City continue to strike gold
As a statement of the obvious, it is undeniable. As an indication of how far Manchester City have come, however, it was instructive. "It is impossible to always score four, five or six goals," Roberto Mancini said. Such are the expectations around the Etihad Stadium now that the reminder may have been necessary. If you manage a half-dozen against Manchester United, the sky appears the limit when the Blue Moon rises so high on the Premier League skyline.
But, for the first time in five weeks, City managed fewer than four goals in a domestic game. Their average is reduced to a mere 3.6 per league match, with the trio managed by Edin Dzeko, Aleksandar Kolarov and Adam Johnson taking their tally to 36. It has almost become passé for their fans to chorus "boring, boring City", but the transformation into adventurers continues. Last season, besides Carlos Tevez's considerable contribution, the rest of the squad combined for 40; now, albeit with some significant additions, they have almost surpassed that.
The facts alone illustrate why the Argentine has become a sideshow. Mancini is the puritan who is beginning to appeal to the purists. Consider City's clinching goal against Wolves: Mario Balotelli robbed Roger Johnson, advanced 50 yards and, with the awareness he has not always shown, waited for team-mates to join him. Yaya Toure and then Adam Johnson did, the ball finding its way to each in turn before the winger curled an inch-perfect shot into the far corner of Wayne Hennessey's net. "A fabulous finish," said Wolves boss Mick McCarthy - a manager more inclined to growl than purr sounding unusually awestruck. "There lies the difference."
It can lie, too, in the unassuming excellence of David Silva. In a first half notable for Hennessey's saves, one was required because of the 360-degree vision of the Spaniard who was aware of Dzeko behind him when facing Sergio Aguero. After a spin and pass of typical class, the Bosnian was sent clear on goal. Hennessey denied him, as he had thwarted Samir Nasri and Aguero. Wolves' defiance was inspired by the goalkeeper but epitomised by Richard Stearman, who flung himself into the path of Silva's goal-bound volley.
Rather than a remarkable rearguard action, however, it preceded the rather more familiar feeling of defeat for Wolves. Hennessey was acquainted with both halves of the goalkeeper's lot in life: rescue act suddenly losing his reliability. Rather than clearing quickly, he allowed Aguero to close him down. The ball rebounded off the Argentine and Dzeko duly slotted it into the net.
"Wayne was fabulous," said McCarthy. "There are no recriminations from me but it's another mistake that's let the opposition get the lead." It was one they would not relinquish as Kolarov extended the advantage after Silva's shot had been parried.
Goals have become a constant when City play. The regular complaint from Mancini is that they come at both ends. Wolves came back into the game with a strike that had a familiarity for their hosts. As in concessions against Bayern Munich and Villarreal, Joe Hart only succeeded in parrying the ball into the path of an opponent. It is an unfortunate trend that hints at a technical failing. In the Champions League games, it cost City a goal, here, the immediate consequence was the loss of a man. Kevin Doyle probably would have scored, but Vincent Kompany dragged him down. Exit the sent-off skipper, and for naught, as Stephen Hunt drilled in the penalty, although it was not much longer before Adam Johnson added City's third and made the game safe.
After the game, Mancini was reluctant to discuss the referee although, as he accepted, Stuart Attwell was correct to dismiss Kompany. They go to QPR next week without their finest defender, but with a surfeit of options elsewhere. Six days after suggesting Balotelli was one of the world's top five players, he reverted to being City's third-choice forward. "I can't play with three strikers," Mancini argued. After opting for one last season, he has become a convert to the cause of a strike duo. The success of that approach can be judged from the goalscoring statistics and the sense of normality when City strike three times.
"I don't want us to think every game will be easy," Mancini warned. Wolves ensured this was not. But five points clear and gorging on goals, they are league leaders. And, McCarthy thinks, the team to beat. "I would say so, yeah," he added. "They made that patently obvious last week."
MAN OF THE MATCH: Samir Nasri. Restored to the team after starting the derby among the replacements, the Frenchman stated his case with an influential performance.
MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: They are second-half specialists, scoring 25 of their 36 goals after the break. It shows their ability to capitalise when opponents tire. Without being their finest performance, they still created an abundance of chances. The concern for Mancini may be that Wolves had too many of their own, and Nigel de Jong is likely to be called upon for Wednesday's game in Villarreal. With Balotelli benched, Dzeko continued his recent revival. A forward who is either emphatically hot or not, has gone from seven goals in four games to none in six. Now he has five in three.
WOLVES VERDICT: Their recent record is unenviable but, coupled with the comeback to take a point against Swansea last week, there are reasons to be optimistic. They were well organised and spirited and the criticisms voiced at Molineux seven days earlier - that McCarthy does not know what he's doing - look utterly incorrect. A 4-5-1 system seems to suit them best; it helped them secure their Premier League status in each of the last two seasons and they look far more solid with an extra man in midfield.