Kompany comeback fires City
Vincent Kompany is in good company. During his playing days, Roberto Mancini was the godfather of the mid-air backheeled volley, an extraordinary, exquisite goal for Lazio against Parma perhaps his greatest piece of skill. Whether or not he is particularly fond of the manager who criticised him for representing his country this week, the Belgium and Manchester City captain was the unlikely tribute act.
As Kompany marked his comeback - for City, anyway - after two months on the sidelines, it was with a goal that suggested he had learnt a trick from his manager's handbook. As he returned, however, it was with City starting 18 points behind Manchester United, who had secured victory in the early kick-off.
When the Belgian hobbled off at Stoke in January, the gap was four points. City's difficulties in the intervening period are not solely attributable to the centre-back's absence but when he resumed his place in the back four, it coincided with a performance fitting of champions, a mantle City will not have for much longer.
"We played without Vinny for 60 days and this was very bad for us," Mancini sighed after the game. "Vinny is important for us." The bigger tribute, however, came from the vanquished manager. "Kompany gives them an assurance and a presence at the back that they might have been missing in other games," said Newcastle's Alan Pardew. Besides securing a clean sheet, Kompany also scored the pick of the goals, a defender illuminating an outstanding attacking display.
They are beguiling at their best, a side who can manoeuvre their way out of tight situations with skill and sharp passing, who can overwhelm opponents with the speed of their combination play. This was the City of last season but one who have only been spotted infrequently this year. Newcastle, beaten 3-1 at St James' Park, have twice seen City at their finest. It is an unwanted distinction. "It is difficult to always play well," Mancini added. "But it was important after Everton to start winning again quickly."
And this was the polar opposite of the performance at Goodison Park in the 2-0 defeat a fortnight earlier. The attributes City lacked then - speed, incision, coherence and commitment - were apparent. The spine of the side was strengthened with the twin colossi, Kompany and Yaya Toure, available after injury and illness. The icing on the cake was supplied by a fit-again Sergio Aguero's reappearance as a substitute. "I am frustrated because we lost a lot of players to injury," Mancini said, explaining their struggles in recent weeks.
Close to full strength, however, they flourished. And yet a catalyst was one who had been on the bench, not the treatment table. "Samir Nasri played very well," added Mancini. Dropped after an awful display at Southampton in February, the recalled Frenchman excelled. A display of dancing feet to escape from Jonas Gutierrez and Yoan Gouffran was one highlight: first Edin Dzeko and then Gareth Barry should have scored when he centred.
Instead, to Pardew's surprise, Newcastle reached the 40-minute mark having preserved parity. By half-time, they were two goals down. Tevez converted the overlapping Gael Clichy's cross before Silva, who had picked out the full-back, struck with uncharacteristic power, a delicate talent unleashing a fierce shot after Nasri, once again, had darted away from two United players with glorious ease.
Then came Kompany's first City goal since a more meaningful, but less beautiful, header to defeat United 11 months ago. Toure completed the scoring with the aid of James Perch, powering through the inside-right channel and seeing his shot deflect in off the substitute.
Four could have been more. "We had a lot of chances to score," Mancini added. That they did not reflected upon the defiance of goalkeeper Rob Elliot and the wastefulness of Dzeko. Their dominance left Pardew, like Mancini before him, rueing injures, but admitting honestly: "With my best team, I think we might have struggled against that Man City team."
And that should be a source of frustration for City. When they are at their best, few can live with them. Especially when even central defenders start pulling off impressions of Mancini in his prime.
MAN OF THE MATCH: David Silva. The Spaniard was in his element. When he is surrounded by players on the same wavelength, and when they are on form, as Nasri was, he can seem unstoppable. While Mancini has complained about a lack of goals from his strikers this season, the reality is that his wingers have contributed fewer. Silva's strike was only his fifth of the campaign, but showed why he could be more prolific.
MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: Excellent. Their first-choice team can be a fearsome proposition and Mancini was entitled to argue injuries have accounted for some of their problems. Pardew may have had a point, too, when he suggested it was easier for them with the pressure off now that even Mancini has conceded the title race is over. Matija Nastasic sat the game out with a foot injury but the win was so comfortable that the lesser-spotted man Scott Sinclair got a brief cameo and almost a goal.
NEWCASTLE VERDICT: They remain in the bunch at the bottom, only three points clear of the relegation zone despite improved home form. "I don't think we ever thought we were out of it," Pardew said, arguing they weren't complacent. They head to their glamour tie in the Europa League against Benfica with the manager admitting he faces a goalkeeping dilemma. Elliot impressed but Tim Krul should be fit again.