Pablo Zabaleta – the undisputed hero at Manchester City

Manuel Pellegrini’s men claimed the Premier League trophy on Sunday, and Pablo Zabaleta’s form is one of the key reasons why.

In the upper echelons at the Etihad Stadium, where the powers that be must now decide where to strengthen what is a Premier League winning squad, there must be a tinge of disappointment about Sergio Aguero’s fitness.

Manchester City’s mercurial striker has been hampered by muscular problems that have disrupted what could potentially have been a wonderful season for the 25-year-old.

And it was a campaign that surely would have seen Manuel Pellegrini’s men crowned champions sooner than the final day of the season, had Aguero’s fitness not been compromised.

But as important as Aguero is to this Manchester City side, it is another Argentinian that once again deserves the plaudits this year.

Pellegrini has brought the excitement back to the blue-half of Manchester. His appointment was described as ‘holistic’ and it brought much sneering, but those who sneered must now reflect that the dismissal of Roberto Mancini has proved a masterstroke by the City board.

Attacking, attractive football has been at the forefront of the Chilean’s playing style, the likes of Samir Nasri, Edin Dzeko and Yaya Toure have been the principal beneficiaries. Indeed it was Toure’s rampaging run, as has often been the case this season, which saw City reach 100 Premier League goals in their 4-0 demolition of Aston Villa last week.

But it was the man who set up the first two goals in that vital win against the Midlands outfit, Pablo Zabaleta, who was the cream of the crop.

Marauding down the right wing, the gritty, tenacious Argentinian is a joy to watch. Zabaleta is becoming an institution at Manchester City and in the Premier League; he is fast becoming part of the furniture.

It’s often said that modern day fullbacks are better offensively than they are defensively, yet Zabaleta is the exception to the rule.

Sunday’s game with West Ham, the final fixture of the Premier League campaign, saw the 29-year-old play his 48th game of the season. He has missed just three Premier League matches, proving how integral he is to the club’s success.

Seven assists, one goal, 15 clean sheets, 120 tackles won, 84 clearances made, the numbers do not tell the whole story for the hugely popular Zabaleta. His determination, passion and ability has helped drive City to a second Premier League trophy, to compliment the Capital One Cup won earlier this year.

Despite the majority of their core players – Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Sergio Aguero – having missed a combined total of 35 games this season, City still earned Premier League glory.

Aguero may be the talismanic striker who grabs the headlines, but it’s his Argentinian teammate Zabaleta who is the undisputed hero at Manchester City.

Manchester City 4-1 Manchester United: Comment

For fifty minutes at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday Manchester City lay down a marker to the rest of the Premier League. Four-nil up and cruising against their biggest rivals for the league title, Manuel Pellegrini portrayed a man who had ice in his veins on the sidelines. Whilst the Chilean’s counterpart in the opposing dug-out, David Moyes, struggled to comprehend with the demolition he was witnessing, Pellegrini was content that his side were finally beginning to implement his methods.

For as bad as Manchester United were on Sunday, City were every bit as impressive. Taking control of the match from the first minute. Led by the magnificent Vincent Kompany, his first Premier League game since Newcastle on the opening weekend, the Blues pressed their neighbours on the rare occasions Manchester United had control of possession in the first half. Yaya Toure, a beacon in midfield, ran United new-boy Marouane Fellaini ragged. Rio Ferdinand will be haunted by Sergio Aguero everywhere he looks over the next few days and Nemanja Vidic will sleep with one eye open after being bullied by the beastly Alvaro Negredo.

But perhaps the most significant performance, from the blue half of Manchester’s perspective, was that of Samir Nasri. Much maligned since his £25m move two years ago from Arsenal, the 26-year-old showed just why he was worthy of a hefty price tag. Covering more distance than anyone else on the field and playing a part in two of the Blues’ goals before scoring the fourth, Nasri came into his own. With the mercurial David Silva missing from the starting line-up, his absence was barely noticed given the manner in which the Frenchman deputised.

As laudable as the City performance was the spotlight may well focus on the inept display from Manchester United. Wayne Rooney’s performance the only positive for Moyes on a day of many negatives. The England striker’s sublime free-kick minutes from time was not even celebrated such was its irrelevance. But for Moyes the hard work will start in earnest when United face Liverpool in the Capital One Cup on Wednesday. The 50-year-old Scot was said to have given his players the infamous United ‘hairdryer’ on Sunday, though whether it’s as effective as his predecessor’s remains to be seen.

Whilst the defensive errors which ultimately cost United three goals can be both attributed to the players on the pitch and ironed out, Moyes must take responsibility for the way he dithered on the sidelines. At half-time, 2-0 down and looking second best in every position, Moyes needed to bring at least one of his benched attacking trio of Javier Hernandez, Nani and Shinji Kagawa onto the field. With Ashley Young struggling to get anywhere near City’s formidable right of Pablo Zabaleta and Jesus Navas and Antonio Valencia repeatedly failing to track Aleksandar Kolarov’s bursting runs, City were having incredible joy down the flanks – something unheard of under Roberto Mancini.

Yet it was the introduction of Tom Cleverley, an extra presence in the United midfield, coupled with City perhaps taking their foot off the accelerator that saw United commendably bring themselves back into the game but it was too little too late with the Reds 4-0 down. Rooney’s free-kick following an over-zealous challenge from Matija Nastasic was sensational, but the response of the 27-year-old, who broke the record for the most goals scored in a Manchester derby, told its own story. United were down and out.

With a scoreline emphasising such domination it is easy to compare it to City’s 6-1 mauling of United at Old Trafford two seasons ago. But the performance on Sunday deserves more merit than that of the 6-1. The result at Old Trafford the season before last was a one-off with United naively pressing at 3-1 with 10 men and only minutes remaining. Sunday saw City boss the game from the start.

Though Kompany and co. will play down its significance, the result will send shockwaves across the Premier League. With just five games played it is still far too early to talk about potential title winners, though one thing is clear. The City camp appears much happier under Pellegrini than they were last season under Mancini.