Zabaleta bids farewell to the Etihad in style as Man City cruise vs. West Brom
It isn't often that the football, especially when it's as enjoyable to watch as it was in Manchester City's 3-1 win over West Brom on Tuesday at the Etihad, takes a backseat. But the City fans were under no illusions; they wanted the job done quickly so they could enjoy Pablo Zabaleta's final home appearance for the club. That's exactly what they got, helped by West Brom's reluctance to do anything but sit deep, and it was the perfect send-off for the man who, in a nine-year spell, became a club legend.
City's penetrative attacking took a short while to get going, but once they had begun to get in behind the visitors, they were cutting them open at will. A two-minute double-whammy of goals just before the half-hour mark killed off the away side, and Pep Guardiola's team showed some excellent movement and killer passing. Their pressing game to win back the ball was perfect for keeping Albion under the cosh.
In a season that could come down to goal difference, should City lose at Watford on the final day, a late goal conceded was disappointing -- but hardly a disaster. For a short time, there were also concerns over Vincent Kompany's fitness, but he seemed to run off a knock from the first half.
8 (out of 10) -- Guardiola got the job done quickly and broke down a usually stubborn West Brom side with ease.
Player ratings (1-10, with 10 the best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Willy Caballero, 7 -- The goalkeeper had little chance with the consolation goal, but he displayed some great footwork to keep the ball moving. The highlight was a cute dinked pass to Aleksandar Kolarov as he was closed down.
DF Vincent Kompany, 8 -- As the captain limped away from a challenge in the first half and John Stones went through a rigorous warm-up on the sideline, it was easy for the fans to think "here we go again." However, Kompany was able to run off the knock -- and didn't give Salomon Rondon a kick.
DF Nicolas Otamendi, 7 -- The centre-back looks so much more composed next to Kompany, and once again he was strong in the air, solid on the ball and so much more reliable than he has been for the majority of his City career.
DF Aleksandar Kolarov, 7 -- City have been missing a left-back who can overlap and support Leroy Sane well in recent weeks. With Kolarov in the team, Kolarov was a driving force behind the winger, even if he could have done with spotting the pass forward to the German more often.
MF Fernandinho, 8 -- Again asked to slip in to right-back when City didn't have the ball, Fernandinho showcased great discipline and awareness to get involved in attacks without losing his shape.
MF Yaya Toure, 9 -- News on whether Toure will be given a contract extension is still unknown, but if this was his last appearance for City at the Etihad, then it was a classic to bow out on. He ran the midfield, kept the hosts moving forward and rolled back the years to break into the box for the third goal, with a beauty of a slide-rule finish.
MF David Silva, 8 -- Despite West Brom's 11-men-behind-the-ball strategy, the midfielder continued to find pockets of space to be able to link up with his teammates. He was always dangerous and not afraid to take on the visitors.
MF Kevin De Bruyne, 8 -- A good assist and a great goal capped off a brilliant return to form for De Bruyne. He floated between the lines all evening and caused all sorts of problems for Albion.
MF Leroy Sane, 7 -- The winger wasn't able to drive at the West Brom defence as much as he would have liked, but he was always an option for his teammates. He picked up a silly yellow card for diving, though.
FW Gabriel Jesus, 9 -- Is there anything this kid can't do? Once again, Gabriel popped up with an almost customary goal and was a constant thorn in West Brom's side. Tricky, working the space and always wriggling free from tight areas, the striker has City fans (rightly) very excited.
FW Sergio Aguero, 9 -- If the victory over West Brom proved anything, it's that both Gabriel and Aguero can play in the same team. The pair swapped positions all night, and though he didn't find the net, Aguero put on one of his best displays of the season.
DF Pablo Zabaleta, 10 -- This 10 isn't for his contributions in the 28 or so minutes he played when replacing Silva but for his nine years of service to the club. Every touch was cheered by the home fans, he put in a traditional crunching challenge, and he worked the right flank just as he has done throughout his career in England. His closing speech had many a fan in the stands shedding a tear, and he almost made it to the end of his farewell without getting emotional. It was the perfect way for him to close a fantastic stay at Eastlands, and the club will miss him dearly.
DF John Stones, NR -- Replacing Kompany on 77 minutes, Stones was solid but for a couple of nervy clearances toward the end.
MF Fernando, NR -- Fernando couldn't control the middle as Toure had done when he replaced the Ivorian on 81 minutes.
David Mooney is ESPN FC's Manchester City blogger. Twitter: @DavidMooney