A good win, but a relief more than anything. City have struggled on the road lately, but today's performance was much more comfortable against a usually stingy home Villa squad. City were unlucky to not grab a goal in the first half, which saw them dominate in spells. For a time, fears of Everton arose, where City would be the better team on the pitch but lose to a scrappy goal. But a similarly dominant second half performance saw City's efforts pay off, with a well-worked corner kick resulting in a goal for Joleon Lescott, assisted by Gareth Barry, who was arguably the man of the match for City, an unlikely theme of the season thus far.
The back four were rock solid tonight, barring the final few hectic minutes where Villa bombarded forward in search of an equalizer. Few would have expected a lineup that did not feature Gael Clichy or Micah Richards, but Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksandar Kolarov filled in well. Neither did anything particularly spectacular, but rather provided some ample defending when needed and a bit of support going forward. Vincent Kompany was his usual stern self; Lescott too. Nigel de Jong's return to the starting lineup helped in this regard as well, playing the anchor man role between midfield and defense.
Joe Hart came up with big saves in important moments once again. The keeper's role in guiding City to a potential league title cannot be stated enough. Nearly every great side has a great keeper, and Hart has saved points for this club more times than I can remember. His save to deny Darren Bent at the death not only shocked everyone in claret and blue, but it reminded us all of how fortunate City are to have a homegrown keeper of our own of such immense quality. Rather than gambling on an expensive keeper who might cost a team points (like our enemies across town), City have developed Hart on their own, and it remains one of the few areas in which the media and opposing coaches/players cannot question City for any spending.
With the lack of refereeing controversies surrounding today's match (though I still remain adamant that N'Zogbia's two-footed challenge on De Jong that earned him a yellow card was arguably as bad as Kompany's against United), a note must be mentioned on the latest twist on the Tevez saga. Reports are now surfacing that Tevez is due back in Manchester on Tuesday and might even rejoin the squad. Opinions are mixed; some say he can provide the spark City could need to ensure the title, others argue that it would be detrimental towards team chemistry while no one really knows if Tevez has kept up his fitness while AWOL in Argentina.
Looking forward, City have two consecutive games in the Europa League against Porto. The away leg will without a doubt be an extremely difficult match, and the type of lineup City will put out for the match remains uncertain at this point. The away leg is first, and if City can grab at least one goal in that match it will set up for a much more comfortable home leg. Regardless of those results, the next league match is home to Blackburn, which should be an easy 3 points at this moment. Likewise, United play away and home to Ajax, and then have a winnable match at Norwich, followed by a tough affair at Spurs.