Manchester City 4-1 Aston Villa: Mario Balotelli overhead kick sparks rout to send hosts top of Premier League
The home side were dominant throughout at the Etihad Stadium, as Adam Johnson, Vincent Kompany and James Milner added to the Italian's extravagant first-half strike
By Jonathan Birchall at Etihad Stadium
A first-half bicycle kick from Mario Balotelli was followed up by goals from Adam Johnson, Vincent Kompany and James Milner, as City ran riot at home. Stephen Warnock's strike shortly after City's third was to prove little more than mere consolation.
Mancini made four changes to the team that hammered Blackburn a fortnight ago, with Micah Richards, Gael Clichy, Nigel de Jong and Gareth Barry replacing Pablo Zabaleta, Aleksander Kolarov, David Silva and Sergio Aguero, who, having picked up a groin tweak at Ewood Park, failed to make the Italian’s bench.
Despite City’s fine home performances this season in which they have scored nine unanswered goals in only three league games at the Etihad, McLeish sent out a team with plenty of attacking options, as Emile Heskey came in for Barry Bannan and started up front with Darren Bent as Gabriel Agbonlahor moved out wide. James Collins, who had been struggling with a foot problem, was replaced by Ciaran Clark.Having seen Sir Alex Ferguson's men drop points at Anfield, City started with appropriate vigour, seemingly smelling blood from the other end of the M62. Johnson appeared most likely to make something happen, turning Warnock down the right channel, only for Villa to regroup with Shay Given on hand to collect the ball.
However, the first big chance would fall to Villa on the 11th minute and to the in-form Agbonlahor. Having outmuscled Joleon Lescott in the City half, the 25-year-old ran into the box, only to hit a limp effort towards Joe Hart, who pulled out a good save. It was huge let off for the defender.
It was a wake-up call to which the home side responded impressively, with Balotelli and Johnson looking threatening, as a scuffed shot from the former was nearly turned in with a cute flick from Milner, only for his effort scrape the outside of Given's post.
City's best chance was to come shortly after through the Italian once again, as he hit a fine curling effort towards Given's far post, only for the Irishman to get down magnificently to turn the ball behind. Villa were hanging on as the half hour approached.
But not for long, and it was Johnson's corner from which the hosts would secure the breakthrough, as it bounced off the sizeable chest of Richards and into the path of Balotelli, who with his back to goal, showed fine improvisation to knock a bicycle-kick past Given to give City a deserved lead.
Villa returned to the pitch early after the half-time break but any fire in their belly's provided by McLeish was soon extinguished, as City doubled their lead almost instantly after the restart and it was Warnock who was made to be held responsible. The full-back failed to clear a long ball from Yaya Toure, allowing Johnson to nip in with ease and double the home side's lead with a calm finish past Given.
City's energy was as startling as Villa's collapse, which was completely confirmed only six minutes later, as Kompany rose in the box to head home from yet another Johnson corner.
It was a third goal to secure City's ultimate aim prior to kick off; they would be returning to the top of the league, ahead of Manchester United, for the first time since August.
Having been cruising for much of the second half, Mancini's men let the visitors back in to proceedings, as Warnock slammed home from a matter of yards after some poor defending from a Fabian Delph cross on the right-hand side.
The day was to be soured somewhat following a head injury to Richards, who walked off gingerly after being substituted for Kolo Toure.
With the air of champions however, the home side regrouped and scored the fourth goal of the second half, as Milner curled a sublime effort past Given following more fine work down the right from Johnson to put the game beyond any doubt.
Opportunity very much taken, Mancini’s men will go into next week’s Manchester derby as league leaders and brimming with confidence. The Theatre of Dreams awaits.
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