IN an instant, Manchester City were transported back to last season. Yaya TourÃ© was scoring again, the supporters were singing his name and Manuel Pellegriniâ€™s team were producing the sort of result that served as a reminder why they became champions in the first place. Frustration has been a familiar feeling for them in a stuttering title defence and, after 81 minutes, a second stalemate of the embryonic campaign beckoned.
Then TourÃ© intervened. Twenty yards out, confronted by a phalanx of defenders, he accepted Fernandoâ€™s pass and bent his shot between Alan Hutton and Philippe Senderos. Aston Villaâ€™s resistance was ended. So, with it, was TourÃ©â€™s drought. His previous league goal came against the same opponents in May; it was a landmark strike, making the Ivorian only the second central midfielder of the Premier League era to register 20 in a season, a formidable achievement that was followed by a fallow period.
A belated first against top-flight opposition in five months brought the loudest chorus of TourÃ©â€™s name in that time. If relations were soured over the summer by the unnecessary furore his agent, Dimitri Seluk, created, with his bizarre accusation that City did not even provide a cake to celebrate his clientâ€™s birthday, they are undergoing a repair now. His goal might be said to represent the icing on the cake for Pellegrini, who handled a difficult situation diplomatically. â€œI think it was a misunderstanding,â€ the Chilean claimed, downplaying the farrago in typical fashion and attributing TourÃ©â€™s substandard start to the season to the summer loss of his brother, Ibrahim.
A goal marked a return to form. Perhaps as significantly, a midfielder often accused of neglecting his defensive duties had slid in to make a fine block and take the sting off Andreas Weimannâ€™s shot on one of Villaâ€™s few attacks. â€œHe can be criticised for one or two weeks but I know perfectly the way he thinks and the way he can play so I never had a problem about that,â€ added Pellegrini. Cityâ€™s problems were diminishing by the time Sergio AgÃ¼ero delivered his sixth goal of the season, the Argentinean rifling in a shot after he was found by James Milner.
â€œFor 81 minutes, the lads were excellent,â€ stated Paul Lambert, the Aston Villa manager. It was a day when his defence and the woodwork were allies in an admirable rearguard action. Brad Guzan did not have a save to make until the second half, but his back four were overworked. Nathan Baker produced a masterclass in defensive defiance, excelling with a series of blocks to cap his renaissance, and Aly Cissokho hacked off his line to deny Edin Dzeko. It was the culmination of a well-worked set-piece, with Milner finding David Silva, who crossed for the Bosnian.
It was another indication of the Englishmanâ€™s influence. Milner was the instigator of many of Cityâ€™s finer chances, playing with trademark persistence and no little skill. One pass, when AgÃ¼ero hit the base of the upright, was Silva-esque. It was the second time City had hit the post. Aleksandar Kolarov clipped it with a typically ferocious shot from an acute angle.
â€œI was thinking that this was not our day,â€ Pellegrini confessed. But his side were relentless. It amounted to a fine response to difficulty. Silva grew in prominence in the final half-hour as Guzan became busier and Villa could not quite hang on.
They adopted their tried-and-trusted tactics against the elite, of playing without possession and springing quick counter-attacks. It was a ploy that threatened to work as Charles Nâ€™Zogbia spun away from Fernandinho and sprinted 40 yards to unleash a shot that whistled past the post. Then, seconds after AgÃ¼ero struck wood, Nâ€™Zogbia released Kieran Richardson, who was thwarted by Joe Hart. â€œIf you get a chance, you have to take it,â€ said Lambert, whose side have still only scored four league goals.
At least Christian Benteke returned as a substitute after six months on the sidelines with a ruptured Achilles tendon. However, an attacking boost followed a striking disappointment, as the ill Gabby Agbonlahor pulled out after the warm up, and fortune has not favoured them. â€œI have never known a run like this,â€ said the Scot, whose side have faced last seasonâ€™s top four in consecutive games. â€œThe fixtures have been pretty unkind.â€ – The Guardian