Manchester City dealt with hostile opponents and weather in Swansea City.
Manchester City began 2014 the way they lived much of 2013.
The Citizens have more sheer talent than any side in the Premier League. For what Manchester City's management have spent to assemble the team, it would be a shock if that was not the case.
But the names in the Manchester City XI are just that—names. Once the referee blows his whistle and the ball is kicked off, neither the ball nor City's opposition much care who Manchester City's players are or how much they cost. Certainly the weather is totally ignorant.
Manchester City lost the Premier League in 2012-2013 for many reasons, one of them being that they did not much carry themselves like champions and played down to their opposition too often.
So there were the Sky Blues in their traveling black strip in South Wales on New Year's Day, taking on Swansea City on their home ground in a cold downpour; another Premier League side who took the match to Manchester City repeatedly and played with nothing like respect or fear.
Here are six lessons we learned from Swansea City 2-3 Manchester City.
Silva saw yellow in the 89th minute against Crystal Palace and was thus out of this match.
The Premier League season has reached that annoying point where key players start randomly missing matches after accumulating too much discipline.
Exactly who this serves is up for significant debate. Taking a megawatt star like David Silva out of a league match because of too many bookings does nothing for the entertainment value of the Premier League product.
Without Silva, Manchester City unsurprisingly had a difficult time moving the ball with their normal ease through the middle of the pitch. Instead, the Sky Blues relied more heavily than normal on wing play from full-backs Aleksandar Kolarov and Pablo Zabaleta and midfielder Jesus Navas.
No slight is intended to those three by this statement, but maybe it is not avoidable: no combination of full-backs and wing players tied to the sidelines will ever adequately replace the calm, slick presence Silva has in the center of the attacking third.
Manchester City's first two goals were scrappy bolts from the blue as opposed to the aesthetically pleasing artworks that Silva normally has a hand in creating. Their third goal, from Kolarov, was simply a world-class solo act.
From a goal output perspective, Manchester City did well without Silva. But it certainly did not look like Manchester City football.
Lost in Edin Dzeko's foibles has been Negredo's toothless play of late.
It may seem strange to bang away at Manchester City's troubles in dealing with a star offensive cog's absence when they score three goals and win.
But Manchester City cannot expect to win too many matches away from Etihad Stadium when none of their goals come from their strikers. They will not win too many at home that way, either.
Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko are putatively responsible for replacing the goals that the injured Sergio Aguero would normally produce. It is just not happening.
To their credit, Negredo and Dzeko have obviously been trying to work together and create chances for each other. Negredo's partnership with Aguero was positively lethal before Aguero went down.
Try as they might, though, Negredo and Dzeko just cannot meaningfully synchronize their efforts. If anything, it feels like Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini is better off playing one of them as a lone striker.
Because of David Silva's suspension, Pellegrini had to play Negredo and Dzeko together and hope that they would sort things out.
Here's what happened: Negredo came off early in the second half and Dzeko played two-thirds of the match ineffectively on a yellow card.
So, um, yeah.
Kolarov's match-winner was a thing of beauty.
Much is made of every splashy, pricy signing Manchester City pull off. Whether it is jealousy or simply curiosity depends on the observer and his particular bias.
Fernandinho was one of those acquisitions for Manchester City this past summer. His opening goal in this Manchester City performance was unquestionably vital as it kept Manchester City from the prolonged "will we score?" spell they suffered against Crystal Palace last weekend.
But after Swansea City equalized shortly before the break, Manchester City went to the changing room with as many questions as they had answers about where their goals would come from and how they could seize control of the match.
Then Yaya Toure and Aleksandar Kolarov, two long-term employees on the blue side of Manchester, produced two goals borne of grit and individual effort. Each was impressive in its own way.
Toure's goal was remarkable because it happened in an eye blink. One moment the ball was there to be won on the fringe of the Swansea City area, the next Toure had consumed and expelled it forcefully into Swansea City's goal.
Kolarov's was more beautiful, as he swung in from the defensive half of the pitch down the left flank, took the ball into the area and pounded a wicked strike with his right (weaker) foot. It was a striker's goal from a midfielder-cum-defender.
It is an absurd luxury to have midfielders capable of goals like these. That they have served long for Manchester City makes their contributions even sweeter.
Kompany and his colleagues have to sort out their line.
Swansea City exposed a flaw in Manchester City's defense that the rest of the Premier League are sure to exploit in coming days.
Both of Swansea City's goals came from a breakdown in Manchester City's high defensive line.
The first was improperly given as Wilfried Bony was offside, though just. But the disconcerting thing for Manchester City was how simply Bony converted the opening, pulling easily away from Vincent Kompany and Matija Nastasic in the center of the box to nod home a fairly simple header.
Bony's second tally, too late to save the Swans, came from the sort of play that nearly victimized Manchester City half a dozen times in the match. Swansea City took a number of 19-24 yard strikes during the match and narrowly missed Joe Hart's goal with a few of them.
In part this strategy was likely due to the teeming rain that fell in Swansea throughout the match. The pitch was, as the commentators love to say, "greasy," and every skidding shot that got through to the keeper had a chance to go in.
But if Manchester City are going to keep playing a high offside trap, they must sort out their man marking at the edge of the 18-yard box. Even when Hart is in good form (as he is now), elite Premier League players will convert more of those chances than they miss.
Manchester City's impressive goal difference would be even greater if they could properly close up shop with a lead.
Aleksandar Kolarov's goal, which put Manchester City ahead by two, was a real relief to the Sky Blues faithful because anyone who has watched Manchester City this season sort of knew that Swansea City would probably score at least one more time before the match ended.
Both of Swansea City's goals came in stoppage time. On Dec. 21, Fulham scored two second half goals to level the match at Craven Cottage. On Dec. 4, West Bromwich Albion scored in the 85th minute to draw within one.
Manuel Pellegrini pressed all the right buttons against Swansea City in terms of trying to shut the match down once his side pulled ahead in the second half. Javi Garcia and James Milner are purely defensive substitutions and they worked credibly in that role.
It is obviously not a goal difference issue for Manchester City, and Wilfried Bony's second goal of the match did not seriously threaten the three points for the Sky Blues.
But Manchester City have to conclusively figure out how to take the air out of the ball when they earn a lead, particularly away from home.
In the end, three points in this setting and in these conditions are a great result for Manchester City.
Please know that the generally critical tone of this slideshow to this point is not lost on the writer.
With all the negatives properly addressed, then, here are the litany of glass-half-fulls to be taken from Swansea City 2-3 Manchester City for the Sky Blues:
- Another three points on the road from Manchester City's third away win in four tries
- Creation of goals from sources other than the strikers
- A result earned without Sergio Aguero and David Silva available
- Joe Hart was blameless on the two Swansea City goals and looks to be back in form
- Resilience in the face of an improperly given first Swansea City offside goal
- Significant resolve in overcoming an awful day of weather in South Wales on New Year's Day
All of these positive signs from Manchester City are building blocks for what promises to be a tense, thrilling 2014 for the Citizens.