Double Dzeko takes jeopardy out of Man City’s title chase
Draw with West Ham on Sunday will be enough to win second title in three years
Manchester City forward Edin Dzeko celebrates scoring his first goal in the Premier League match against Aston Villa at Etihad Stadium. Photograph: Michael Regan/Getty Images
Manchester City 4 Aston Villa 0: For Manchester City, everything is now in place. Manuel Pellegrini’s team took their time before showing why they are champions-in-waiting, with the open-top bus parade already pencilled in for Monday, but they finished this match wonderfully and the bottom line now is that one more point in their final game will be enough for the coronation.
That comes on Sunday against West Ham and what an irony that it will be a year to the day that City lost to Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup final and loud, impassioned chants went round Wembley informing the club’s owners in Abu Dhabi they could “stick your Pellegrini up your arse.”
A year on, City are enjoying the view from the top of the table and Pellegrini is on the verge of completing the job he was assigned when he was brought in to replace Roberto Mancini.
They made their crowd wait and it was not until the 64th minute that Edin Dzeko settled everyone down with the opening goal but, after that, we were reminded why City are on the verge of returning the championship trophy to their part of Manchester. Dzeko’s second goal arrived within seven minutes.
The substitute, Stevan Jovetic, made it 3-0 before a galloping run and shot from Yaya Touré in stoppage time took City’s total to 100 for the season.
The songs are very different now and, if they complete their work this weekend, Steven Gerrard may have to grow painfully accustomed to the cruel new ditty commemorating Demba Ba’s goal in Liverpool’s defeat by Chelsea. One fan had made a banner for the occasion showing Gerrard and the words: “Caution, We Must Not Let it Slip.”
Yet, for the most part, there was no great sense of triumphalism. Liverpool’s fans have been bellowing out “we’re going to win the league” for the last couple of months. It is more reserved at the Etihad, almost as if the crowd still do not entirely trust the team to lapse into old ways. At times, there was the distinct feel of anxiety in the air.
Pellegrini’s players spent most of the opening 45 minutes in the opposition half but Villa defended en masse and the longer it stayed goal-less the greater the crowd’s apprehension. Touré had an early chance to soothe the mood but his goal-bound shot was blocked by Ron Vlaar and the rest of the first half brought enough frustrations for the team to start looking listless.
A team in Villa’s position could easily have slipped into end-of-season mode but in fairness to Paul Lambert’s side it quickly became clear this was not going to be a rollover.
Vlaar, in the centre of a five-man defence, epitomised their endeavour. They offered little in an attacking sense during this period but Lambert could look back on a remarkable moment, from a City corner, when one pass out of defence suddenly left Andreas Weimann running clear with only Pablo Zabaleta back for the home side.
Weimann should really have done more to take advantage of the generous defending but he took the shot too early, from a difficult angle, and it meant the chance was passed up.
It was strange to see City, so rampant at other times this season, look so laboured and there was no immediate improvement after the interval. Pellegrini had to react and he did so by replacing James Milner with Jovetic and moving David Silva to the right wing. The entire complexion of the game changed four minutes later. Silva finally found the correct weight of pass to dissect Villa’s defence and Pablo Zabaleta was overlapping on the same wing.
The full back’s determination to get forward had been a feature throughout the night. Now he had the ball at his feet and Dzeko was anticipating the cross into the six-yard area. Zabaleta fired it in low and hard and Dzeko adjusted his feet to turn his shot past Brad Guzan.
The irony is that Dzeko had been having one of his more static and frustrating nights until this point. He does, however, have a wonderful knack of scoring important goals. After 71 minutes, City advanced again. Guzan kept out Samir Nasri’s effort but Dzeko was loitering again in the six-yard area and the rebound fell to him to score again.
At 2-0, the game was effectively over. There was one brief scare when Weimann headed against the crossbar but Villa had put so much into the defensive side of their game they had neglected what happens at the other end.
Jovetic scored the third with a precise finish from Toure’s layoff and then there was that thunderous run from the Ivory Coast midfielder, picking up speed, holding off a posse of defenders, and rifling in a superb goal.