Crisp, stylish and uncluttered – Manchester City’s opening night performance of 2015/16 was a sublime reflection of their new sky blue & white strip – a subtle combination of retro elegance and contemporary flair.
Of course first impressions can be deceptive, as a re-invigorated Yaya Toure would readily testify.
The giant Ivorian’s brace was later reduced to just the one stunning strike – courtesy of David Silva’s passive heel – entitling the magical Spaniard to claim City’s first goal of the season for a third consecutive campaign.
City buttoned down maximum points and collared the top of the table slot when the once again, Captain Fantastic Kompany, thundered home a header – direct from a corner (shock, horror, big smiley face) – sewing up the game against the ‘boing-boingless’ Baggies of West Brom.
Manuel Pellegrini – with the reassurance of an extended two-year contract under his belt – presided over a nigh on perfect display, one where City were utterly dominant.
City, so often the nemesis of Albion manager Tony Pulis in his previous incarnations at Gillingham and Stoke, almost – almost – elicited a compliment from the craggy Welshman, who loves to hate the blue side of Manchester.
With 69% possession and a staggering 692 completed passes – 211 more than any other team in the opening round of fixtures – City were unplayable, prompting Pulis to say he’d ‘learned a lesson and been given a rude awakening.’
Even the massed ranks of the media had nice things to say and write about City – surely mid-summer madness that will abate in due course.
Raheem Sterling, City’s record signing – at least until Kevin De Bruyne’s £50m arrival from Wolfsburg – made his debut but, more tellingly, two talismanic figures of old re-appeared, as their former selves.
Goalscorers Yaya and Vincent will be as influential as any incoming transfers as City strive for a third Premier League crown in five seasons.
Their re-emergence as the world class players we know them to be, would be a huge boost for City and a double body blow to the likes of Mourinho, Wenger and Van Gaal.
After surrendering the title to Chelsea in a wretched run of away defeats to Liverpool, Burnley, Crystal Palace and Manchester United, City finished last season with six wins on the spin.
It gave rise to some optimism, saved Pellegrini’s job (that and Pep Guardiola’s unavailability) and prompted City Chairman, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, to state City would make ‘high quality signings and be much stronger in 2015/16’.
With more than a fortnight of the transfer window remaining, it’s fair to say most City fans remain a tad underwhelmed at the volume of new arrivals.
Most appreciate that, even at £44m, Sterling represents a top quality addition, oozing potential and adding a vital element City have lacked for a long time – genuine attacking speed.
The way he links with Aguero and Silva will be pivotal in City’s title challenge this season, especially as Pellegrini moves away from his default formation setting of 4-4-2.
Ex-Villa skipper Fabian Delph wouldn’t have figured too prominently on many summer shopping lists, but the 25-year old England midfielder is a pragmatic bargain buy at £8m, helping fulfil ‘home-grown’ requirements and he possesses a proven Premier League pedigree.
Having shown himself to be a motorway hazard on the M6 – how many U-turns can a man do between Birmingham and Manchester – Delph could emerge as a real asset and surprise package in City’s midfield traffic.
Patrick Roberts from Fulham is another young Englishman, identified by City as a future star, and one who could see his stock rise in a similar fashion to Sterling.
The protracted saga of Kevin De Bruyne’s move should finally be resolved next week, and the flame-haired Bundesliga Footballer of the Year will further ignite City’s creative attacking options.
With Aguero, Bony and the exciting emergence of Kelechi Iheanacho, Pellegrini does not see a new striker as a necessity, despite the departure of Balkan duo, Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic.
The astute Chilean appears to be opting for a more dynamic, fluid and interchangeable attacking approach, facilitated by a fast, skilled and swarming midfield.
For far too long, City have been overly reliant on the creativity of David Silva, but the pending arrival of KDB, (20 assists and 10 goals in the Bundesliga last season) , the thrusting directness of Sterling, the power and vision of Toure and a re-focused Samir Nasri, will make City odds on favourites to top the Premier League goal charts for a third consecutive time.
