ASTON VILLA 0
Goals from Yaya Toure, Mario Balotelli and David Silva eased Manchester City into the FA Cup quarter finals at the expense of a much weakened Aston Villa side. As Gerard Houllier prioritised league survival over potential cup progression City were in no mood for mercy, controlling the match right through from defence to attack.
Observing Houllier’s teamsheet shows central midfielder Fabian Delph placed at left-back while key players Ashley Young, Stewart Downing, Marc Albrighton and Nigel Reo-Coker were all left on the bench. Assuming Houllier’s men had actually shown up with a game-plan rather than to make up the numbers, their plans were under rapid examination after five minutes.
Alexander Kolarov, continuing in his new left-wing position, teamed up well with Balotelli and Silva to win a corner. The subsequent corner was headed into the path of Toure via Ciaran Clark’s arm, leaving the Ivorian with an easy finish. The early goal proved ideal for City, allowing them to dictate the tempo of the match and pass their way around the depleted Villa side.
Questions will be asked of Houllier’s selection not just because only weeks ago Villa had defeated oil-rich City. Throughout the first half Villa enjoyed considerable amounts of possession and had the talent and trickery of Ashley Young not been sitting on the bench and the ineffectual Emile Heskey not been leading the line Villa, may well have tested Joe Hart more often.
As it happened, the away side could not make it past the formidable defensive midfield partnership of Gareth Barry and Patrick Vieira. Each time Villa appeared to be starting an attack, Barry or Vieira broke up the play and began a new City move. Their quick passing then led to Balotelli’s stunning goal. Receiving a long pass from Toure, he led it over his shoulder before a thumping finish into the top corner. Silva appeared to match Balotelli’s talent with his goal in the second half, showing why a huge amount of money was spent on him. His excellent reading of the game enabled him to find the ball on the edge of the area and rifle home for a third.
Balotelli impressed leading the front three and yet his temperament again hindered him, eventually needing to be substituted after catching Chris Herd with an elbow, displaying signs of his volatile nature. City’s supporters will hope the explosive personality of Balotelli will not restrict the development of such an excellent young footballer.
Key to City’s success was also the entertaining battle between Gabby Agbonlahor and Micah Richards. Agbonlahor enjoyed success early on at beating his man but Richards subdued his attacker with some tough tackling and tight marking. Agbonlahor is known for his electrifying pace but the also speedy Richards was equal to him. Indeed, Agbonlahor must have been pleased with the introduction of Young, allowing him to switch to the right flank. Manchester City fans will be pleased to see Richards finding the form that earned him such plaudits in his youth while Agbonlahor’s worrying form this season continues.