Manchester City flexed their muscles with a 3-1 win over Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium on Monday evening.
Liverpool commanded the pre-game headlines by confirming the signing of Mario Balotelli. But it was City who took the spotlight off their former striker by claiming an ultimately comfortable win.
Balotelli was in the stands and he saw Stevan Jovetic score twice and Sergio Aguero once to hand the defending champions all three points.
There were positives for Liverpool, a first goal for Rickie Lambert being one, but they were undone by City's slick, attacking play.
Liverpool made a bright start, with Daniel Sturridge in particular looking extremely lively.
On five minutes, Sturridge dashed down the right and forced City onto the back foot, but his pass for Raheem Sterling was hit weakly and the home side were able to clear.
Sterling was seemingly given licence to run beyond Sturridge and he did that again on nine minutes to collect a raking pass from Steven Gerrard. He took the ball down on his chest, but it just got away from him and his shot lacked pace as a result.
City’s first chance of note arrived on 15 minutes, but Simon Mignolet was well-positioned to gather a curling effort from Yaya Toure.
A brilliant piece of skill from Sturridge took him past Vincent Kompany, but Joe Hart was able to beat the ball away at his near post.
Liverpool were the brighter side in the first half, but all their good work was undone by some sloppy defending on 41 minutes.
Dejan Lovren was slow in coming across to close down David Silva, but he was not as slow as team-mate and fellow new signing Alberto Moreno, who was on his heels when the loose ball came his way. Jovetic was not on his heels, as he stole in to take the ball off Moreno’s toe before smashing a shot past Mignolet.
Liverpool had looked more likely to score, but Jovetic seized on defensive error brilliantly— Stuart Brennan (@StuBrennanMEN) August 25, 2014
Stevan Jovetic's Half in Numbers: 92% (23/25) pass accuracy 1 chance created 1 take on completed 1 shot, 1 goal pic.twitter.com/xlGVlthTDz— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 25, 2014
Liverpool had the ball in the net on 49 minutes, but Sturridge’s crisp finish was chalked off by an assistant’s offside flag.
City dashed forward almost immediately after Sturridge’s goal had been ruled out. Some sharp, one-touch passing set Edin Dzeko away, but he appeared to be caught in two minds over whether to pass or shoot, and Moreno came across to clear.
Jovetic had a torrid first season at City, but he is going some way to erasing those memories and his second of the contest came on 55 minutes.
He was both creator and finisher, as he flicked a clever back heel into the path of Samir Nasri and continued his run. Nasri pulled the ball back across goal and although the Montenegrin's finish was not crisp, it found the back of the net.
An excellent reaction save from Hart to deny Sturridge with 25 minutes remaining was a key moment, as it prevented Liverpool the chance to gain any sort of momentum.
And the contest was killed off minutes later. Aguero was thrown on for Dzeko and his first contribution was to score. He had been on the field for 23 seconds when he collected a pass from Jesus Navas and stroked the ball beyond Mignolet.
Lambert climbed off the bench and beat Hart from close range at the second attempt on 83 minutes, but City weathered the storm to claim the win.
City and Chelsea were prominent in the betting at the start of the season and, based on the early evidence, that looks justified. With quality players and strong squads, both look sure to pose significant challenges.
For Liverpool, Balotelli will have to hit the ground running following his move from AC Milan if the Reds are to mount a title challenge. With the goals of Luis Suarez a thing of the past, the Reds need a goalscorer. The Italian's first chance to impress will be at Tottenham at the weekend.
It's only two games in, but on this evidence, Liverpool are going to struggle for top 4. Defensive problems remain but no Suarez to outscore— Garry Hayes (@garryhayes) August 25, 2014
Rodgers on Balotelli: 'Of course it was a risk, I'm not going to say it wasn't. He needs to fit into our culture & that'll help him improve'— Sam Wallace (@SamWallaceIndy) August 25, 2014
Philippe Coutinho: D
The midfielder had an excellent pre-season, so Liverpool fans will hope this display was a blip. He was wasteful in possession and failed to come to grips with City's commanding midfielders.
Stevan Jovetic: A
Jovetic's future looked bleak when he found himself way down the pecking order last term. But he has worked hard to impress Manuel Pellegrini and his two goals will almost certainly secure him a run in the side.
Alberto Moreno: C
It was a mixed bag from the Spaniard. For the most part, he looked assured, but it was his mistake that allowed City to grab the all-important first goal.