ST JAMES' PARK, Newcastle, England — Manchester City very likely would have won last season’s Premier League more comfortably if not for some early-season struggles away from home. Defeats to Cardiff, Aston Villa and Chelsea, as well as a draw at Stoke, hampered City in the early weeks of Manuel Pellegrini’s tenure.
Their 2-0 win at St. James’ Park over Newcastle in the opening match of this season suggests they don’t plan on seeing a repeat performance.
City were by no means perfect. The World Cup has taken its toll on their squad, with many of their players only returning to training 10 days ago. They were therefore not involved from the start against Newcastle, but there were signs of the form they showed toward the end of last season, when they secured their second league title in three years with style.
At times, their passing was sharp and their movement fluid, with David Silva, City's main creative architect, once again showing his class. Indeed, it was Silva who scored City's first goal of the new season, finishing off a wonderfully worked move involving Yaya Toure and Edin Dzeko.
Toure's long ball from deep found Dzeko in the box, and he produced a magnificent one-touch backheel pass into the path of the Spaniard, who slotted home expertly. It was a goal of real quality.
Dzeko was outstanding all afternoon, with deft touches and neat layoffs complementing his aerial ability and hold-up play. His form toward the end of the last campaign gave City extra impetus in their quest to win the title, and it seems he has picked up where he left off.
The Guardian's Daniel Taylor illuminated Dzeko's turbulent situation at City prior to Pellegrini's arrival via Twitter:
Newcastle, who included four new signings in their starting XI, showed flashes of what they are capable of. Remy Cabella, in particular, demonstrated his ability, but some poor decision-making in the final third let him down. He looks like he will be an exciting addition to the Premier League.
Newcastle, who had a good chance to equalise through Moussa Sissoko late on, will be stronger when they welcome back Siem de Jong and Papiss Cisse from injury.
City’s win was sealed in the best possible way for them: Sergio Aguero scoring from a rebound after Tim Krul saved his first effort well. The substitute, who remains the man most likely to score goals for City, has been troubled by a series of niggling muscle injuries since January, and Pellegrini will be keen to ease him back to full fitness in order to maximise their chances of silverware.
There were plenty of other positives for City, too. Vincent Kompany and Martin Demichelis returned to a back four that struggled badly at Wembley Stadium in the Community Shield match against Arsenal seven days. The pair brought some calm and composure to the defence, and Gael Clichy was much improved despite continuing out of position at right-back.
And with the likes of Pablo Zabaleta, Bacary Sagna and Eliaquim Mangala all set to be involved as soon as their match fitness is established, City's defensive solidity will surely only improve.
Stevan Jovetic, the star of the club's preseason tour of the U.S., demonstrated some of the qualities that have raised the expectations of everyone attached to City. He may not have produced much in front of goal—skying one chance and forcing a save from Krul with another—but his willingness to take possession of the ball and look to create should be admired. He has a crucial role to play this season.
And Fernando, who performed superbly in the second half when Newcastle were in the ascendancy, looks to have everything he needs to be a top-class defensive midfielder. The early signs would suggest City have made an astute acquisition, one who brings added options to their midfield.
The future of Matija Nastasic, though, remains in doubt, with Pellegrini telling BBC Radio's Ian Cheeseman that the Serbian could be on his way before the transfer window closes at the end of the month:
The 21-year-old Nastasic wasn't even among the substitutes, despite City's defensive absentees, with Dedryck Boyata preferred as a substitute. It's been a rapid fall from grace for Nastasic, who in his first season at the club in 2012/13 looked to be one of the finest young defenders in Europe. If indeed he does depart, it's a move City may well come to regret.
Pellegrini won't be thinking about that tonight, though. His side have begun their title defence in style.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2014-15 season. Follow him on Twitter here: @RobPollard.
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