While many speculated a 4-3-3 that would see newcomer Fernando anchoring Fernandinho and Yaya Toure, Pellegrini instead opted for his tried and true 4-4-2 with Jovetic (assuming the role of Aguero) up front with Dzeko. It was Hart over Willy in goal while Clichy played right-back in place of the unavailable Zabaleta and Sagna. No other surprises appeared, as Silva and Nasri took up their now normal positions on the flanks, and Demichelis and Kompany reassumed their centre-back pairing.
Newcastle set up in a pseudo 4-3-3, with four of Pardew’s new signings afforded a spot in the starting XI. (Siem De Jong notably missed out due to injury.) Remy Cabella, sporting the world's worst hair-style, played on both flanks (moving from the right to the left, presumably because of his struggles to track Kolarov’s forward runs), Riviere assumed the role of striker, while Colback played in the midfield three, with Janmaat at right-back.
Perhaps having taken note of Arsenal’s performance in the Community Shield, Pardew instructed his midfield to press City high, disrupting the visitor’s initial phase of the buildup – a tactic I expect City to see much more of this season, as Fernando (despite his off the ball brilliance) is far from a steady on the ball passer. Yaya too, prefers to pick up the ball and slowly deliver it forward so when pressed deep, City’s early tempo changes; Silva and Nasri were forced to come deeper than usual to provide outlets, but more often the not, the fullbacks received the initial passes from the back.
While the 4-4-2 has its tactical faults, most notably, a lack of midfield security, and is hardly a "fashionable" formation among Europe’s top Clubs – indeed, only Atletico played a similar formation in the 2013-14 season – Pellegrini insists his opponents don’t have "an extra midfielder" because his system requires one, or both, of his strikers to drop deep when required. And that’s exactly what we saw today against Newcastle.
Not enough can be said of Dzeko’s performance today. He dropped deep, he pressed high, he held the ball up very well, and of course contributed the back heel of his life. In a Typical City sort of way, it really makes sense that in one of Dzeko’s best matches, his name doesn’t appear on the scoresheet. His performance was a real reminder not only of his class (in my opinion, the second best striker in this side and one of the very best across all of Europe) but also of his value to this team – something that’s only to be further demonstrated when he signs a new deal later this week.
To that end, Daniel Taylor of the Guardian shared this bit yesterday on Twitter:
Heard interesting line out of #MCFC today about Roberto Mancini wanting to sign Edinson Cavani in his final season at club (1/2)— Daniel Taylor (@DTguardian) August 17, 2014
(2/2) As soon as Pellegrini came in, he kiboshed deal. Preferred to keep faith in Dzeko, as proven Prem player. Clearly thinks lot of him— Daniel Taylor (@DTguardian) August 17, 2014
Meanwhile, Jovetic, who admittedly didn’t have his best match, worked quite well with Dzeko; running the channels when required (and thus providing the necessary width when Silva drifted inside) while also dropping deep to provide an additional midfield option. It was the type of performance – specifically in his movement – that is required to bring out the best of Pellegrini’s system. Speaking of best, Silva was his usual sparkling self. Dazzling with the ball and pulling the strings as we've all come to expect, he was the catalyst for City's success. He scored the opener (for the third season in a row, with the last two coming against Newcastle) and took control when it was needed; finding a yard of space where it doesn't actually exist, he sees the pitch the way others simply can't.
As mentioned earlier, Kolarov was particularly troublesome to Newcastle’s right side, moving forward at will and making life difficult for whichever winger was currently occupying that side. If you’re in want of further proof that Kolarov played a key part, Pardew said (somewhat surprisingly), "Kolarov at left-back is like having three players." And while it’s obviously a bit of hyperbole, Pardew has a point; never afraid to get forward, he’s City best crosser (maybe second, if you’d like to argue Navas) and looks more like a winger than a fullback in the final third (making his recent number switch that much more appropriate). He’s also improved leaps and bounds defensively since Pellegrini’s arrival, no longer looking a liability when called upon.
Defensively, City looked more comfortable than I thought they would. Clichy performed well as a makeshift right-back and the Kompany-Demichelis pairing seemed to pick up right where it left off in May. Sitting in front of them and assuming the Nigel De Jong role of ball-winning, hard-tackling, defensive shield was City newboy, Fernando. Having arrived in July from Porto with his "Octopus" moniker, Fernando more than lived up to expectations, shielding the back four well and protecting a less than impressive Yaya Toure.
All told, I count it an impressive performance considering the circumstances. Coming on the heels of a terrible showing in the Community Shield (that some worried might have a carry-over effect), it was important for City to play well, control the match and begin the title defense with a strong opening statement – all of which, they did. And in an away fixture that might prove much more difficult than people are expecting.
Three points from three and a clean sheet (oh, and Aguero scored and didn't do his groin, hamstring or other such leg muscle) – it’s hard to find much fault with that. And if you disagree, I’ll leave you with this gem, from Bitter and Blue’s shuddertothink:
Stretching back into last season City have now gone 3 consecutive games without conceding a shot on target. (Villa, West Ham, Newcastle)— Ben Pugsley (@benjaminpugsley) August 17, 2014