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A routine victory and a clean sheet at last at the Etihad....
Three points, three goals and a clean sheet. This was as comfortable a victory as the scoreline suggests against an obliging Sunderland side who never looked like upsetting the Etihad equilibrium. From the 5th minute when Kolorov won ownership rights over Balotelli to arrow a free kick over the Sunderland wall and past Mignolet in familiar fashion, City were in complete control. The overwhelming sense of familiarity extended to a goal from Sergio Aguero - his first at the Etihad since THAT goal - some rampaging runs by Micah Richards and a diligent return to the team for the overlooked James Milner. This was the City of 2011/12 vintage.
The fixture also saw a very bright performance from Gareth Barry - one 2nd half incident aside - who used the ball intelligently and astutely. Milner's goal capped a typically industrious display, appearing in all areas of the field both defensively and offensively, particularly causing problems in wider attacking areas. This was only his third league appearance in blue this season - indeed he has been a more prominent starter for England than he has City of recent - even when it seemed his work rate and tactical discipline would have been well utilised in certain difficult fixtures such as at the Bernabeu. He will depart for England duty in good spirits. For Richards no such trip awaits him as his international exile continues but returning to action here it was as if he had never been away. The rampaging runs were there despite starting the match positioned at centre half and there were numerous goal attempts from set pieces where he was extremely unfortunate not to score. Defensively he was an aerial match for the in-form Steven Fletcher who was the obvious main threat for the visiting side.
With each passing game there is a tendency to make definitive statements regarding how City have been shaping up in their title defending campaign. Even after the inspired fight back against Fulham there was some degree of criticism levelled at the side but it is hard not to conclude now that City are up and running in the EPL. The Champions League - as we know - is a different matter altogether. Here, City lined up with a much changed defence, and a nicely balanced midfield with Milner and Barry's graft combining well with Toure's presence and Silva's magic. An indifferent Balotelli was perhaps the only negative to come from the afternoon - marching straight down the tunnel when withdraw just before the hour. Mancini was happy to play the incident down post game. Defensively Kompany and Nastasic succumbed to injury prior to kick off ensuring returns for Richards and Lescott. A spell on the sidelines for Kompany may give him the period of reflection he requires to re-focus his game.
The pick of the bunch however was Aleksandar Kolarov, effectively given licence to attack by the composition of the midfield and the lack of influence of the unwell Adam Johnson in opposition, the Serbian was able to able to play to his strengths, picking out Aguero beautifully to seal the victory in the 2nd half. His early set-piece contribution had therapeutically settled any anxiety following Wednesday's run around against Dortmund.
For the rest of the 1st half City played at 70% against a pedestrian and one paced opposition. When Sunderland stepped up their play following the interval, Mancini responded by pepping up the attack with the introduction of ‘El Kun'. The switch had the desired effect and from then on it was a case of how many. A slightly deflected inswinger from Milner was the icing on a satisfying cake. A tricky trip to the Hawthorns awaits once the International break has been endured. One would expect more resistance from an improving West Brom side than City encountered here.
Man of the Match: Aleksandar Kolarov