Manchester City vs. Blackburn Rovers: 6 Things We Learned
After the 1-1 draw at Ewood Park 11 days ago, Manchester City and Blackburn Rovers needed a replay to decide the outcome of their FA Cup third round. After a disjointed opening, the home side eventually found their groove and recorded a 5-0 victory, with goals from Alvaro Negredo (two), Edin Dzeko (two) and Sergio Aguero sealing the win.
It proved to be a more difficult tie than many people envisaged, but City are now safely through to play Watford at home in the fourth round in 10 days.
Here we look back at the major talking points to emerge from the match at Etihad Stadium in Manchester.
Sergio Aguero Returns from Injury
City’s enigmatic talisman is back, fit and raring to go.
After spending a month out with a calf injury, Sergio Aguero returned to action against Blackburn. He scored from close range with only his second touch of the ball just seconds after coming on in place of Alvaro Negredo.
It's the best possible news for Manuel Pellegrini.
Before Aguero suffered his injury in the win over Arsenal in December, he was playing superbly, scoring 19 goals in all competitions. Negredo and Dzeko have performed admirably while he's been out, but neither can quite match the pace and quality of the Argentinian.
City managed to win eight and draw one during his absence and can now unleash him on opposition defences again with the games coming thick and fast.
James Milner and Jesus Navas Impress
Jesus Navas and James Milner are likely to fight it out for a starting place in City’s first-choice XI in the absence of Samir Nasri. Both players started against Blackburn and impressed with their all-round quality.
They have been excellent when called upon for most of the season, and their good form shows no signs of subsiding. Navas set up both Dzeko goals and generally tormented the Blackburn defence. His pace stretched the game and caused the Rovers all sorts of problems.
Milner is City's Mr. Consistency, never letting the side down thanks to his industry and ability. He worked hard again in this match, and his passing was central to City's best moves.
Both Milner and Navas are also disciplined defensively. City showed Adam Johnson the door because of his inability to take instruction and fulfill his defensive requirements; Pellegrini does not have that worry with these two players.
Milner also demonstrated his versatility by dropping into central midfield for the second half, giving Fernandinho a well-earned rest.
With Nasri unavailable for at least two months, Pellegrini will be relying on both Milner and Navas a little more than he has done so far, and based on this evidence, they won't let him down.
Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo Have Started to Click
There were some concerns over the compatibility of Dzeko and Negredo in their first few appearances together. Both players have a similar style, and both make similar runs. With Aguero injured and the two of them put together to lead City's attack, they had struggled to have an impact.
However, over the last few games, they've developed a much better understanding. They both grabbed braces in this match and consistently linked up well together, with some neat interplay and lovely touches on show.
Pellegrini was also clearly impressed. In his post-match press conference, he told reporters: "Alvaro and Dzeko are in a very good moment and it’s also important that Sergio came back and scored in this game. We have so many games at this stage and we also have Stevan [Jovetic] to factor in."
Although Aguero will always be City's first-choice striker, it's a relief for Pellegrini that his other two options have now established an excellent partnership, too.
Micah Richards Is Back
If one player in this City side needs time to find his form, it’s Micah Richards, who has endured a torrid 18 months of injury problems. He returned from his latest setback and played well, showing good energy levels for a player who is so short of match practice.
He is a rarity at City—a player who has come through the club's academy and made it to the first team. As you arrive inside the ground, there's a wall dedicated to his progress, from Youth Cup celebrations to Premier League winner.
He was one of City's best players during the 2011/12 season when they won the title, and that was the last time he had a run of games. Since then, it's been injury after injury, and he's understandably struggled to rediscover his best form.
Everyone at City will be hoping this performance is the start of a long run of good health, which sees him have an opportunity to get back to where he once was.
Aleksandar Kolarov Continues to Impress
There’s no doubt that Aleksandar Kolarov struggled to adapt to English football after his move from Lazio in 2010. He's often looked lost positionally and has been profligate in possession, struggling to hold down a place in the first team under Roberto Mancini.
However, this season has seen a renaissance.
He is growing in confidence and influencing City’s play far more than ever before, and he deserves his more prominent role in the squad. He came on at half-time in this match and almost instantly set Negredo up for his second of the game with a sublime pass from wide on the left.
Playing on the left-hand side of midfield rather than at left-back, he tormented Blackburn with his constant running and balls into the box. With Gael Clichy's indifferent form so far this term, it seems Kolarov is now City's first-choice left-back.
The Quadruple Dream Remains Alive
It’s unlikely any side will ever win the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup in one season, but for City, the dream remains alive deep into January.
They sit second in the league, face a last 16 tie against Barcelona in Europe, have pretty much guaranteed a League Cup final appearance and now find themselves in the FA Cup fourth round. Pellegrini's debut season is going well.
They've managed 99 goals in 33 games and are improving defensively as the season progresses. How far can they go in the four competitions?