A hard-earned and vital victory for City at the Etihad on Saturday evening.
Where was the game won and lost? Club journalist @markbooth_mcfc investigates…
Play it again, Sam…
Welcome back, Samir Nasri.
Six months of frustration was writ large on the Frenchman’s face when he turned in what turned out to be the winning goal in this narrow win over West Brom.
On this evidence, Nasri is desperate to make up for lost time.
It was just the goal, or even his velvet touch and relentless scheming which reminded all of those present in the Etihad Stadium what City had been missing, but the 28-year old’s tenacity was also on full display in this Man of the Match-winning performance.
On top of a 95% pass completion rate, three key passes and that deceptively difficult finish through the legs of James Chester on the line, Nasri won 100% of his tackles - the whole-hearted sliding challenge in additional time symptomatic of a brilliant all round showing.
It’s so good to have him back.
200: Not out…
The numbers speak for themselves.
Statistically the Premier League’s deadliest striker with 130 goals in 200 appearances and 81 in 100 at the Etihad, Kun moved into the club’s all-time top ten goalscorers with the coolest of spot-kicks on his landmark 200th game for City.
Sergio wasn’t able to add to these ridiculous numbers after the break but he did showcase an often underrated side of his game, linking moves together with his quick feet and eye for killer passes in the final third.
It was Kun’s movement and his blocked shot which finally pulled apart a Baggies defence which, up to then, had repelled everything City could throw at it, giving Nasri the chance to mark his return with a goal.
What a relief then that the knock sustained in the challenge with Craig Gardner will not keep Sergio out of the UEFA Champions League quarter final second leg.
Not for the first time this season, Manuel Pellegrini made a decisive in-game alteration which had an immediate impact and ultimately won the day.
It was the 59th minute when the Chilean introduced Kevin De Bruyne and Yaya Toure into the action and the pair tipped the balance in City’s favour instantaneously.
The metronomic Toure enabled his side to take control of the game in the centre of midfield, while De Bruyne’s imagination and driving runs from midfield overloaded West Brom in the final third and gave Messrs Nasri, Aguero and Jesus Navas someone else to play with.
It was Kevin who, in front of his new-born son for the first time, produced the game’s most important pass, through the legs of a West Brom defender to Navas, leading to the creation of the winning goal.
A win’s a win…
City were not at their fluent best in this one but at this stage of the campaign, in this ever-unpredictable season, and sandwiched in between legs of our first-ever Champions League quarter final, it was a day where any kind of victory would do.
Before and after every single game for the past four months, the point has been made that the Blues had failed to win back-to-back Premier League matches since October.
There’s one tired old stat we’ll be glad to see the back of!
In winning this game, City heaped all of the pressure on Manchester United ahead of their trip to White Hart Lane and put some daylight between themselves and Louis van Gaal’s side – they also closed the gap on Arsenal in third to just two points after the Gunners drew at Upton Park.
Perhaps in the closing weeks of this Premier League season we can look up the table rather than sweating on what’s behind.
All eyes on Paris…
Pellegrini admitted in his programme notes that it was difficult not to have an eye on Tuesday’s huge Champions League showdown but maintained that the squad always focuses on the next match, no matter what.
However, the boss did manage to rest Fernandinho, Bacary Sagna and David Silva completely and he was able to give valuable minutes to the afore mentioned De Bruyne and Toure as they continue their comebacks from injury.
Rarely before have City gone into a knockout Champions League game with so many of their recognised frontline players fit and healthy.
It could be some night…