Kelechi Iheanacho stars as Manchester City ease past Aston Villa
BIRMINGHAM, England -- Three points from Manchester City's 4-0 win against Aston Villa in the FA Cup fourth round on Saturday.
1. Man City's quadruple quest continues
Unlikely as it seems, Manchester City's tilt at a quadruple is still going strong after they brushed aside Aston Villa.
Kelechi Iheanacho was the undoubted star of the show with a brilliant hat trick while Raheem Sterling tapped in a fourth as City eased into the fifth round against a Villa side horribly short of spirit and confidence.
City manager Manuel Pellegrini insisted ahead of the game that winning four trophies was "not a realistic target" and they will certainly face much stiffer tests than this limp Villa side during the next four months of the season.
But the way a much-changed side easily secured a victory will give their boss confidence that they can take their challenge a long way. City could potentially play another 29 games this season, which would stretch Pellegrini's squad to the limit.
Against Villa, the Chilean's team selection seemed to suggest that the FA Cup was the club's lowest priority, as Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure, David Silva, Joe Hart and Martin Demichelis were all left out of the starting lineup.
Potentially the biggest gamble was resting veteran defender Demichelis, but with Vincent Kompany and Eliaquim Mangala missing City's past five games through injury, the Argentine was in need of a break. Bacary Sagna shifted from full-back to an unfamiliar centre half berth but the French defender strolled through the 90 minutes without being troubled.
Pellegrini also had the luxury of introducing three youngsters from City's academy in the second half; Angelino and Cameron Humphreys debuted, and Bersant Celina made a second appearance.
2. Iheanacho is becoming a star
Iheanacho continues to show he's more than at home on Pellegrini's first-team squad. With Wilfried Bony still two weeks away from a return from injury and Aguero given a break, the City boss now has the confidence to allow the teenager to lead the line.
It's just three months since the same two sides played out a goal-less draw at Villa Park in the Premier League, a day in which Iheanacho made an appearance only as an 85th minute substitute, despite Bony being injured in the first and City being without Aguero.
This time the 19-year-old took his chance with a performance full of quality, confidence and swagger that belies his inexperience. While other could feel intimidated to be thrust into a side packed with big names, Iheanacho is thriving.
He was given the central role in a 4-3-3 formation and constantly troubled Villa's centre-back pairing of Micah Richards and Ciaran Clark, with his movement dragging the Villa duo into uncomfortable positions all over the pitch.
Iheanacho constantly demanded the ball and linked neatly with fellow attackers Sterling and Jesus Navas. Midway through the first half the Nigerian showed his vision with a delightful crossfield pass to put Navas clean through although the Spaniard shot weakly at Brad Guzan.
Iheanacho's goal-poaching instinct came to the fore earlier in the season when his last-minute strike earned victory at Crystal Palace. And he was the right man in the right place to prod home from two yards for City's fourth-minute opener as a loose ball bobbed around Villa's six-yard box.
While his second may have been from the penalty spot, even that had the stamp of quality -- Guzan being sent the wrong way as Iheanacho slowly rolled the ball into the net. He completed his hat trick by latching onto Richards' back pass and sidefooting home with confidence.
He has eight goals this season and is set to be a more valuable figure to Pellegrini as the season moves into the final months. City's 5,800 travelling fans know they have a real talent emerging and chanted his name throughout.
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3. Little for Villa to look forward to
It's hard to see what Villa fans have to look forward to now that their brief FA Cup run is over. Their side sit rock-bottom of the Premier League, 10 points from safety and, with just two league victories all season -- one fewer than they've managed in the cups this campaign -- only the most optimistic supporter can see them mounting an unlikely survival bid.
This game came in the middle of a five-match unbeaten run but it was over before the contest even began. Villa rarely threatened and manager Remi Garde had few options to try to turn the game back in his favour.
Perhaps their plight was best summed up when Leandro Bacuna gave away a penalty, shoved Sterling in the face and pushed him in the back seconds later. Yet somehow the referee and Garde kept him on the pitch.
There were huge empty spaces around Villa Park and the jaded home fans didn't even have the energy to boo Fabian Delph for much of the second half. His £8 million switch to City saw supporters turn on him but it's difficult to see how the England midfielder would regret his decision.
Jonathan is ESPN FC's Manchester City correspondent. Follow him @jonnysmiffy.