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Samir Nasri the Inspiration as Manchester City Strengthen Their Top-4 Grip

Rob Pollard@@RobPollard_Featured ColumnistApril 10, 2016

Manchester Citys French midfielder Samir Nasri celebrates after scoring during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and West Bromwich Albion at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on April 9, 2016. / AFP / LINDSEY PARNABY / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.  /         (Photo credit should read LINDSEY PARNABY/AFP/Getty Images)
LINDSEY PARNABY/Getty Images

It had been seven months since Samir Nasri had started a game for Manchester City. The Frenchman, injured for five-and-a-half of those, was involved in a freak training-ground incident that saw him injure his thigh and tendon, needing close to 100 stitches to solve the problem.

Having made a brief cameo away at Bournemouth in City's previous Premier League outing, he was trusted to start against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, a key game in City’s quest to qualify for next season’s UEFA Champions League, and he scored the winner and was deservedly named man of the match.

It was a brilliant return that inspired City to victory, completing their first back-to-back Premier League wins in over five months and strengthening their bid for a top-four finish.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 09:  Samir Nasri of Manchester City celebrates scoring his team's second goal with team mates during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and West Bromwich Albion at the Etihad Stadium on April 9, 2016 in M
Jan Kruger/Getty Images

And Manuel Pellegrini will be hugely grateful for the performance he managed despite an obvious lack of match sharpness. City lacked attacking inspiration for much of the game. With David Silva out with an ankle injury and Kevin De Bruyne starting on the bench, City’s creativity was drastically reduced. Nasri plugged some of the gaps and offered some telling contributions.

He scored the winner as City won 2-1—but his influence went much further. He was dropping short to pick up the ball and knit City's play together, and he brought a vision and flair no other player on the pitch could manage. It was a reminder of just how good he can be when he is fit and focused.

The Frenchman worked hard too, winning tackles in defensive areas and ensuring he got back to add numbers to City's defensive line.

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Nasri looks like a player determined to make the most of his opportunity to start.

Watch Manuel Pellegrini's post #cityvwba reaction in full. #mcfc  https://t.co/VVxNmx4d7K

— Manchester City FC (@MCFC) 9 April 2016

"[I'm] very happy for him," Pellegrini said of Nasri afterward. "He was very unlucky to have that kind of injury. Very strange to have six months with a muscle injury.

"He was working very well. He returned sooner than the doctor expected. I was also very impressed he played the 90 minutes.

"He was a very important player."

A job well done 👍🏻 pic.twitter.com/Fl2cScIVPi

— Manchester City FC (@MCFC) 9 April 2016

For Wilfried Bony, though, the end of his time at City is surely near. The Ivorian striker simply hasn’t settled at the club—his lack of movement his Achilles' heel. City look to play quick one- and two-touch passing, with players moving fluidly between positions. Bony looks static and out of his depth.

For all his huffing and puffing against West Brom, there was very little end product. One or two moments of hold-up play aside, he barely contributed and was taken off with half an hour remaining for Kevin De Bruyne as City looked to ensure a much-needed win. The Belgian had more impact in 30 minutes than Bony has managed in his last five games for City.

City's win, coupled with the draw West Ham United and Arsenal played out earlier in the day, left them with a firmer grip on their top-four place. They sit fourth, two points behind Arsenal in third and five ahead of sixth-placed West Ham. Manchester United, who sit fifth, are four points adrift of City, albeit with a game in hand.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 09:  Samir Nasri of Manchester City and Sandro of West Bromwich Albion compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and West Bromwich Albion at the Etihad Stadium on April 9, 2016 in Man
Gareth Copley/Getty Images

They still have plenty of work to do in the race for Champions League football—but Saturday felt like a pivotal day.

And now their focus turns to Champions League football. On Tuesday, City play Paris Saint-Germain in the second leg of their quarter-final, having secured a superb 2-2 draw in the first leg in France. A positive result would see them move into the semi-finals for the first time.

It's a huge game, and one their players could have been forgiven for having their minds on during the West Brom match. They produced a professional, if unspectacular, display against the Baggies, and now they can focus on PSG. 

Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2015/16 season. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow him on Twitter @RobPollard.

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