Manchester City beat Newcastle City 3-1 at St. James' Park in a match in which Roberto Mancini's side was seriously threatened only briefly.
The concern that last week's loss at the death to Manchester United in the derby at the Etihad would linger was understandable. But City put such fears to rest quickly with a marker from Sergio Aguero in the 10th minute.
Javi Garcia's header shortly before the break sent City to the dressing room up 2-0. After Demba Ba scored a strange, maybe-offside goal in the 51st minute, Newcastle had the best of the play for about 20 minutes.
Then Yaya Toure finished nicely from a Pablo Zabaleta touch pass, and the result was never seriously in doubt thereafter.
Players are graded on a scale of one (Gael Clichy in the United derby last week) to five (Sergio Aguero against Queens Park Rangers at the Etihad in May).
But for an indifferent reaction to the play that led to Ba's marker, Hart was steady and in command of his area the entire match.
His early saves against strikes from Papiss Cisse and Mike Williamson were timely and kept Newcastle from getting the early tally they needed to inspire belief in an upset in the St. James' Park faithful.
This was a strong rebound game for Hart after he was poor last week.
With Vincent Kompany out injured, City needed another strong performance from Zabaleta, and they got it.
Zabaleta was sound and in good position in his own half, and his deft pass to Yaya Toure in the 78th minute helped provide the insurance goal that put the result away.
Clichy was something between "solid" and "shaky" against Newcastle. Maybe "uneven" is the best you could come up with.
In some moments he was appropriately stride for stride with a threatening Magpie attacker; in others he was rocketing back passes to Hart and making his keeper nervous.
It has come to the point with Nastasic that he no longer needs to be graded on a curve, e.g., "not bad for a young/untested player." That is meant as praise—Nastasic is now a mainstay on the back line, unlike more heralded players like, ahem, Joleon Lescott.
Nastasic was never spectacular today, but as with many defenders, he is at his best when you do not notice him at all.
Getting the start for Kompany, Kolo Toure improved upon last week's step-slow, half-second-late submission against Manchester United. Truth told, though, no City fan can feel all that comfortable seeing Kolo Toure tracking back to clear his line or trying to close space in the area.
His ceiling is just not that high. It was a pretty decent effort from him today, though.
No one really knows what is in the head or the heart of a professional footballer. Maybe Nasri entered this match hell bent on avenging his putrid performance in last week's derby. Or maybe Nasri approached this match like any midseason tilt against a lesser opponent.
Regardless, Nasri was very effective and dangerous while he was on the pitch, to the point that Newcastle seemed to make a point of jostling him after his cross sent Aguero in for the opening score.
He also hit the post from close range, though perhaps he should have found Aguero on that play instead.
Though his day was cut short by injury, he was impactful while he was out there.
It has taken a while, but Silva seems to have found his magical touch again this season. He assisted on Javi Garcia's header just before the halftime whistle, and it was his control around the box before finding Zabaleta that set up Yaya Toure's goal.
As so often happens, the headlines will go to Yaya, Aguero and others, but Silva's hypnotic control of the ball is the difference between a plodding City attack and the frightening display City put on at times against Newcastle.
Yaya's goal was a bit fortunate, but a toe poke from seven yards out does not need too much luck to yield a positive outcome. Necessary as his goal was, Yaya's play throughout the match was the real stabilizing force for the Sky Blues.
Few were the Newcastle forays up the middle, and Yaya's whip-crack pass up the slot to Nasri which led to Aguero's goal was highlight-reel stuff. City needs to pile up wins before Yaya leaves for the African Cup of Nations in a few weeks.
For now, it is really good to have him.
Garcia's signing was thought at the time to be just what Mancini needed, a midfield force complementary to Yaya Toure who could take some of the pressure off the big Ivorian.
Injury and ineffectiveness have significantly limited Garcia's impact on the side, to the point where City fans could be forgiven for forgetting what he looks like on the pitch.
There Garcia was today, though, and his header for City's second goal is hopefully a sign of things to come.
As ordinary as Aguero was against Manchester United (and really, as ordinary as he has been for a few weeks now), his performance at St. James' Park must come as a huge relief to City. Aguero scored early, easing fears of a potential hangover from the derby loss of last week.
He remained a threat throughout the remainder of the match; but for some dodgy passing from his teammates late in the second half, he would have had at least a brace and maybe more.
Tevez did not score today, and he was not directly involved in the scoring of any of City's tallies. But whereas many strikers must score to be useful, Tevez's game has evolved such that he was important against Newcastle despite not making the scoresheet.
Tevez commands a great deal of defensive attention, and his teammates gain space to operate as a result.
There is no guarantee that Tevez will continue to behave himself and put his team's success ahead of his own.
While he does, though, City will be much better for it.
Aleksandar Kolarov (37th Minute for Nasri)
Maybe it was the overall quality of City's play that made Kolarov's effort look worse by comparison.
Still, Kolarov defeated at least one City odd-man foray by running offside, and he did very little of quality before coming off himself due to injury.
This was a forgettable day for Kolarov.
Edin Dzeko (72nd Minute for Kolarov)
No questioning Dzeko's effort, surely. He ran hard and made himself available in the forward half for the limited time he was out there.
But Dzeko and Aguero had chances to put the match fully away while Newcastle was committing everyone forward to try to close the deficit, and Dzeko particularly failed to make much of those chances.
Joleon Lescott (79th Minute for Tevez)
This was something of a cameo for Lescott. It must be a bit jarring for Lescott to be deployed as a late substitute when the likes of Kolo Toure and Clichy are chosen to start.
Maybe Lescott will get the message, whatever it is that Mancini is trying to tell him by using him this way. With Kompany limited by injury, City will need Lescott's best sooner than later.
As for today, eh.
Is it finally over for Super Mario at Manchester City? Mancini placed risky (perhaps unjustified) faith in the Italian last week, starting him in the derby. Against Newcastle, Balotelli was not only not starting—he did not dress.
Call this grade a cheap shot if you like, but it is merited.
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