Roberto Mancini's ideal start continues
Four games, four wins. It is quite a start. It was, too, when Mark Hughes began the season in the same manner. For Roberto Mancini, however, it represents the ideal introduction to English football. There is a pleasing symmetry to it. After scoring four goals, his side are even in the top four, which should satisfy his employers. Then again, they were at the start of the season after four fixtures that also included Blackburn, Wolves and a cup tie away against Championship opponents. "I hope the Premier League finishes today," smiled the Manchester City manager.
Mancini's match-winners were Micah Richards, scorer of a marvellous goal, and Carlos Tevez, whose terrific individual display merited his hat-trick. Most of the superlatives should be kept in reserve simply because Blackburn were too poor to provide any meaningful test of City's credentials. Nevertheless, it was another encouraging outing for the owner of football's most famous scarf.
Patrick Vieira was paraded on the pitch beforehand, but misfits already in Manchester, rather than millionaires from Milan, have had a catalytic impact for Mancini. While vast amounts of snow were shifted at Eastlands, slates, it appears, have rarely been wiped cleaner than at City. The recalled and the rejuvenated are prospering. While it was incongruous to see Benjani on the field when Robinho, Roque Santa Cruz and Shaun Wright-Phillips were on the bench, it suggested a meritocracy. Benjani had earned his chance and hurtling around as though intent upon mimicking Tevez, he took it by playing a part, though not necessarily the one he had intended, in the first three goals. "He did well in a training session," said his manager, explaining the choice of the forgotten man.
Martin Petrov and Javier Garrido are others of Mancini's men, brought in from the cold at the start of the Italian's tenure. Then there is Richards, who figured frequently under Hughes but was expected to be offloaded this month until the regime change. Given a lack of fit defenders, Mancini has been forced to select Richards, but the 21-year-old enhanced his case with a stunning strike.
Collecting possession inside his own half, Richards embarked on a solo run, gathering confidence and momentum as he progressed with pace and power past a quartet of opponents. He then showed the composure to pick out Benjani and, after the Zimbabwean scuffed his shot against the post, Richards reacted ahead of Ryan Nelsen to stab in the rebound, 78.8 yards after his adventure began.
It sandwiched Tevez's first two goals. The first was scarcely a classic. Paul Robinson failed to gather Petrov's somewhat tame corner, Benjani miscued his subsequent shot and Tevez kneed the ball in. He has never been a byword for elegance and this was a goal as scruffy as the scorer can look. His second was altogether more stylish, Tevez sweeping in a cut-back from Benjani that may have been aimed for Petrov.
A hat-trick was completed in added time, Tevez digging out a shot from the edge of the box and placing it beyond Robinson. It was the Argentine's tenth goal in seven league games and while opinions have fluctuated over the course of the campaign, he is very much an asset to City and a loss to Manchester United at the moment.
His new manager declared himself a long-term fan who had attempted to sign the Argentine. "When I was in Italy, I thought he was a good player," Mancini said. "I wanted him at Inter three years ago but it was impossible because he played for United."
"It's a bad night for us, one that's left me very disappointed indeed," said Sam Allardyce. "You can't gift a team like Manchester City goals like we gifted them. We only have ourselves to blame. It wasn't about their creative play, particularly the first one, it was our poor mistake. I couldn't believe what we were doing in the first half. We made life so easy for Manchester City to do what they wanted to do." For him, it was "a real confidence knocker."
For City, belief should increase. However, there should have been a further parallel with August. It would have been four clean sheets, as it was at the beginning of the campaign, but for a moment of complacency in the City defence. Vincent Kompany's touch was poor, Morten Gamst Pedersen collected the ball and curled it past Shay Given. Atrocious for an hour, Blackburn then threatened a comeback and the perfectionist in Mancini was dissatisfied. Was it City's best performance under him? "No," he replied simply. "Because we concede one goal." You can take Mancini out of Italy, but you can't take the catenaccio out of the manager.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Carlos Tevez - Having ended Hughes' reign in fine form and begun Mancini's playing still better, he is the constant in the much-changed City side. Tevez's antidote to this weather was to run around as much as possible. That said, it appears his answer to any form of climate but his endless endeavour is bringing rewards. He is now the most in-form striker in the Premier League.
MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: His error for the consolation goal may have been a moment of naivety from a player whose recent football has been played in the midfield, but the accomplished Kompany looks the best central defender at Mancini's disposal. Alongside him, Richards' goal brought reminders of the vast potential that made him England's youngest ever defender.
BLACKBURN VERDICT: Allardyce had said beforehand that he would settle for a point. Until they rallied in the closing stages, his players seemed far too content with defeat. The mystery of Franco di Santo, the non-scoring striker, continues while Blackburn's winless run has been extended to nine games. There is no doubt about it: they are in a relegation battle.