On a night when former striker Mario Balotelli returned to Etihad Stadium, Stevan Jovetić and Sergio Agüero reinforced the depth of Manchester City’s current firepower with the goals in a 3-1 win over the side that finished two points behind them in the title race last season. After completing his move to Liverpool earlier in the day, Balotelli sat in the stands at a stadium he once called home, but while Brendan Rodgers waits for his striking options to be enhanced, City’s showed that theirs are surely the strongest in the Premier League.
Liverpool had been the better wide for much of the first half, but, after rarely threatening, City displayed devastating efficiency to emerge convincing winners. Liverpool debutante Alberto Moreno was at fault to allow the hosts the lead against the run of play just before halftime as Jovetić drilled a shot low into the net. The Montenegrin was the star of the show and, after a first season at the club wrecked by injury, he promises to be every bit as exciting an influential as a new signing this campaign. It was with a brace against Liverpool in Champions League action for Fiorentina five years ago that he first came to widespread attention in England. And the 24-year-old matched that tally by brilliantly creating and then scoring City’s second 10 minutes after the break.
Then, just when Liverpool were threatening to get back into the game, on came a still not fully fit Agüero to score City’s third with his first involvement. An own goal from Pablo Zabaleta after another substitute, Rickie Lambert, was denied by Joe Hart, increased the tempo late on. But when Lambert missed another chance soon after and then Glen Johnson and Alberto Moreno suffered injuries that effectively left Liverpool down to nine men for the closing stages, the game was up for the visitors.
Manchester city boss Manuel Pellegrini did not hesitate to call the contest a six-pointer, despite the early stage of the season. It remains to be seen whether it will carry that significance come May, but what is sure is that City have made a powerful early statement and now have six points from two games and have an early edge on the runners-up from last season.
It didn’t look like it would be that way early on. Following an opening win over Newcastle United, City struggled to make any impact in the early going. Liverpool’s three-man central midfield was allowing them to have plenty of possession against the two of the hosts. But, while Raheem Sterling, continued to suggest that he will have a big season, Liverpool failed to make inroads in the final third. It wasn’t until the 33rd minute that, from a Sterling pass, Daniel Sturridge drilled the ball straight at Hart for the first shot on target.
Following the departure of Luis Suárez and the arrival of a host of new players, it will likely take some time for Liverpool to get up to full speed. It was perhaps telling that two of the new signing were involved in allowing Manchester City to grab the lead in the 41st minute. After Samir Nasri’s delicate chip into the area, Dejan Lovren was able to get the ball away from David Silva, but could not get good purchase on his header. When Moreno was caught slow to react, Jovetic nipped in and fired through the legs of Simon Mignolet.
The other side of the interval, City, featuring just one new signing in midfielder Fernando, gave a sign of the kind of cohesiveness created by their stable lineup. Having supplied a deft flick to Silva’s pass to find Samir Nasri in behind down the right, the forward continued his run into the heart of the penalty box and met the Frenchman’s low cross with a clinical finish.
The arrival of young Serbian attacking midfielder Lazar Marković off the bench gave Liverpool a spark and a suggestion that the game remained a real contest. But on this night Sturridge could not match the clinical touch displayed by those on his former team, first shooting across the face of goal and then mistiming a header. And in the 69th minute Liverpool found themselves three goals behind. Jesús Navas picked out a pass in behind the Liverpool defense to find his fellow substitute and, less than 30 seconds after coming off the bench, the man who played in a World Cup final just six weeks ago showed no signs of rustiness by slotting the ball past Mignolet.
Liverpool were given hope with seven minutes remaining when Sturridge’s brilliant cross with the outside of his foot was met by Lambert, saved by Hart and deflected in off Zabaleta, but there was no way back.