After 45 minutes Manuel Pellegrini had an extensive ‘To Do’ list. After 90 minutes the Manchester City manager had ticked all the boxes on his Champions League ‘Czech list’ in pilsner producing Plzen.
An intoxicating brew of heady football flowed freely as the Boddington boys of old barrelled out a first ever victory in an opening Group fixture in the CL – what a refreshing change.
With a mature Chilean replacing a smooth, but sometimes hard to swallow Italian, on the Manchester City wine list, a 3-0 away win was so much more palatable, helping banish the European hangovers of the two previous seasons.
A half time stalemate between City and the CL minnows from Western Bohemia was a cause for consternation, as was the sobering prospect of 0-0 draw at full time or, worse still, an unthinkable away defeat.
With five changes from the underwhelming 0-0 draw at Stoke on Saturday, including the return and massive influence of Captain Vincent Kompany on City’s backline, everything was set fair for a flying start to the campaign.
Pablo Zabaleta was making his 200th first team appearance in a City shirt – albeit a rather snazzy little white number with dual blue single stripes, as the club gave a first outing to what is now becoming the customary 3rd kit of each season – and very nice it looked too!
With all the beer and wine puns out of the way, all that was left was for City to deliver a champagne performance to send the 600 or so highly voluble travelling supporters to wend their way home from east to west, in celebratory mood.
A 10-minute second half blitz did just that with goals from the effective but, nonetheless profligate, Edin Dzeko, Yaya Toure of old yomping up the field and the sublime Sergio.
It hadn’t seemed so promising as the first half drew to a close with the plucky, well marshalled and spirited Plzen players dreaming the dream that it could yet be Viktoria victorious before the night was out.
Despite Aguero hitting the post with a low angled drive in the 26th minute and Dzeko opting for safety in the 22nd minute with a tame header, rather than risking a kick in the cranium, City were only just deserving of being on level terms.
Kolarov and Fernandinho were walking a tightrope on one yellow card apiece, and City were still seemingly slumped in the lethargy that has afflicted them for most of the season thus far.
Yaya was looking more like the Yaya who City fans know and love as he edged upfield, safe in the knowledge that the skipper and City’s finest ‘Kompany’ man was commanding the defence.
Nasri was finally putting in a more than acceptable shift, at one stage bedazzling five Plzen defenders on a forward thrust. The Frenchman was even tackling back to good effect – sacre bleu!
What was lacking was a tempo – quick one touch pass and go football – the style of play that City fans know will get results.
Pellegrini must have given a helluva team talk, either that or Plzen started too early on the ‘hooch’ – because if ever there was a game of the proverbial two halves this was it!
City were magnificent after the break and could easily have doubled their eventual winning margin.
Dzeko put the show on the road with a clinically dispatched side foot placement to see the ball nestle in the Plzen net in the 47th minute. Aguero’s assist was earned courtesy of a wrestling match down the left flank, with the pocket battleship from Buenos Aries muscling free from the clutches of the despairing defender.
His beautifully delivered cross was gratefully received by the likeable Bosnian striker whose game has gone up a level this season.
However, in the five or so minutes prior to Yaya’s mesmerising 30 yard curling strike to make it 2-0, Dzeko could and should have had a hat-trick.
It may seem churlish to focus on a negative aspect on such a glorious night, but Dzeko needs way too many chances to net a goal or goals. He looks like a man reborn with Mancini now gone, but nonetheless, his chances to goals ratio should be healthier. A three minute hat-trick was eminently achievable, but no!
Before Yaya launched his guided missile into the top right corner on 53 minutes, it was Zabaleta who put his body on the line to deflect a nigh on certain Plzen equaliser. Had the Argentine skipper not repelled the shot into Hart’s gaping goal it could all have been so different.
Within 60 seconds it was 2-0 following an incisive wonder strike from Yaya. Surrounded by the Plzen defence, the Ivorian talisman performed a quick one two passing movement with Nasri, before lofting into the net from fully 30 yards.
The third goal of the proceedings, was fashioned and executed by Aguero.
With his back to goal he took a short pass from Nasri inside the 18-yard box, before spiriting away from the close attentions of a trio of defenders and launching a surgical strike, cutting through the demoralised Plzen defences and putting the tie to bed.
Aguero could have scored a fourth in the 89th minute following an exquisite cross from sub, Negredo, but under duress the ball flew over the bar.
It finally came right for Pellegrini who has good cause to feel his selection policy at Stoke was vindicated with this slick victory.
The return of Kompany is profound as it signals the release on Yaya’s fast forward button. With Aguero performing like a wasp at a picnic in the eyes of the weary Plzen defenders and Joe Hart looking rock solid once again, City have established a spine that has served them so well in the recent past.
As Pellegrini’s signings adapt to the Premier League and the team embraces his tactical direction, City could well be back on track to surpass the achievements of recent years.
They’ll have no bigger test than what awaits on Sunday when Dark Forces visit the Etihad.
By David Walker