Ruthless Manchester City flex muscles against Liverpool
Mario Balotelli watches his old club dismantle his new club as Stevan Jovetic seizes his moment
Sitting in the executive seats high up at Etihad Stadium, Mario Balotelli began life at Liverpool by watching his new team ruthlessly dismantled by the club he left 19 months ago.
Manchester City showed just how difficult it will be to dethrone the English champions by beating one of their predicted title rivals 3-1 on Monday, making it two wins from two tough opening games of the Premier League season.
Stevan Jovetic scored twice and fellow striker Sergio Aguero netted seconds after coming on as a substitute, demonstrating that the champions’ strength in depth up front has hardly diminished since selling the combustible Balotelli to AC Milan in January 2013.
In fact, it has probably got even better.
With Balotelli added to the ranks for £16 million on Monday, Liverpool strengthened the one area of their squad that looked light following the departure of Luis Suarez to Barcelona last month. On this evidence, though, the Reds will struggle to close the two-point gap they finished behind City last season.
“These games are games of six points,” City manager Manuel Pellegrini said. “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.”
Jovetic was a forgotten man last season after his big-money move from Fiorentina, his career stalling during a year that was blighted by injury and failure to break into City’s star-studded attack.
“There are so many beautiful moments now, after so many problems last year, but I don’t want to think about that as it’s the past,” Jovetic said.
“I just want to enjoy playing with this team, with these players, and to win as many titles as we can.”
The Montenegro striker starred for City in preseason, though, and with Aguero working his way to full fitness after the World Cup and Alvaro Negredo out injured, Jovetic is taking his chance to make a statement to Pellegrini.
He pounced on a defensive lapse by Liverpool debutant Alberto Moreno to open the scoring in the 41st minute with a fierce low drive before starting and finishing a move that also involved Samir Nasri for his second goal in the 55th, leaving Liverpool to regret not making the most of a decent start to the match.
Aguero added the third in the 69th minute with his first touches of the ball after coming on for the injured Edin Dzeko, running onto Jesus Navas curling pass, taking a touch and sidefooting in at the near post. There were barely 20 seconds between Aguero jogging onto the pitch and wheeling away in celebration at his second goal of the season – both as a substitute.
City defender Pablo Zabaleta turned the ball into his own net under pressure from Rickie Lambert in the 83rd minute to deny the hosts a second straight clean sheet after an opening 2-0 win at Newcastle.
But it’s so far, so good for Pellegrini’s side, who joined Tottenham, Chelsea and Swansea on six points.
For Liverpool, there is excitement at the arrival of Balotelli, but a fear that City may again be too good this season.
“There is excitement with him coming in. I am really looking forward to working with him,” Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said of Balotelli. “One thing he doesn’t lack is confidence.
“He has that self belief and football arrogance on the field. Luis has gone, he was a wonderful talent but now we have to look to the future and hopefully Mario can contribute to what we are doing.
“I have been very encouraged by the guy himself. He is very honest. He knows his flaws and faults and he is looking for someone to help him. There is no better club for him.”
Balotelli is one of nine signings Liverpool has made this summer with the proceeds of the Suarez sale. It will take them time to bed in and what Liverpool doesn’t have is time, especially with City and Chelsea starting the season in such unforgiving mood.
“Up until they scored, we were arguably the better side,” Rodgers said. “But we switched off and Jovetic has finished it very well. We started the second half reasonably well and then we gave away two poor goals.”
Pellegrini said Dzeko’s injury wasn’t serious and the striker was likely to be fit for Stoke at home on Saturday.