Serbian hitman Aleksander Kolarov’s lethal left foot weapon fired champions Manchester City up to second place in the Premier League in a display of precision shooting.
All action Kolarov dispelled the ubiquitous notion that the reigning English Champions have somehow lost their way, as City annihilated previously unbeaten Sunderland.
The three goal margin in no way reflected City’s total domination.
8-0 would not have flattered Roberto’s resurgent troops as they put Martin O’Neil’s Mackems firmly in their place after the Wearsiders had the temerity to take four points off Mancini’s men last season.
Goals from Kolarov, Sergio Aguero and James Milner could so easily have been supplemented by an exquisite bar-hitting David Silva chip shot, two headers from a masterful Micah Richards and a tap in from Pablo Zabaleta if he was one shoe size bigger.
The ever elusive shutout at the other end of the field was finally achieved, the irony being that Mancini’s preferred centre back pairing of Vincent Kompany and Matija Nastasic were missing through injury.
Instead, it was a combination of Joleon Lescott and Richards – as English as fish & chips – aided by the superb ‘Zabba’ and Kolarov, who helped give Joe Hart a virtual day off after his midweek heroics against Borussia Dortmund.
City’s superb day in the October sunshine was off to a flyer as early as the fifth minute, when the irrepressible Carlos Tevez was hacked down by Carlos Cuellar on the edge of the Sunderland penalty box.
Kolarov – the Serb with the sweetest left foot in the Premier League – brushed aside the protestations of Mario Balotelli, claimed the free kick and duly dispatched a killer shot over the defensive wall and beyond keeper Simon Mignolet.
Be it either dead ball situations or crossing the ball at pace, Kolarov has a better delivery than Postman Pat, and his Man of the Match award was richly deserved.
This was his third goal of the season for City – in addition to one on international duty – and he is clearly a potent weapon in Mancini’s armoury. With seven changes from the chastening against Dortmund, City seemed somehow rejuvenated,with the willingness to work harder, chase back and close opponents down, much in evidence.
Mancini said he would fix ‘the problem’ and on this performance he has, albeit Sunderland were not a patch on the Bundesliga champions.
The only criticism of this scintillating City showing was that they could – and should – have scored more, but that had more to do with Mignolet’s brilliance than Manchester profligacy.
Yaya Toure lashed a stinging shot at the Belgian keeper after a sublime Silva back heel, ‘Merlin’ Silva lobbed the ball against the bar from 25 yards after terrier-like Tevez set up the opportunity and Richards had a shot headed off the line.
The goals, when they did come, were pretty tasty.
Kolarov whizzed a cross from the left flank and, quick as a flash, Aguero lashed his shot past Mignolet from seven yards out to score his 17th goal in his last 19 league appearances at the Etihad. He’d only been on the field for four minutes after replacing the subdued and sadly, surly, Balotelli.
Three minutes from time and it was Kolarov again – this time as the architect of City’s third goal. He was taken down on the edge of the Sunderland box, to set up Milner’s curling free kick which zipped over the defensive wall and deflected beyond Mignolet.
This was City back in top gear. Silva was bright and inventive, Richards a revelation in his comeback match with Milner and Gareth Barry indefatigable and composed throughout.
It’s now 13 league games undefeated, 31 wins and 3 draws in the last 34 PL fixtures at the Etihad and a pristine first clean sheet of the season – yes Manchester City are definitely a team in crisis!
If the start of the season has been City’s ‘blip’ then heaven help the rest of the Premier League if they are emerging from these alleged troubled times.