There was high expectation and equal anticipation as the 1st fixture of the 2013/14 campaign belatedly arrived, City lining up with their shiny new Nike shirts, the debonair and sophisticated new Manager on the touchline and the new expensive international footballers on the pitch lining up alongside those accrued in seasons past. As it transpired expectations were met and arguably exceeded as City demonstrated a renewed purpose, producing a high class high tempo display that could feasibly have seen them reach double figures up against a listless and disjointed Newcastle.
It would be deliberately remiss perhaps to reflect on Mancini’s Blues as being a little cautious in relation to the Chilean Engineers opening operation, as City blasted apart many sides at the Etihad Stadium with the Italian in charge; but there was something free, expressive and fluid about the way that City swept Newcastle aside that was a step away from the football we have seen over the last few seasons.
Nothing surmised this better than Edin Dzeko, a footballer so hot and cold as to be permanently under the weather, scorer of invaluable goals but technically lacking when it comes to the intense staccato interplay that is the trademark of Messrs Silva, Aguero and Nasri. Or so went the common thought. Given the support and confidence of Pellegrini and the benefit of a full pre-season leading the line, Dzeko was an altogether different animal here. Touch, industry and intelligence were all in evidence and his 1st half display was arguably his best 45 minutes in a City shirt, that magical display down at White Hart Lane in 2011 notwithstanding.
The Bosnian was the architect of Citys opening goals, both converted inside the games 1st quarter. City could already have been 1 or 2 ahead by the time the deadlock was broken in the 6th minute, with Edin comfortably bettering the hapless Debuchy and firing in a cross that deflected into the path of David Silva who scored with a simple header. The second goal was a thing of real beauty, as Kompany – at his graceful yet aggressive best – won possession, surged forward and played the ball into Dzeko’s feet, the first time flick from the big man was sublime, releasing Sergio Aguero, who forced wide by Taylor was still able to arrow a shot into the far corner with surgical precision.
There were other noticeable key features of Citys play throughout the match that seemed a departure from the previous footballing ethos. The first of these was the fierce intensity with which City harried and pressured the opposition when not in possession. Closing high up from the forwards down has been a noticeable style of defensive suffocation that Barcelona have preached for years and it was extremely refreshing to see Dzeko, Aguero and Silva hunting and winning the ball high up the field with a ravenous intensity. Newcastle simply weren’t able to settle or build any form of momentum with City in such confrontational mode.
The secondary feature was more blatantly foretold in the guise of a diminutive, turbo footed Spaniard who lined up on the right hand side of City’s fluid attacking quartet. Jesus Navas brought pace, width and high class delivery throughout the 90 minutes and has shown enough in one match to prove he will be an excellent addition. In the 1st half his abilities coming in from the flank and playing across the lines was in evidence, as was the makings of a very useful partnership down the right hand side with Pablo Zabaleta.
In the 2nd period, allotted more space courtesy of the reckless Steven Taylor’s premature expulsion, Navas hugged the touchline and from there provided a steady stream of quality crosses that on another night would have resulted in further profit. It was an excellent debut.
The tactical fluency was also worthy of note. On paper appearing to be a conventional 4-4-2, morphing into a 4-2-4 at times, a 4-2-2-2 or a 4-2-3-1 Pellegrini added to the reputation he forged in Spain and South America prior to that to be encouraging of interchanging and flexibility. It will be interesting to see how this develops over the course of the campaign.
The other debutant in the starting XI, Fernandinho demonstrated his multi-faceted qualities, with a passing repertoire, agility, pace and dynamism that will sit very well in partnership with Yaya Toure. A stronger midfield duo in the League will be hard to find. Toure’s high class conversion of a free kick on the edge of the box was a skill he normally reserves for the Ivory Coast but was well received by a crowd hungry for further goals against a backs to the wall opposition.
The 4th goal arrived through the persistence of substitute Nasri, who helped out by some slap dash defending was able to drive through and convert past the stricken Krul with ease.
In terms of the other summer arrivals, Jovetic picked up a slight injury to rule him out of proceedings and Alvaro Negredo was introduced with ten minutes remaining and was denied a debut strike and a 5th City goal because of an erroneous offside flag as the Spaniard tapped home from a few yards out.
The only real negative to come from the occasion was the sight of Kompany limping off in the 70th minute, a groin problem impairing the captain and ensuring that City will undoubtedly look to make a play in the transfer market sooner rather than later.
To temper the positivity and considering his all round performance, it was a shame that Dzeko did not grab the goal that would have secured him the Man of the Match honours (in my eyes anyway) despite the 8 attempts on goal. And to be truly miserly would be to note that the distribution of Lescott was also a slight concern at times, although criticism appears harsh because when operating in a defensive capacity, the former Everton man was very solid. Still, it is not difficult to appreciate why Pellegrini is in the market for a ball playing centre half, with the injuries to VK, to Nastasic and to Richards making that need now all the more pressing.
That said, it would be churlish to finish on a negative note and all things considered, it was a great start to the campaign and one to whet the appetite for the season ahead, with a trip to the Welsh capital next on the agenda.
The Blues are on the march.
Man of the Match: Jesus Navas