Lethal, lucid and liquid, Manchester City are usually all of these things when Newcastle United hove into view. City's record against the Geordies is second to none and a 2-0 win on opening day has kept that run clean and impressive.
The Premier League Champions broke out at a sunny St James's Park looking to put things right after their disastrous showing at Wembley a week earlier. In losing so lethargically to Arsenal in the Community Shield, City had given critics an early opportunity to bin their chances of success this year. Newcastle, painfully aware that the sky blues are one of their main bogey sides (how far we have come from the mist-enwrapped days when half the division could realistically stake a claim to be City's bogey opponent) must have feared the worst. Goals are scarcely hard to come by for City against this opponent and today would prove an ideal exercise in adding another two to the already long list.
From the start it was all smiles and politeness. A new season and new faces in a packed stadium with the new campaign about to unfold before our eyes. A pleasant handshake and smile from The New Pardew for his opposite number, The Old Pellegrini, whom he had called naughty names in the same fixture last season; a minute's silence, impeccably upheld by both sets of supporters, for the pair of Newcastle fans who lost their lives in the most unlikely way possible -- on their way to a distant Newcastle preseason fixture, their plane became the target of stray missiles from the Ukraine crisis far below. There were hugs and kisses from both the captains to the grieving families. All protocol met with the utmost efficiency and warmth. There was even a banner from the City fans covering the subject, which closed the affair appropriately.
All pretences at respect fell quickly away, however. Pardew was quickly ripping sheets off his notepad containing possible names to call Manuel Pellegrini later on if things went awry and plugging them nonchalantly into his top pocket. City's classy one touch on the ground passing routine, known to us all by now, was quickly in evidence too. That all important backbone, bendy and weak against Arsenal, had had more vertebrae inserted in the shape of old dependables Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany and David Silva and what a difference a few extra bones makes to this team's spinal chord. Suddenly solid in the tackle, firm in formation and dangerous moving forward, the first 20 minutes belonged almost entirely to the visitors.
City's shape and strength might appear to return when some of the big names are present, but there were still plenty more firepower on the bench, including Fernandinho, Milner and Aguero, who would all appear as substitutes in the second half. What has not yet been sorted out is City's defence. Once again, there were moments when the Keystone Cops appeared ready to drive their ancient cart right through the middle, between a flailing Vincent Kompany and his overworked teammates. With Gael Clichy again employed as a right back, nominally speaking, for he had drifted into a sort of homemade roving Zico role before the first half had ended, the whole set-up allowed Newcastle plenty of space in the danger areas.
On the other side, Aleksander Kolarov spent the entire match attacking debutant Janmaat to great effect, whilst the leggy Fernando made a much bigger impression than he had done in the Arsenal match. The season was just 25 minutes old when we were treated to the first Fernando slider of the year. On 49 minutes he toe-ended the ball away from danger as Newcastle threatened to score and on 58 another slide-rule cruncher stopped a breakaway through the middle. As league debuts go, Fernando's may not have been absolute top bracket, but these three little cameos told us enough of what to expect from him this season. His yellow card late on also foretold of what we might see a lot more of as the season progresses.
Alongside him the little magician David Silva weaved his intricate patterns in and out of the giant Newcastle defenders. It was apt that it should be the little Spaniard who got the opener. Having also been the first recipient of the dreaded yellow card (there would be four more of these for various soft to middle range offences) he was then put through by an uncharacteristically adept back flip from Edin Dzeko, the gangly Bosnian showing that he had done his school work whilst on holiday in Brazil this summer.
By the time Aguero had sunk the second, with the clock ticking towards 93 minutes, the game had begun to be played more and more in City's half. But with an out ball to a striker of Aguero's power and precision, there was always the chance of more fun and games at the other end. Sure enough, the stocky Argentinian showed just what City had been missing with an unerring finish with the right foot, after his initial left foot strike had been parried back to him by Tim Krul.
One game in, City have the familiar look of a team capable of coming to tricky places like this and doing a job. This was pretty in places and attritional in others. The world and his dog knows what to expect from the likes of Kompany, Silva, Toure, Dezko and Aguero, but today we also learned that you pass Fernando at your peril and if you think you have, check for that trailing leg wrapped around the ball at the last moment. Now you see it, now you don't. We learned also that Stevan Jovetic is fit and sharp, ready to race onto any through ball and well able to dance in and out of a variety of lunges and tackles. Two pleasing additions to the everyday brilliance of their better known teammates.
As polite applause rang around the old ground for two teams, who had given us a more than decent first curtain performance, we could all raise a glass to the high standards set in respectful behaviour and quality finishing.