Club Focus – Manchester City – Balotelli hat-trick inspires City annihilation of woeful Villa

The time may not yet have arrived to uncork the champagne bottles, but Tuesday evening was an evening of celebration for the blue half of Manchester nevertheless. Their cross-city rivals not due in action away at Birmingham City until later, a Mario Balotelli inspired 4-0 annihilation of an abject Aston Villa side took Manchester City to the Premier League summit.

Whilst Manchester United and Arsenal have crucial games in hand, the convincing nature of City’s victory must surely set the tone for the rest of the season. Make no mistake, following a spluttering start City are beginning to purr.

If Boxing Day’s victory at St James’ Park epitomised City’s ruthlessness when capitalising on opposition mistakes and efficiency in seeing out the game, this was a masterclass in callously dissecting a victim on its knees. One of the most surprising storylines of the season, Aston Villa have transformed from potential Champions League challengers to relegation candidates. Indeed, the presence of Gareth Barry and James Milner in the City ranks – even if of the two only Milner was called upon for a 30 minute cameo – goes some way to explaining the Villans’ demise. Nevertheless, their defensive-minded, obdurate approach was exactly the mindset which frustrated the Citizens time and again earlier in the season. Obliterating Villa highlighted the imagination and sheer destructive power which City have been infused with over the past few months.

One of the reasons for this is the emergence of Mario Balotelli. As injury struck early into his City career, journalists focused on his temperament, the arguments with Jose Mourinho and teammates at Inter and the tempestuous relationships with supporters across Italy. Perhaps Paul Doyle, writing for The Guardian, forgot to watch the precocious youngster when he actually did step onto the field, labelling him the Premier League’s worst player. Yet even before today’s hat-trick, Balotelli had five goals from 10 appearances – a ratio the envy of strikers across the land. Focusing on the tantrums and the bust-ups prevented us from viewing the blossoming of one of the finest talents in the country. Any questions about responsibility and maturity were answered by his leading of the line without Carlos Tevez. The prospect of the two playing together more regularly is mouth watering.

As with Tevez reneging on his transfer request which set City hearts aflutter earlier this month, on the basis of recent displays City fans must be praying the homesickness felt by Balotelli is fleeting. Hopefully the delight of plundering his first three goal haul in English football will have assuaged his fears about being unable to settle in a foreign land. Despite what Paul Doyle may say, City are a far richer team for his brooding presence.

Whilst it is hard to look beyond Balotelli’s wonderful contribution, a notable mention must go to David Silva. Silva is a player who has operated quietly in the shadows whilst column inches are scribbled about the enigmatic Balotelli and Tevez. Yet again his was a performance of wit and tease rarely seen in the Premier League, a true delight to watch. With Balotelli making headlines for the right reasons and Silva continuing to simmer, City are poised to have a wonderful 2011.

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