The home side was dominant throughout at the Etihad Stadium, as Adam Johnson, Vincent Kompany and James Milner added to the Italian's extravagant first-half strikeMANCHESTER – Manchester City moved to the summit of the Premier League table in impressive fashion after beating Aston Villa 4-1 at the 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 two weeks 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 prior to the game, that had seen it score 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 started out wide. James Collins, who had been struggling with a foot problem, was replaced by Ciaran Clark.Having seen local rival and fellow title contender Manchester United drop points at Liverpool, City started with appropriate vigor, seemingly smelling blood from the other end of the M62. Adam Johnson seemed the most likely to make something happen on the right, though City had to be aware as Agbonlahor forced a good save out of Joe Hart on 11 minutes.
The home side responded impressively, though, with Balotelli and Johnson looking threatening, with the Italian in particular providing a handful for the visiting defense. Though he managed to test given once more with a curling effort, Aston Villa continued to hold on as the half hour mark approached.
It wouldn't remain scoreless for long though, and the goal game off a corner kick from Johnson. The delivery 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, which it would carry into the break.
Villa returned to the pitch early after the halftime break but any fire in the players' bellies provided by McLeish was soon extinguished, as City doubled its lead almost immediately after the restart and with Warnock held responsible – he 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 after Johnson's goal, 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 – it would be returning to the top of the league 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 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. Milner curled a sublime effort past Given following more fine work down the right from Johnson to put the game beyond any doubt.
The opportunity presented by United's loss was very much taken, Mancini’s men will go into next week’s Manchester derby as league leaders and brimming with confidence.