Mancini: We're getting there
Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini felt the spirit of last season was returning after the champions regained top spot in the Barclays Premier League.
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City may have benefited from one hugely contentious and pivotal refereeing decision, but by full time there was no doubting their superiority as they reached the summit with a 5-0 thrashing of Aston Villa.
After much criticism over performances, reports of disharmony and speculation over various club matters, moving top for the first time this season was highly satisfying for Mancini.
And as he reflected on that feat in the aftermath of the game at the Etihad Stadium, the Italian did not know rivals Manchester United would lose in the evening to ensure they remained there.
Mancini said: "In our mind we found good spirit like last year and with all the problems we've had these two months, for 45 minutes we are on the top and this is very important.
"I think we can improve more. Like I said against Tottenham (last week), I saw the spirit we had last year."
The flair and momentum which carried City to that memorable first title in 44 years last season has certainly not always been evident this term.
But their durability has not been in question and even amid rumours of crisis - fuelled by an admittedly poor showing in the Champions League - they have remained unbeaten in the Premier League.
Their overall unbeaten sequence in the competition now stretches to a club record 18 matches and they have not lost in 36 home league games going back almost two years.
Their latest victory came after assistant referee Adrian Holmes controversially flagged for handball against Andreas Weimann as David Silva swung in a corner early in the second half.
Referee Jon Moss pointed to the spot amid much bemusement and protest but Sergio Aguero coolly slotted the penalty to add to Silva's scrambled opener.
Carlos Tevez added a second penalty and the two Argentinians then doubled their tallies as Villa wilted.
City will now hope to carry some momentum into their midweek glamour clash with Real Madrid, even though their Champions League task seems a forlorn one.
After collecting just two points from their first four games, City must beat Real and Borussia Dortmund and hope other results go their way to reach the knockout phase.
Mancini said: "They are two different competitions.
"On Wednesday we play against one of the best teams in the world, with a fantastic history.
"We want to do a good job. I think we have few chances to go through but it is important to do a good job."
Aguero expects City to play like they have nothing to lose.
The 24-year-old, who has now scored four goals in his last three City games, said: "It's a good game. The truth is we have to win so we are going to go out and win however we can.
"We will have to see the other results but in the meantime the important thing is to play how we have been doing and do our best to win."
Another pleasing aspect of the performance for City - whose position was further enhanced by defeat for third-placed Chelsea - was their clean sheet.
The defence, formidable last season, has been under fire this term but they have now shut out opponents in four of their last six league games.
Aguero said: "Scoring goals is good but last season we were champions on goal difference, so it's important that we don't concede and try to score a lot.
"The result I think was very good. We needed to win and now we are calm and in good spirits.
"With Chelsea having lost their match, we are very happy."
After surrendering a two-goal lead to lose to Manchester United last week, defeat was another painful one for Villa.
It left Paul Lambert's young side in the bottom three with just nine points from 12 games and still searching for momentum.
But Villa did have their moments before Silva forced in the opener after 43 minutes and Lambert could not escape the thought the outcome might have been different without the first dubious penalty.
Lambert said: "I have been saying for the last few weeks, the lads are giving it everything they have got.
"In the first half Joe Hart made a world-class save to keep it nothing each.
"We had some chances and coming here is a difficult place.
"City are a top side with some really fantastic players, so take nothing away from them, but I am just disappointed the officials were not strong.
"The lads will be fine, they always have been. They will bounce back strongly."