City returned from the international break with a bang on Saturday, running out 4-0 winners against Bournemouth at a sun-drenched Vitality Stadium.
The opening 20 minutes of the game were comfortably some of the best we’ve seen from Manuel Pellegrini’s side in the Premier League this season. Fernando was the unlikely scorer of the opening goal when he guided home an exquisite volley from a corner in the 7th minute and the Blues doubled their advantage five minutes later when Kevin De Bruyne, making his comeback from a two-month injury lay-off, finished off a superb team move with aplomb.
Sergio Agüero leapt like a salmon to head in a third with just 19 minutes on the clock and the rest of the match was a largely uneventful victory procession until substitute Aleksandar Kolarov capped off an excellent afternoon’s work with a truly beautiful stoppage time strike.
The win keeps City in fourth place in the league and should give them plenty of much-needed confidence going into Wednesday night’s Champions League quarter-final first leg away at Paris Saint Germain.
Here’s how I rated the resurgent Blues on the day.
13 Willy Caballero – 7/10
The slaphead from Santa Elena didn’t have to work too hard to preserve his clean sheet in this one but the smart reaction save he made down to his right in the first half was a very good one. It seems highly likely he’ll be leaving the club in the summer and the injury to Joe Hart has afforded him some good opportunities to put himself in the shop window before he departs, something which will hopefully be beneficial to his current employer.
5 Pablo Zabaleta – 7/10
Was a slightly surprising starter in this match given he didn’t return from international duty in Argentina until late last week but City’s captain for the day acquitted himself well, gave little away down the right-hand flank and linked up well with Jesús Navas going forward. Here’s hoping we’ll be singing his song again next season.
30 Nicolás Otamendi – 7/10
His form has been very up and down in his first season in English football but when the alternative is a rapidly declining Martín Demichelis, you’d opt for Otamendi every single time. Saturday afternoon was one of the most comfortable the Argentinian’s had all season, thanks in large part to the fact Bournemouth were shell-shocked by City’s three early goals and never really recovered. A much bigger, Zlatan Ibrahimovic-shaped test lies in wait on Wednesday night and a solid defence will be key to City’s chances of progression in that tie.
20 Eliaquim Mangala – 7/10
Allowed Bournemouth a decent chance to score when a pass was slipped down the side of him with the score at 0-0 but Big Quimmy Mang was otherwise unflustered in this one. His days at City could well be numbered but if ever there was a good time for him to show us what he’s made of and perhaps make his summer departure a bit less inevitable, now is surely it.
— Eliaquim Mangala (@Elia22Mangala) March 29, 2016
22 Gaël Clichy – 7/10
Started at left-back ahead of Aleksandar Kolarov for the eighth successive match and, like the rest of the back four, barely had to break a sweat all afternoon. City will surely be making a long-overdue left-back signing in the summer but it’d be very surprising if the consistently reliable Frenchman wasn’t still at the club come the beginning of next season.
6 Fernando – 8/10
Scored a terrific goal with a lovely guided volley and did his midfield job well throughout the rest of the afternoon. The Brazilian has been at the club for almost two seasons yet I’m still undecided as to whether he’s any good or not. On Saturday, both he and Fernandinho were asked to press Bournemouth’s midfield high up the pitch and Fernando seemed well suited to the task. Like many of his teammates, he’s playing for his future at the club at the moment and a few more performances like this between now and the end of the season will only strengthen his cause.
25 Fernandinho – 8/10
Was instrumental in City’s high-pressing game and provided a classy link between defence and attack. The Brazilian was also unfortunate to not add another excellent goal to the other four his team scored on the day when he rattled the crossbar from 25-yards in the first half. He’s been City’s Player of the Season by an absolute mile.
15 Jesús Navas – 8/10
Assisted City’s third goal with a good, deep cross to the back post from the by-line and was a constant threat wide on the right. He doesn’t “beat his man” nearly as much as some of us would like him to but that doesn’t mean the more lateral runs he makes with the ball aren’t dangerous and his clever cut-backs to the edge of the area should probably yield more goals than they do.
21 David Silva – 8/10
Still doesn’t look completely back to his best and was guilty of some very wayward shooting but his cushioned lay-off for Kevin De Bruyne’s goal was Silva at his majestic best and his 11th assist of the season. One of the biggest sources of wonder this season has centred around what Silva and De Bruyne would be able to conjure up together if only they were both fit and in form and this game was a rare example of their partnership really bearing fruit. Neither of them ever seemed to stay in the same place for very long and alternated between playing in behind the striker and out wide on the left, making them a nightmare to deal with for Bournemouth’s back line. More of that please, lads.
17 Kevin De Bruyne – 9/10
His return from the knee injury sustained against Everton in the Capital One Cup semi-final could hardly have gone better. The Belgian added a deft final touch to a fluid team move for his goal, almost added another with a technically excellent volley in the second half and linked up brilliantly with the rest of City’s forward players before he was substituted just after the hour mark. It’s no fluke that De Bruyne constantly receives the ball in dangerous areas. The runs he makes into the channels are the sort of thing that only he offers to this team and though his first season in English football hasn’t always been outstanding, City are a much less vicious force when he doesn’t play. Welcome back Kev, you’ve been sorely missed.
10 Sergio Agüero – 8/10
Played at the point of City’s attack and did very well. He may be named on the teamsheet as a number nine but the Argentinian has no qualms about dropping deep to where the half-way line meets the touch line, taking the ball from his full-back and starting the attack himself. His ability to keep hold of the ball is also very useful and considering he’s only 5ft 8”, he isn’t half bad in the air either. Reports of an extension to his contract may have been wide of the mark in the week, but we’ve still got at least three more wonderful years of Sergio Agüero in a City shirt to look forward to and that’ll do for me.
11 Aleksandar Kolarov – Came on too late to mark
Seemed to have fallen well out of Manuel Pellegrini’s favour in recent weeks and might not have featured in this match had it not been as one-sided as it was. But the Serbian reminded his manager what he’s capable of with a solid 30 minutes on the left-wing and hammered home a stunning injury time goal which made a good win even better. The problem is, he isn’t good enough defensively to be City’s first choice left-back, nor is he good enough going forward to be considered as an attacking option when everyone else is fit and available. At the risk of putting a downer on it, that could well be one of his last goals in a City shirt.
8 Samir Nasri – Came on too late to mark
Great to see him finally return to action. We’ve missed him much more than we thought we would and his creativity could be very useful in the run-in. He replaced David Silva in this match and if nothing else, Nasri’s availability will take some of the pressure off the little Spaniard’s shoulders.
72 Kelechi Iheanacho – Came on too late to mark
Has Manuel Pellegrini finally realised Iheanacho’s a better option than Wilfried Bony? We can only hope so.
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Written by Dan Burke