MANCHESTER CITY 3, SUNDERLAND 0
Possibly more important than the goals and emphatic victory against Sunderland was the performance of the under-fire back line as this was Manchester City’s first clean sheet of the season.
It was a new -look defence with captain Vincent Kompany ruled out though injury and Micah Richards back after a lengthy lay off for his first match of the campaign.
There were also recalls for Joleon Lescott and Aleksandar Kolarov as only Pablo Zabaleta remained from midweek.
City, who had conceded 16 goals in nine competitive matches, were far more solid than of late while the win was also the perfect pick-me-up after the disappointing midweek draw at home against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League.
First-team coach David Platt explained: “When you come off the back of a bad result in midweek you always get a good reaction from top players. At 1-0 there’s always the risk of getting pulled back , but the fear factor isn’t there any more at 2-0.
“We made seven changes as it’s difficult to play just over two days after a midweek game. We had injuries to Vincent Kompany (calf), Samir Nasri (ankle) and Javi Garcia (thigh).
“It was the right decision to leave Vincent out, as it was too much of a risk to play him.”
Platt also played down suggestions that City had experienced a poor start to the season.
He continued: “I don’t think we have been stuttering as much as people want to make out. Chelsea have flown away like we did last season. We are still there or thereabouts.
“In the first seven games, in terms of goals conceded and points, we’re better off now than last season.”
It wasn’t an afternoon without controversy, though, as Mario Balotelli, who had a listless game, headed straight down the tunnel without acknowledgement from City manager Roberto Mancini after he was substituted.
Mancini played down suggestions of any issue with the mercurial striker.
Sunderland were the one side to leave the Etihad Stadium in the Barclay’s Premier League last season without defeat and were within minutes of winning before City struck two late goals to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 3-3 draw.
City made no mistake this time after an early goal from Kolarov, a stunning free kick awarded after Carlos Tevez was fouled by Carlos Cuellar, put them on the front foot from the start.
City had a steel grip on the first half, comfortable in possession and untroubled in defence as Richards and his fellow defenders were protected by James Milner and Gareth Barry which in turn allowed Yaya Toure licence to join the attack and granted David Silva freedom to express himself in the wide areas.
Sergio Aguero, Balotelli’s replacement early in the second half, took little more than four minutes to extend City’s lead when he latched onto Kolarov’s cross to beat keeper Simon Mignolet at the near post. City were by this point cutting through Sunderland’s defence at will.
Silva was approaching his best and hit the woodwork with an imperious chip while Tevez and Richards could also have hit the target.
Joe Hart wasn’t exactly busy in the City goal but repeated his Borussia Dortmund heroics with memorable saves from Steven Fletcher and James McClean during the second half.
Milner had the final word after Kolarov had been fouled on the left edge of the area shortly before full time. The England midfielder stepped up and delivered a free kick which beat Mignolet from an acute angle to cap a good performance from City.