I'm standing in for sufferingbruin for today's Five Thoughts as we take a look back at some of the key points from last night's win at Wigan.
The first half followed a similar pattern to the game at Chelsea last Sunday, where City had the better of the possession and territory but were too narrow in their approach (the odd Maicon foray forward aside) found the final third congested. Wigan on the other hand, whilst relying largely on the counter, found plenty of space and profited wide. The game changer? The introduction of James Milner for the ineffective Javi Garcia - who is markedly struggling to adapt to life in the Premier League - at a point where Wigan were beginning to dominate was key. Milner was a controlling influence as City stretched the play which allowed David Silva to operate to greater effect and it was Silva's work which created the opener for Mario Balotelli before Milner himself grabbed the second that sealed the win. Not a bad fifteen minutes or so for Milner who I tweeted was set for some big minutes in the week ahead; unfortunately he was then forced off with a muscle injury. The hope is that it is a minor one and he doesn't miss too much playing time as he could well forge a strong partnership with Gareth Barry in the midfield, something that could be important particularly when Yaya Toure heads off to the African Cup of Nations.
Roberto Mancini took plenty of credit for the change to introduce Milner, although there was far more scratching of heads when Aleksandar Kolarov and not Carlos Tevez or Scott Sinclair where introduced when Sergio Aguero was substituted. There were also grumblings that it was Aguero and not Balotelli was taken off too but his decision paid off; no doubt resulting in some hasty deletions of tweets, and for all the criticism of the 3-5-2 switches his in-game management is very good and he is not afraid to make a number of changes as the game demands.
Trying to guess his team selections is a tricky business though and last night was no exception. The results suggest Mancini is getting it right though but does his substitutions (and their success) - he does generally use the full quote - evidence this or is it a sign that he doesn't always get things right at the outset? There hasn't been a manager as proficient at using their squad as Alex Ferguson has been over the years but Mancini has plenty of options at his disposal and by and large the results suggest he has been getting it right.
The past week or so has witness the first suggestion of this City side matching the Arsenal ‘Invincibles' of a few seasons ago by going through a season unbeaten. We are now fourteen games and City are yet to taste defeat (this actually stretches back a total of 20 games including the tail end of 2011/12), something they have achieved two seasons in succession.
What is impressive though is City's defensive record. Lambasted early when they were conceded a high number of goals given the shot totals conceded they have now conceded a low nine goals, with Joe Hart having now gone 339 minutes without conceding and the defence has posted five clean sheets in the past six games (and six in eight). This of course with both Hart and Vincent Kompany struggling to match their lofty standards of a year ago. The defence has also seen plenty of change at all positions, with Mancini making a big call to drop Joleon Lescott and bring in Matija Nastasic. The decision was not without risk; a young Premier League rookie replacing a player whose form in 2011/12 was probably the best of his career attracted plenty of comment - particularly with memories of Stefan Savic still fresh in the mind.
Nastasic though has slotted in well and is improving week on week, looking every inch the prospect he was touted as. As vaunted as City's attack has been the past two seasons, their challenges in the Premier League have been based on a league best defence. The signs are that the season will once again be based on this foundation.
Mario Balotelli gets off the mark
Not a game goes by without much discussion over the merits (or lack of) of a certain Mario Balotelli. Restored to the starting line up last night after Mancini had packed him off to the naughty step for a few games he finally broke his 2012/13 duck when he put City ahead.
By any stretch his form this season has not been good, with his shot totals and scoring chance involvement reflecting poorly on his play. Including last nights game Balotelli has had a total of 31 shots this season, but has managed just eight on target (18 off target and five blocked) and the Opta stats via EPL Index show he has converted just one of nine clear cut chances.
A buoyant Balotelli, though, we know is alieni generis and the hope is that a return to form and improve upon his poor numbers. If he doesn't the tide of opinion that has begun to surface may really begin to turn against him.