On a bitterly cold night down at the DW Stadium City felt the warm glow of victory, despite a workmanlike display that occasionally veered to the wrong side of comfortable...
As with the fixture against Tottenham, Mancini emerges with credit for the tactical switch midway through the 2nd period that saw Aguero withdrawn for Kolarov and reversion to the 3-5-2 – a move that would have resulted in many armchair managers and would-be experts scratching their heads up and down the country - but the 1st goal arrived within seconds of the adjustment fully vindicating the managers tactical acuity. The hosts had stretched City a few times in the wide areas, Kone and Jordi Gomez missing headed opportunities from balls thrown in from the flanks and the decision to match up to the Wigan system paid dividends. Towards the close Maicon missed a great opportunity cutting in from the right flank, to make the outcome even more emphatic. Such a result would have been harsh bearing in mind the patchy first half display.
It could be argued that the most significant switch was made prior to Aguero’s departure when Javi Garcia was removed from the field. Despite an encouraging second half display against Real Madrid, Garcia looked off the pace here, unable to cope with the lack of space and time in the centre of the park and surprisingly weak in the challenge on a couple of occasions. With Yaya Toure again appearing to be jaded and far from his best it was just as well that Gareth Barry was in top form, breaking up play and retaining possession well in the manner all City fans have now come to expect. James Milner was introduced for Garcia, immediately gave City greater energy and balance in midfield and took his goal superbly. It was to his immense frustration that injury curtailed his night and will again result in a spell away from the team.
By and large City were solid defensively. Vincent Kompany is now returning to form at a key stage in the season and Matija Nastasic continues to impress game on game. It will not be too long before the wider media begin to take note of his precocious talent. Zaba was his consistent and versatile self playing from the left and then dropping into the back 3 and Maicon offered a steady threat from the right, although as you would expect from a Brazilian fullback, he is far happier moving up the field than he is tracking back. Whether it is coincidence or a conscious rebalancing of the team, defensive solidity has come at the cost of striking flair, with all of City’s forwards enduring slightly sticky patches up front. Sergio Aguero, undoubtedly City’s No. 1 forward has dipped in his last two games, Edin Dzeko is prominent only when coming from the bench and Carlos Tevez has been surprisingly left on the sidelines in recent games. That leaves Mario, who had recorded the most shots in the EPL without finding the target before last night’s game. The Italian put in a positive performance on the whole and looked the most likely City player to break the deadlock throughout. His perseverance and work rate, not always qualities you would associate with him, were admirable and he was able to put aside a missed header in the 2nd half to react well to Al-Habsi’s spillage from Barry’s drive on goal. One hopes it marks a run of improved displays from this most enigmatic of performers.
It was Balotelli who put Saturday’s opposition to the sword last season, ending the Everton hoodoo at the Etihad stadium. With the Goodison Park outfit starting the season positively, albeit with a few too many draws for their liking, City - with their complex crew of attacking options - will have to be close to their best if they are to prevail and add to the increasing tension at the top of the table.
Man of the Match: Mario Balotelli