.
That said, at times some of the play was superb to watch. The forward play was very attacking at times, there was an intent and purpose to the play from the opening minutes (something lacking on occasion this season) and Aris for the most part failed to cope with the marauding nature and quality of the play.
The fluidity and ability to interchange was key and this does not allow the opposite to settle into a rythmn and avoids a predictability to the play that has been a failing in certain situations. We may not see this formation often, but what it does do is provide an option for Mancini against sides who 'park the bus' because the movement is such that it creates space for the side as a whole. I don't recall Yaya Toure and Gareth Barry (as the midfield duo) having as much time and space in possession, and it was as good a performance as we have seen from Barry this season.
It was Dzeko though who took the majority of the plaudits as, after an improved showing against Notts County, he was on the scoresheet twice, both finishes illustrating the reason the club spent £27million or so on him. It was an impressive showing from Dzeko (and the attacking play in general) with far more cohesion and pattern to their play as opposed to the awkward outside infringing upon Tevez's territory.
It is interesting that earlier in the season at home, the side struggled for goals and looked ponderous and without direction in games against Birmingham, Bolton and Everton. Since the Everton defeat however, City have reeled off seven consecutive victories and have scored twenty-four goals and conceded just five in the process. With two home draws in the FA Cup, an eye on progression in the two-legged Europa League and harbouring top four hopes, the ability to win a significant number of home games is key to success.
Dynamo Kiev are next for City, and were impressive by all accounts in their dispatching of Beskitas 8-1 on aggregate. The away leg is first, which suits and I'd anticipate Mancini playing tightly out there; no doubt delighted to bring them back home after a 0-0 draw.
As a final point, it is worth noting that two English sides have previously faced Aris in European competition, and like City, failed to win the first away leg. They were Chelsea (1970-71) and Ipswich (1980-81). Both went on to win the respective competitions that season.
Just a thought.