Jovetic's success vindicating Pellegrini
Manuel Pellegrini is not a man for bold boasts. There is the feeling he likes to remain resolutely unquotable so, by his low standards, it amounted to a forthright assertion when, on Friday, he declared we would see "the real Stevan Jovetic" this season. Three days later, he was vindicated.
This was not the semi-fit, pale imitation of Jovetic who featured in fitness bulletins but rarely on the pitch for much of the past season. Two games into his second campaign, the Montenegrin has provided City with a belated return on their 22-million-pound investment.
His double decided the meeting of last season's champions and runners-up. Liverpool were defeated by a man they coveted: not in this summer's spending spree, but back in 2009, when he figured on Rafa Benitez's shopping list. The Merseysiders ended up with the perennially injured Alberto Aquilani and no striking signing. A precipitous decline followed.
It is ancient history from an Anfield perspective. The future sat in the stands in lurid red trainers. This was not a night for City to grow nostalgic about Mario Balotelli. Liverpool's newest recruit was the supplier for the most famous goal in their history, Sergio Aguero's 94th-minute title decider in 2012.
The subject of a thousand tales, Balotelli's infamy precedes him. "I think if you spoke to too many people you get all sorts of stories," said Brendan Rodgers in his news conference, explaining why he did not consult his mentor Jose Mourinho. "He has a reputation but we hope he can curb that behaviour."
The Italian was once City's fourth-choice forward; that was Jovetic's lot in life last season. He has climbed the pecking order in the current campaign and, while Manchester United's excellent preseason performances proved deceptive, Jovetic has taken his fine form from the International Champions Cup into the Premier League.
"We never had any doubts about his quality," said Pellegrini in his post-match news conference. It is why interest from Italy was repelled; Juventus and Inter Milan were frustrated, City elated with the illustration of his talent. "He is really a top player," Pellegrini said, before insisting, in Pellegrini-esque fashion, that he was pleased: "Not only for his goals. Stevan is working the whole game without the ball also."
It marks a difference with Balotelli, whose work rate can vary. "He is very honest," Rodgers nevertheless insisted. "He knows his flaws and faults and he is looking for someone to help him. There is no better club for him. There are no egos and big[-time] Charlies. This is a group that has improved because they are a team."
If Balotelli may remain the ultimate individualist, Jovetic's creativity was deployed productively. His back-heel to Samir Nasri led to his second goal, when the Frenchman returned the ball to him. It was the second City strike this season to follow a forward's flourish -- Edin Dzeko fashioned David Silva's opener at Newcastle in similar style.
Jovetic's first was indicative of the work rate Pellegrini highlighted. As Alberto Moreno hesitated, he latched on to Dejan Lovren's header to power in the opener. It illustrated the decisiveness newcomers to the division sometimes lack; the sheer speed can overwhelm some, and the debutant Moreno, flawless until then, was found wanting in an instant. Jovetic, making only his fourth Premier League start in 13 months in Manchester, looked more attuned to the intensity.
Moreno's evening got worse. All three City goals -- the last scored by the substitute Sergio Aguero 23 seconds after his introduction -- stemmed from Liverpool's left flank. It was the half of the back four patrolled by Lovren and Moreno, the recent recruits. These are early days, but in a back four when an out-of-sorts Glen Johnson and Martin Skrtel offered City an avenue to attack on the other side, it was a concern that the newcomers were found fallible.
"We are disappointed with the goals, of course," said Rodgers. "I wasn't overly happy with the first and third. The second they have worked well." His trademark optimism was allied with a warning: "I have every confidence the players will improve," he said. "You can spend as much as you want and it won't guarantee you anything." The arrival of Balotelli took their spending to 117 million pounds, while their improvement last season came from within.
Liverpool's cheapest addition, Rickie Lambert, claimed their goal -- although it was later changed to a Pablo Zabaleta own goal. He has started the season as Rodgers' second-choice striker, behind Daniel Sturridge. Balotelli completes a triumvirate of centre-forwards.
Pellegrini, in line with his philosophy of having two players for every position, prefers to have more. "We need four strikers," he said. Last year, Jovetic was fourth in line and a bit-part player. "To start in this way after an unlucky season is good," the City manager added. It was an understatement. But this is Pellegrini, after all.
Richard Jolly is a football writer for ESPN, The Guardian, The National, The Observer, the Straits Times and the Sunday Express.