Pellegrini targets top spot by new year

Man City 3 Swansea 0
Manuel Pellegrini has set Manchester City the target of being in first place in the Premier League at the turn of the year but, as yet another perfunctory home victory unfurled at the Etihad Stadium last night, the manager was only too aware that such an aim will not be determined by home form alone.

Winners of seven out of seven on home soil, Pellegrini’s side faces potentially testing trips to West Brom and Southampton this week having already lost four times on their travels this season.

The fact that league leaders Arsenal are the next visitors to the Etihad is not without significance but should City’s woeful away form continue, even home victory over Arsene Wenger’s side may not be sufficient to deliver a title in 2014.

“It’s a big challenge. West Brom are a strong team, playing at home,” said Pellegrini. “I hope now we can start winning away.

“I repeat, we deserve to have won some of those games we have lost. But in this week, we have two away games and six points, we must try and win all of them if we want to be fighting for the Premier League.

“I can answer the question of whether we can do that [be top] after these two away games. We have to play six more Premier League games during December and we hope we can do it. It will be very important for us.”

Certainly, there is a confidence about the City side that was fundamentally lacking earlier in the campaign. They have now scored 25 times in their last five home league and cup games and, without being overly unkind on the dropped England goalkeeper Joe Hart, seem to have more faith current number one Costel Pantilimon.

Nobody manifests that improved confidence more than French international — and former Arsenal favourite — Samir Nasri who followed Alvaro Negredo’s first half free-kick by adding the two second half goals that finally killed off Michael Laudrup’s visitors.

“I think Samir played very well, especially the second half,” said Pellegrini. “He also played very well in the Champions League. He is playing free, he is happy and he feels he is again an important player. The way we play maybe is very comfortable for him also.

“All of you know he is a big player. He played before I arrived at City for three or four years and he played in the Champions League. He is a very, very good player. Now he is again playing the way he knows how to play.”

Negredo scored his eighth goal in his last seven games from an eighth minute free-kick awarded after he was tripped on the edge of the area by Jose Canas. The Spaniard strode up with nonchalance before curling an unstoppable left-foot shot around the wall and past Gerhard Tremmel.

It appeared that Swansea were in for a long afternoon but, with Jonjo Shelvey exerting an increasing influence in midfield, the visitors responded superbly as the Liverpool man came close with two long-range efforts.

Pablo Hernandez might have had a penalty after an apparent pull on his jersey from Martin Demichelis, moments after the City defender had headed against the Swansea crossbar in a rare first half attack from the home side.

And, moments before the interval, Jonathan de Guzman, having been played clean through by Shelvey, wasted a superb opening to equalise as he cleared the bar by several feet from just seven yards out.

De Guzman sought to make amends early after the restart with an ambitious attempt to chip over the 6’7” City goalkeeper Pantilimon but that was as close as they would come again to salvaging a point.

Shortly after Aguero had shown sublime skill to beat Ashley Williams and Tremmel before shooting wide from a tight angle, City were 2-0 ahead.

Toure’s pass found the alert Nasri whose superb control allowed him to ghost into the Swansea area past static defenders before shooting past Tremmel from 10 yards.

The goal finally broke Swansea’s resolve and Pablo Zabaleta appeared after Aguero’s progress had been halted and shot over while running in at full speed.

Aguero, in particular, seemed determined to add his name to the scoresheet and came within inches after 72 minutes, sending a low shot skidding just wide after another example of his superb control.

It was to be his last action in the contest, the Argentinian being replaced soon after by Edin Dzeko, but not to be City’s last goal as James Milner sent Zabaleta away down the right and the full-back picked out Nasri who clinically converted his second goal of the afternoon from a dozen yards.

Nasri might have claimed a hat-trick as Dzeko fed him on the break and the rejuvenated City forward curled a shot wide but, even at less than their sparking best, City had long since killed off the competition.

For Swansea manager Laudrup, a strong first half showing was of no consolation and he echoed Pellegrini’s thoughts that the league is City’s for the taking if they sort out their problems away from the Etihad.

“At home, City are the best team right now,” said Laudrup. “At the start of the season, they were one of my two favourites to win the title, along with Chelsea. Now, it all depends what they do away from home.”

MANCHESTER CITY: Pantilimon 7; Zabaleta 8, Demichelis 6, Lescott 6, Clichy 6; Navas 7 (Kolarov 75, 6), Toure 6, Fernandinho 6, Nasri 9; Negredo 8 (Milner 61, 6), Agüero 8 (Dzeko 79, 6).

SWANSEA: Tremmel 7; Tiendalli 6, Chico Flores 6, Williams 7, Davies 7; de Guzman 5, Canas 7; Hernandez 5 (Routledge 61, 6), Shelvey 8, Pozuelo 6 (Dyer 66, 6); Vazquez 6.

Referee: Mark Clattenburg 7.


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