Sergio Aguero inspires Manchester City past doomed Aston Villa
MANCHESTER, England -- Three points on Manchester City 4-0 Aston Villa, as Manuel Pellegrini's men returned to winning ways in the league.
1. City back on track in title race
Manchester City have a history of fighting back in the title race and they shouldn't be discounted in 2015-16 just yet.
Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure, David Silva, Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart know exactly what is required to win the Premier League, having triumphed in 2012 and 2014. And with those five finally fully fit, City are ready to crank up the pressure on their rivals going into the final months of the season.
None of the top four won in midweek and with Arsenal and Tottenham drawing 2-2 ahead of City's stroll, Manuel Pellegrini's men seized the opportunity to close the gap on those above them.
This was a comprehensive victory over an abject Aston Villa, and it was a clinical response after three successive defeats -- their worse run since November 2008 -- that left them 10 points behind the leaders.
Victory was crucial here as Pellegrini's side embark on a run of winnable matches. With four of five games against bottom half sides and the fifth a home derby against Manchester United, the season will take considerable shape in the coming weeks.
Pellegrini signalled his intent by reverting back to a 4-4-2 system with Wilfried Bony starting up front alongside Aguero while Toure, who missed the dismal 3-0 defeat at Liverpool in midweek, came straight back into the side for defensive midfielder Fernando.
City didn't panic following a goalless first half and finally found a way through a packed defence at the start of the second. Aguero ran beyond the Villa defence and pulled the ball back for Silva, who coolly squared the ball to Toure to squeeze in the opener.
Aguero added a fortuitous second two minutes later when Micah Richards' clearance crashed against the City striker's shins before a second via a brilliant one-two with Silva.
Aguero missed the chance of a hat trick when his penalty crashed against the foot of the post but it did not matter. Villa were well beaten and Raheem Sterling added further gloss to the scoreline.
2. Bony fails to justify faith
The decision to start Bony ahead of Kelechi Iheanacho suggested that Pellegrini still doesn't fully trust the young Nigerian striker.
It was a curious decision, given that Iheanacho terrorised the Villa defence in the FA Cup just five weeks ago, scoring his first hat trick for the club.
But Bony has moved back ahead of him in the pecking order ever since he recovered from a hamstring injury in time for the Capital One Cup triumph over Liverpool last Sunday. Pellegrini opted to bring him on in extra time at Wembley ahead of Iheanacho and did the same in midweek when he brought on the Ivorian striker on at half-time in the 3-0 defeat at Anfield.
This time Iheanacho was left on the bench as Bony started, but Bony failed to make the most of his opportunity. The 27-year-old missed two glorious chances and when he carelessly gave the ball away on two occasions, the home fans made their unhappiness clear. They chanted for Iheanacho at the start of the second half and applauded when Bony was taken off after 63 minutes.
Iheanacho was finally introduced seven minutes later and was soon brought down in the box to win a penalty that Aguero slammed against the foot of the post.
3. Villa doomed
It seems a long time since Remi Garde's first game in charge of Villa -- a 0-0 draw at home to City in November.
It was possibly the high point of Garde's five months in charge, with his side now virtual certainties for the drop. Villa have not won away in the league since he took over and realistically he wouldn't have expected much at a side with the best home record in the division.
Former City defenders Richards and Joleon Lescott formed part of a back-five, who collectively never strayed too far beyond the edge of their own box. It worked for the opening 45 minutes and the pacey attack of Gabriel Agbonlahor and Jordan Ayew even had a golden opportunity to snatch a goal on the break.
Had Ayew's effort sneaked in, it could have given Villa real belief, with frustration growing around the Etihad, but Hart tipped his shot around the post. But once Toure had made the breakthrough, Villa capitulated as they have done virtually all season.
Jonathan is ESPN FC's Manchester City correspondent. Follow him @jonnysmiffy.