Freedom, expression and fluency. Manchester City played with all verve and style that swept them to their first title in 44 years last season; leaving Newcastle battered and bruised as they trudged their way out of the Etihad nursing the wounds of this one-sided 4-0 defeat. It was a pleasing performance on the eye but in many ways it was frustrating one.
With the title now out of reach, they put in a display reminiscent of their best. "I don't think anyone else we will play in the Premier League will be as good as the team we have played today,” was Alan Pardew’s assessment. It’s too little, too late.
If only City had played with this kind of swagger all season. If they had, they certainly wouldn’t find themselves in the position they are today: 15 points behind leaders United with the title race over by easter. It’s been a weak defence of a trophy that took so much energy to win.
Most of City’s squad have failed to play at the same level they did last season. David Silva is still central to everything City do, but he has fallen short of the form he produced last year when he would regularly take teams apart with gracious ease. Yaya Toure is another. A uncontainable force from midfield last year, he’s been profligate and less effective this time.
Same with Gareth Barry, Carlos Tevez, and Vincent Kompany. It was no coincidence that on the day they all of them found form, City looked back to their dominant best, with Newcastle struggling to get out of their own half for much of the match.
Afterwards, Roberto Mancini said: "Sometimes it’s difficult to play always well. I'm frustrated because we lost a lot of players for injury many times in a crucial moment. We played very well. Maybe it's too late, but it's important because we have another two months. Now it's impossible we can win this title but it's important that we can finish well.”
In truth, Mancini bemoaning his side’s luck with injuries is a weak excuse. Last season, Manchester United faced similar problems in terms of player absence, yet managed to stay in the title race until the final seconds of the season. Without a single win in their Champions League group and such a poor attempt at defending their title, City can hardly blame two months without Kompany and a month without Yaya Toure on their failings.
Finishing second and winning the FA Cup is now paramount for the Blues before they head into what looks set to be a busy summer. With a number of inflated, Hughes-era contracts expiring and big name players set to leave, City have considerable room to manoeuvre in this summer’s transfer window. Roberto Mancini knows that a strong finish to the season will put him in a better position when it comes to convincing the board he is the man to trust this summer.