The goals continued to flow last term, even with a chronic injury build up, one which saw the now departed James Milner perform as a stand-in centre forward.
Regrettably, a constantly changing back line was breached too often – 38 in total – and such defensive frailties ultimately proved City’s undoing.
Apart from the promotion of the emerging Jason Denayer to the first team squad, City have not addressed those defensive shortcomings with any new personnel.
Surely that’ll change before September 1st.
Pellegrini is actively looking to boost City’s burgeoning Argentine contingent in the shape of Valencia’s want away centre back, Nicolas Otamendi.
The £35m buyout clause is proving to be a stumbling block, but with a possibility of Eliaquim Mangala switching to the Spaniards on a season long loan, City are favourites to get their man, ahead of rivals United.
Mangala might not be the only ex-FC Porto man leaving the Etihad. Midfielder Fernando could be on his way back to the Estadio do Dragao in part exchange for the Primeira League runners-up, left back, Alex Sandro.
The cultured 24-year old Brazilian left back has six international caps and would fit Pellegrini’s preference for attack-minded, overlapping wing backs, who can deliver an excellent cross.
If De Bruyne, Otamendi and Sandro roll in to the Etihad in the next two weeks, Khaldoon will have lived up to the rhetoric of his annual end of season review and City will have splashed in excess of £150m – not forgetting the £2m invested in young Turk Enes Unal – the 18-year old striker, immediately loaned out to Genk in Belgium.
Loan deals can work when young players are learning their trade – look at Denayer at Celtic and Rony Lopes at Lille in France – but they can be a source of irritation when it comes to seeking to offload senior players.
When wanting to shift out highly paid under achievers, City do loan deals that are more annoying than Wonga!
Obviously the supporters are not privy to the intricacies, minutiae and sensitivities of each and every deal – the minefield of bolt on clauses, image rights, bonuses, ‘loyalty’ payments, basic salaries and transfer fee instalments – but they are nonetheless aggrieved, when their club is perceived as a soft touch by cheapskate Serie A midgets, masquerading as football giants.
The likes of AS Roma, Inter Milan and let’s not exclude AC Milan from the equation, exude Italian chic, but in a domestic supermarket analogy, they’re wanting to shop in the food hall at Marks & Spencer, on a budget that barely extends to the refrigerated meats counter at Lidl.
Dzeko’s £2.9m one season loan deal, is destined to become permanent if ‘certain’ undisclosed criteria is met. Only then will a further fee, rumoured to be in the region of £8m, be payable.
For a 29-year old who scored 72 goals in 117 starts and 72 appearances from the bench, that’s a bargain. Other reports had previously suggested a straight £14m permanent switch, but that soon disappeared down the River Tiber in the Eternal City.
Jovetic’s 18-month loan to Roberto Mancini’s San Siro outfit could eventually net City £14.25m if, as and when the deal becomes permanent. With 11 goals scored in 18 starts and 25 substitute appearances, and at four years younger than Dzeko, Jovetic never really got going at City due to injuries.
The only surprise is the medical suite at the plush new £200m+ City Football Academy isn’t named after the forward from Montenegro.
Staying with medicinal matters, the most attractive element of Chelsea’s visit to the Etihad this weekend will be conspicuous by her absence.
Club doctor Eva Carneiro – allegedly called a ‘slut’ by ‘Gentleman Jose’, simply for doing her job in the champion’s 2-2 draw with Swansea – has been banned from the bench.
The Special Snide Sneer from Setubal, verbally abused Dr Eva during a hissy fit as 10-man Chelsea hung onto draw with the excellent Swans.
What a joy it would be to behold a City win come Sunday evening, with moaning Maureen having a funny pitch-side turn and Dr Eva not performing house calls – karma with a capital ‘K’.
More importantly City want a big victory ‘V’ and a five point advantage over their rivals after just two games.
By David Walker
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu