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Game recap: City 3-0 Villa

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The defining month of March begins with a win, a comfortable one at that.

Any concerns that there may have been at Roberto Mancini's decision to omit Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko from the starting line-up were eased when news of Villa's starting eleven was announced.

No Ashley Young, Stewart Downing or Robert Pires to contend with; all safely tucked away on the bench. It was a decision that backfired on Gerard Houllier (or maybe not perhaps?) as from the moment Yaya Toure pounced on a loose ball and hit home from barely six yards out the game was as good as over.

Although Mancini gambled by not starting with Tevez or Dzeko, he could at least turn to David Silva and  the risk was Mario Balotelli. Houllier's decision was merely a baffling one.

Here was a City side, attempting to juggle fixtures on three fronts with key players already injured and the prospect of fatigue from recent games, potentially there for the taking. Yet Houllier chose to rest key players for the weekend game against Bolton, a decision that has brought universal criticism given the relative safety of Villa's position in the league.

Mancini will no doubt be grateful however, having been able to navigate a tricky looking tie with minimal effort to set up a winnable quarter-final tie at home to Reading a week on Sunday. Not only that but he didn't have to call upon Dzeko or Tevez (a twenty minute or so leg stretch aside) but also found time to experiment late on with a 3-5-2 formation (reportedly something worked on recently in training) and even give throw Jo into the fray.

In possession City were impressive. Allowed time and space by Villa, both Patrick Vieira and Gareth Barry proved that they are good players when allowed to be. The early goal of course helped and once again showed the value of getting an early lead. City have now outscored their opponents 10-2 over the first ten minutes of games and it almost lifts the side into a far more purposeful style of play than the languid, stymied showings sometimes seen.

The range of passing and minimal risk taking from Barry and Vieira allowed the inventive David Silva to shine and the decision to deploy Yaya Toure further forward was a good move and caught Villa off guard at times.

Yes at times City allowed Villa too much opportunity, but as lively as Barry Bannan looked they failed to utilise the speed of Gabriel Aghbonlahor and Emile Heskey physical presence was well-marshalled by both Jerome Boateng and the quietly impressive Joleon Lescott.

If a one-goal gave City the platform to kick-on, the second, scored by Mario Balotelli, effectively killed the game off. At first glance it appeared to be a routine one on one finish, but replays showed that he made a difficult chance look very easy indeed. It is clear that whatever else may come with his game, he looks to be a very clinical goalscorer indeed.

A third, sweetly struck by the returnee David Silva, merely iced the game and the only disappointment in the crowd was the decision to not afford Michael Johnson some minutes late on. For now, he had to be content with vigorous stretching along the touchline.

The manner of the victory also now allows Mancini to field the strongest possible side against Wigan on Saturday, a game where points are needed to get back on track in the league, without having to have too much of an eye on Dynamo Kiev the following week.

There are going to be plenty of balls to juggle if the side are to emerge at the end of March in the position they want to be, but the start has been a positive one at least and a shot in the arm needed after the disappointment against Fulham.

Now is not the time to take an eye off matters though.

RATINGS: Hart 6.5; Richards 7; Boateng 7; Lescott 7, Zabaleta 6.5; Vieira 7; Barry 7; Yaya Toure 7; Silva 7.5; Kolarov 6; Balotelli 7. Subs: Tevez 6.5; Jo 6; Boyata 6