MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 25: Mario Balotelli of Manchester City scores the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Blackburn Rovers at the Etihad Stadium on February 25, 2012 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
There can't be many easier ninety minutes than those experienced by City yesterday afternoon. Up against an insipid and Blackburn side who seemingly played without hope - which was a surprise given some recent results they have had - City were at their dominant best, setting many statistical highs for the 2011/12 and coming close in several other categories.
At times Blackburn simply couldn't get close to City. At the half, City held 81% of the possession - a figure that barely dropped throughout the rest of the game - and were consistently above 90% in passing completion throughout. Of the players who started the game, only Joe Hart from the City side had less touches than Martin Olsson who had the most (45) in the Blackburn side. It was as one-sided a game as seen this season (even moreso than the win against Stoke) - a fact underlined by Blackburn failing to muster a single shot on target until well into second half injury time.
The difficult January that saw the side affected by injury, suspension and international absence now seems very much in the distance as the first signs of spring are upon us. The side looks to have its rythmn back and the squad options available to Roberto Mancini are such that the likes of Gareth Barry, Edin Dzeko, Samir Nasri, David Pizarroand James Milner could all be left out of the starting line up, whilst the only mentions the again available Carlos Tevez warranted were in relation to how much his presence wasn't missed.
Recent games suggest that the side has regained a rythmn and fluidity to its play (the games against Porto in the Europa League helping in this regard); surely no coincidence that this has occurred following he return of Yaya Toure, whose presence in City's midifeld is so telling and the balance he brings helps mesh the side together to produce performances such as the one witnessed yesterday. This was evidenced in the goal scored by Edin Dzeko: a wonderful display of movement and one touch football that saw the ball moved forward with pace and intent before Dzeko dispatched a clinical header past Paul Robinson.
The opening goal too was a measure of the clinical nature City possess in front of goal, with Mario Balotelli once again making what was a technically difficult finish look rather routine. The fact that he was in a position to convert was as a result of good work from Aleksandar Kolarov (much like with the Dzeko goal) who, after being on the end of much criticism, was arguably the man of the match yesterday:
Aleksandar Kolarov: 118 touches, 92 passes(inc 6 key) with 92% conversion, 2 crosses and 3 shots. Also had 1 tackle and 2 clearances.#mcfc— Danny Pugsley (@danny_pugsley) February 25, 2012
As much as the talk will be about extending the 100% home record and that another three goals were scored in the process, it would be remiss not to mention the fact that City (more notably perhaps the Vincent Kompany/Joleon Lescott partnership) posted another clean sheet - their eighth in the past eleven Premier League games - and for all the goals being scored this area is an often overlooked, but vital part of City's game. Within this there are also signs that Nigel de Jong appears to be returning to his form of 2010/11 after struggling in the main this season.
I've written before that City's home record will go a long way in determining whether the Premier League title heads to The Etihad Stadium as opposed to Old Trafford (or even White Hart Lane) and yesterday's win was the thirteenth straight this season and eighteenth in all, just one shy of equalling the Premier League record. City still have some difficult fixtures to come at home over the remainder of the season but such has been their form on home turf they will be confident of prevailing against any side that visits.
What the win will also do is switch pressure back over to United. They now head into their game today at Norwich (albeit heavy favourites) five points adrift of City but at a time when the questions being asked are around how City will cope with the pressure at the top the onus for now falls on United being the ones to contend with the pressure of needing the win.