NORWICH, ENGLAND - APRIL 14: Carlos Tevez of Manchester City is mobbed by his team mates after scoring his team's fifth goal to complete his hat trick during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Manchester City at Carrow Road on April 14, 2012 in Norwich, England. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
I wrote pre-game that City had to find a return to their clinical away form from earlier in the season if they were to stand any chance of pulling off a remarkable comeback over the final weeks of the season. This was particularly so given that three of their remaining fixtures (prior to yesterday) were away from home where they had taken just seven points from their seven games in 2012. One game it may only have been but it was certainly the result and performance so desperately needed as it reprised away days from back in the Autumn months as City hit six goals - more than they had managed in their previous ten on the road - to put an end to their struggles away from home and at the very least signal that they intend to push United all the way.
With the only change from the West Brom game that of Pablo Zabaleta replacing Micah Richards City's approach was clear: rather than a performance that lacked belief, conviction and intent they would impose themselves early and often - and so it proved as City sought to dictate the play. This resulted in a bright start to the game as Norwich too were able to fashion chances but the greater movement of City's front line was key. The duo of Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero finding time and space and both profited in quick succession to put City two goals ahead with excellent strikes from distance.
Post-match, Norwich manager Paul Lambert looked a little shellshocked - as well he might - as until the final 20-25 minutes his side were very much still in the game. Trailing 2-0 at the break Norwich were ahead 5-3 in terms of chances created and got back into the game early in the second half when Andrew Sermon punished Joe Hart's lack of conviction when punching clear. Whereas in previous games this may have signalled a retreat from Roberto Mancini and attempt to hold onto a slender lead, but instead he introduced Yaya Toure in place of Samir Nasri and City took control. Only on the pitch for 27 minutes Toure was a pivotal figure, completing 41/50 passes and being directly involved in four chances as City swung the chance count 14-8 in their favour as they hit four late goals (and hit the woodwork twice) to round off what was some truly excellent football.
When Carlos Tevez ended his self-imposed exile (which, by virtue of his non-apology, was precisely what it was despite some quarters speculating as to whether Mancini or City's stubborness resulted in his absence) my overriding concern as not how he would re-integrate (i.e. be accepted) into the squad, but how his presence would impact upon the shape and style of the side. Tevez is such an integral player and one whose style demands to be the focal point of the side. How would his return impact upon the likes David Silva, Samir Nasri and Sergio Aguero? In his first start yesterday we may have had the answer. With him in the side from the start the formation was essentially a 4-2-3-1 and it was interesting to compare Tevez and Silva's passing graphics as there as little difference between the two in where they were made from, illustrating how deep Tevez at times operates. It as also interesting to note a shift in Samir Nasri's role as he was more prone to playing out wide on the wing - predominantly the left hand side and this allowed him to link well with Gael Clichy - another parallel with earlier in the season.
There is no question that City have rebounded impressively to the defeat at Arsenal that seemingly ended their title hopes. With the pressure off (conveyed by Mancini's continued assertion that the race is 'over') City have hit ten goals in their two subsequent games, playing with a freedom and purpose rarely seen of late. Yet the cold, hard facts are that City have only achieved what they had little option to do: take the six points as they aim to win out over the rest of the season. Even with beating United in a fortnight's time to land the title remains a huge ask and although City may ultimately look back with frustration, for now at least they appear only to be looking ahead as they approach the final stretch of the 2011/12 season.