What a difference a game makes. From looking over his shoulder at Tottenham Hotspur in the race for the coveted fourth Champions League place, Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini must now be eyeing the Premier League runner-up spot after the 5-0 demolition of Sunderland, the joint-heaviest defeat of Steve Bruce´s 20-month reign at the Stadium of Light.
City have come in for some fierce criticism this season for being ultra-defensive, significantly in games against the top four sides, yet when the shackles are off – and with a more attack-minded line-up – Mancini´s men can play some free-flowing football. However, the Blues´ boss felt the key element in the victory was the extra rest enjoyed by some players in the week leading up to the game: “I
Apart from the fatigue factor being lifted Mancini must also have enjoyed the displays of certain individuals. Adam Johnson and Nigel de Jong, both having spent time on the sidelines with injury in the last couple of months, put in particularly impressive performances – the latter had arguably his best game in a sky-blue shirt and is starting to show he has a passing game to go with his all-action combative style. Belgian youngster Dedryck Boyata, starting his first league game since late October, was another that did well at right-back. Pablo Zabaleta would normally have slotted into the role, following the injuries to Micah Richards and Jerome Boateng, but had to delay his return from Argentina after his father took a turn for the worse following spinal surgery.
More tellingly, it was also good to see Mario Balotelli playing with a smile on his face and looking as if he was enjoying himself. All the more pleasing since Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi was quoted at the weekend as saying the 20-year-old, a self-confessed fan of the Italian club, would never wear a Rossoneri shirt due to his off-field behaviour.
In spite of Sunday´s goal-fest the Blues continue to be linked with some top quality strikers since rumours abound that Carlos Tevez could quit the club at the end of the season. The latest name to crop up is that of Edinson Cavani, who scored a hat-trick for Napoli at the weekend in their 4-3 victory over Lazio, taking to 32 his tally in all competitions this campaign. It was the Uruguayan´s fourth treble of the season to add to the ones against Juventus, Sampdoria and Steaua Bucharest, and he is responsible for half of his team´s league goals. With Arsenal and Tottenham also running the rule over him the 24-year-old, on a season-long loan from Palermo, would cost at least £25m.