Man City stability shows title gulf
If the mark of champions is to win while not playing at your best, then Manchester City are wholly capable of defending their Premier League crown. Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers had previewed his team's visit to Eastlands by saying that the encounter had come too early to have a bearing on the season's title race. Manuel Pellegrini had disagreed, and in trademark understated style, illustrated his belief in the importance of such a telling victory.
"I said in the press conference before that these games are games of six points," he said at his Monday postmatch news conference. "When you play at home it is important not to drop points against important teams. Liverpool is an important team and will be fighting for the title at the end."
Pellegrini's favourite word is "important." City's 3-1 victory suggested a significant gulf between last season's champions and runners-up, a telling statement of intent. There had been almost nothing between the two when City's late surge won out the 2013-14 campaign but Monday's night's result was telling evidence that Liverpool might struggle to challenge without Luis Suarez.
They also struggled defensively, with new signings Alberto Moreno and Dejan Lovren suffering torrid evenings in the Manchester rain, though the most obvious narrative was the performance of City's strikers. Stevan Jovetic grabbed two goals to remind of his huge talent while Sergio Aguero's goal after just 23 seconds of participation exposed the Suarez conundrum once more. The Argentine was the only Premier League striker who could hold a candle to the Uruguayan, but while City have retained such a prized asset, Liverpool could not say no to Barcelona's 75 million pounds and looked much worse off for it.
"Kun is a very special player for us," Pellegrini said of Aguero on Monday.
"Luis is gone, he was brilliant for me for two years," said Rodgers, as he fielded question after question about new 16 million pound arrival Mario Balotelli, who won the rare distinction of being regaled in song by both sets of supporters as he and Adam Lallana sat in the Colin Bell Stand.
Stability was a leading reason for City bringing in Pellegrini to replace Roberto Mancini last year. The next stage in the club's development towards becoming a superpower is to defend their title, which only four clubs -- Manchester United, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Liverpool and Chelsea -- have achieved since 1955. Mancini's title defence saw him fall out with just about everyone at the club, including Balotelli, and thus Pellegrini was hired as the antithesis of the bellicose Italian. It is difficult to imagine Mancini being as stoic in the face of the restrictions that City's financial fair play penalties have made on transfer business.
Jovetic's rise after his injury-ravaged first season is timely, but Pellegrini would have you believe that this was all part of the plan. "I don't know if he is like a new signing," he said. "I repeat we need four strikers."
Liverpool suffered for their lack of such strength in depth, which in itself suggested their achievement in going so close last season. With a Champions League campaign set to stretch Rodgers' resources where Europe provided no distraction in 2013-14, bringing in nine players was necessary, though the pain of transition was clear to see on Monday. They suffered for fielding half of a new defence, and City made hay on their left-hand side while Fernando, City's only new signing on view, showed clear mettle in midfield.
Alongside the signings of Eliaquim Mangala, Frank Lampard, Willy Caballero and Fernando, City have spent the summer tying up their established leading lights to long contracts. Vincent Kompany, Aleksandar Kolarov, David Silva, Edin Dzeko and Aguero are all at Eastlands to stay, as the club looks to build a dynasty with what they already bought in the six years since the Abu Dhabi takeover. All of the new deals are weighted towards bonuses rather than basic salaries, which may be a FFP-related machination, but retaining such a strong spine is a vital building block. Such is the playing power that City possess that they have maximum points from two matches while still wiping the sleep from their eyes.
"We need the whole squad," Pellegrini said. "In the first three weeks we play just one game a week. After the international break we play seven games in 20 days. It was very difficult to start the season and preseason so I am very happy with the games we won."
It leaves the rest either playing catch-up, or trying to live with City's powerful pace-setting. Chelsea are richer in options after their summer business, while Arsenal looked badly lacking of defense-minded players at Everton. Manchester United, despite the imminent addition of Angel Di Maria and possibly Arturo Vidal, are already looking as if this will be another season of change rather than success.
"You buy players, it doesn't guarantee you anything," Rodgers noted ruefully, his club having lavished 100 million pounds as he attempts a rapid rebuild. City, stars already established, guided by Pellegrini's steady hand, are guaranteed to be in the title hunt.