Manchester City Return to Form Against Leeds in FA Cup, Press on for Silverware
This time, there was no giant-slaying. This time, there were no silly mistakes, no loaded questions about the future. This time, Manchester City were simply too good.
Fresh off a devastating defeat in their quest for a Premier League repeat, Manchester City whipped Leeds United 4-0 on Sunday in an FA Cup fifth-round match at the Etihad Stadium. In victory, City avoided adding another name to the growing list of top-tier Cup casualties in recent weeks.
But while City might have appeared vulnerable before kickoff, the opposite was obvious within minutes of the whistle. Before the home crowd had even settled in, City had shown this would be no repeat of Blackburn and Arsenal, or of Leeds and Tottenham.
Where Tottenham Hotspur failed to convert their many chances, City suffered no such problems. Where Arsenal struggled to break down a determined defensive opposition, City seemed to thrive.
Where both conceded against isolated attacks, City stood firm.
No surprise, then, that City won easily. Of course, a starting lineup worth more than £200 million in transfer fees also helped the cause, but unlike Spurs or Arsenal, City managed to make their advantage count.
In doing so, Roberto Mancini's men passed a test that had threatened to take on grim significance. At the same time, they claimed a refreshed reboot in a season that had threatened to turn into an utter disappointment.
That possibility remains a danger, a trap-door a step or two ahead. But City still maintain control in what is probably their final trophy push of the season.
Mancini made six changes to his starting XI, with goalkeeper Joe Hart and midfielder Gareth Barry moving to the bench after committing costly mistakes in last weekend's damaging 3-1 Premier League loss at Southampton.
Crucially, though, Sergio Agüero retained his spot in the attack and Yaya Toure reprised his role in the midfield engine room. Within minutes, the big Ivorian had made his imposing presence felt, and by full time, the Argentine had his manager making grand pronouncements.
Following the Southampton meltdown, Mancini had predicted that his players would "take their responsibility" against Leeds (via ESPN FC). With Toure pointing the way forward, City needed only five minutes to prove their manager correct.
Toure started and finished a superb move in the fifth minute, moving from outside the box to the doorstep of Leeds' goal by means of a pair of one-twos. First he combined with David Silva. Then, after receiving Silva's return pass, he combined with Carlos Tevez. With the defense beaten, he rounded goalkeeper Jamie Ashdown and scored with skillful ease.
City maintained the pressure afterwards and added a second from the spot in the 15th minute. Agüero both won and converted the penalty, and if referee Mark Clattenburg's decision to award the kick was soft, Agüero's finish was assured.
Two more goals followed in the second half as City sauntered into the quarterfinals. First, Tevez turned home Agüero's deep cross. Then Agüero completed his fine day with a second goal 16 minutes from time.
It was a professional performance, one in which City both outclassed their visitors and matched their rugged, second-tier physicality. The Premier League title is almost surely gone, and the European dream died long ago, but for once, Mancini shouldn't have to answer questions about his job security.
Instead, perhaps riding a wave of positive emotion, Mancini pronounced the title race back on—with one critical caveat:
Whether that's true remains to be seen. More important for Mancini on this day, though, was the manner in which his team responded to disappointment.
It might be little consolation for the league, but in their continued FA Cup run, Manchester City may just have the chance to make amends for this season's missteps.
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