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Feb 5, 2011

Silky Silva pulls City's strings

Roberto Mancini may be aware of the British stereotypes about Italian football but there are times, whether mischievously or earnestly, he perpetuates them. The Manchester City manager spent Friday idly musing about the wonders of 1-0 wins, his words seemingly suggesting it was his perfect scoreline. By the time the chorus of "boring, boring City" rang around Eastlands, Mancini's pre-match rhetoric was already outdated. A first win in four league games was already assured as West Bromwich Albion were swept aside. Maybe catenaccio and Carlos Tevez are mutually incompatible, perhaps Albion's defensive fragility meant it was too good an opportunity to pass up or possibly the Italian isn't the high priest of dourness after all. Whichever, rather than being reluctant attackers, City proved eager entertainers. Dwarfed by scorelines elsewhere, Mancini's men nonetheless played with flair, finesse and a flourish.

Negativity was notable by its absence. The rapacious Tevez marked his 27th birthday with a hat-trick, David Silva created with the unostentatious brilliance of a quiet master and Aleksandar Kolarov lent power and purpose to the left flank. The ball was put in the Albion net thrice, the woodwork was struck twice and the visiting goalkeeper, the deserving Boaz Myhill, overworked. Boring, boring City? Not a bit of it.

It helps that, while City can appear roundheads, Albion are invariably cavaliers. That their predilection for open football is a boon for the neutral is unlikely to provide solace in Smethwick. Without a clean sheet since August, they are becoming a byword for generosity. Roberto di Matteo is yet to mumble in the manner of a manic depressive, but his reign is starting to show similarities with Tony Mowbray's.

Few sides shoot from distance with such relish or such venom and Joe Hart was kept busy. Yet Albion are a team of two halves, the efforts of a gifted midfield being undermined by a dodgy defence. At times, City's deft passing, sharp skills and bright movement was too much for them. Yet, as Di Matteo admitted: "We gifted them two goals. The first goal wasn't because of the movement and the third wasn't."

They were both taken from 12 yards. Having missed two penalties in 2011, Tevez converted a pair. He coolly defeated Boaz Myhill after Steven Reid tugged Kolarov and Jerome Thomas handled the Serb's cross. They sandwiched the classiest of the goals, Silva returning the ball to Tevez with a wonderfully measured pass before the Argentine produced a turn that was sufficiently sharp to send Jonas Olsson flying in the wrong direction and a finish to that Myhill was unable to stop.

It was one of a trio of delightful moves. Silva's vision and precision enables City to be more expressive. His understanding with Tevez was a common denominator in their slickest football - Yaya Toure's force meant he was another contributor - as they brought a fluency and a fluidity to City's attack.

It was rendered possible by a switch that was nominally defensive. Edin Dzeko dropped to the bench; Kolarov, who struck the bar with a hammer of a shot and who was the supplier when Tevez volleyed against the post, moved into midfield.

Minus a £27 million target man, coach David Platt explained: "We felt if we didn't give them a point of reference up front, we could open them up. We found little pockets and little holes." Tevez and Silva, elusive and undersized, posed a challenge Albion couldn't meet. "They have world-class players," added Di Matteo "It's difficult to mark them with their movement." Kolarov brings more strength and less skill, but his driving runs were a feature of the game. "We needed someone to step into that wide area where [the injured] Adam Johnson plays and although Kolarov doesn't have the same characteristics he did very well," said Platt. It was a reminder that even in the biggest squad, there is scope for inventive selection.

The man responsible was not able to explain his logic. Platt deputised in the post-match press conference because Mancini had lost his voice. Rumours that that he had shouted himself hoarse ordering his charges to keep it at 1-0 were probably unfounded.

MAN OF THE MATCH: David Silva - An elegant masterclass from City's classiest player. That Tevez scored a hat-trick on his birthday to reach 20 goals for the season ensures he will dominate the headlines, but Silva seems content to be quietly influential.

MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: After a terrific first-half performance, Platt admitted West Brom's second-half revival was less than ideal. Nevertheless, this was a comfortable win. The deployment of Kolarov on the left wing may be an option for next week's game at Old Trafford, when Mancini is unlikely to overload his side with attackers.

WEST BROM VERDICT: While picking a player out of position worked for City, it is something that Di Matteo does regularly and less successfully. Marc-Antoine Fortune was a strange choice on the right wing while Steven Reid struggled at right-back against the marauding Kolarov.

COME IN NO. 62: Abdul Razak made Premier League history in his brief cameo. The left winger wore the highest shirt number in the division's history. Quite why is another matter: even City don't have 61 other players.

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