MANCHESTER — Etihad Stadium
Stevan Jovetic produced a Man of the Match display as his two goals helped City to a 3-1 win over Liverpool at the Etihad in front of Mario Balotelli, who watched on from the stands as his new teammates were taken apart after a second-half masterclass from his former employers.
On the evidence of this game, Liverpool will need the Italian.
They saw plenty of the ball in the first half and arguably edged the opening exchanges, but they lacked a cutting edge up front. Daniel Sturridge’s movement and pace caused City problems, but he often looked isolated and, barring one shot from a tight angle, rarely troubled the ever-improving Joe Hart in the City goal.
City’s first took the wind out of the Liverpool sails, and from then on there was only ever going to be one winner. Jovetic, who impressed throughout, scored it, a half-volley from inside the area after he reacted to a loose ball while Liverpool’s new left-back, Alberto Moreno, stood still.
After an injury-ravaged first season at City, where he struggled to string games together, Jovetic now looks fitter and sharper than he has been at any time since he arrived from Fiorentina just over a year ago. An excellent pre-season will help him, and he has now forced his way up the pecking order in City’s striking department.
His second was a delightful first-time finish after a wonderful one-two with Samir Nasri—a goal that demonstrated everything good about the Montenegrin’s play. He’s sharp, skillful and intelligent, with superb vision and a hunger for goals. He’s different to any of City’s others forwards, and he looks set to play a big role this season.
And Manuel Pellegrini told reporters after the match:
Not only for his goals, Stevan is working the whole game without the ball also. He was very unlucky last season but we never had any doubt for his quality. I am very happy for him. He deserves it after last season.
I don’t know if he is [like] a new signing. I repeat we need four strikers. Stevan is working very well but you cannot forget what Alvaro Negredo did now he is injured. We are working with Sergio Aguero in a mix of pre-season and playing some minutes. Edin Dzeko and Jovetic are playing very well so it is very important that players like Jovetic and Fernando are 100 percent fit.
City’s strength in depth, which has improved greatly after another well-executed summer transfer window, was on show again in this match, with Jesus Navas, Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho all coming off the bench to help City see the game out.
Aguero scored 23 seconds after his introduction—his second in as many cameo appearances already this season—as City’s second-half dominance told. Before his injury at Tottenham at the end of January, he was averaging a goal per game last season, and if he can remain fit for the majority of this campaign, City’s chances of retaining the title increase drastically.
72. It took just 23 seconds for Sergio to score that goal following coming on as a sub. Surely a record, if not, pretty close!— Manchester City FC (@MCFC) August 25, 2014
It’s clear there are some concerns over his fitness, though, with Pellegrini’s decision to name on the bench for the first two games a clear indicator he wants to ease his star striker into the new season, but he looks sharp and hungry for goals, and he will be key when he returns to the starting lineup.
1 - Manchester City have scored at least once in 69 of their last 70 Premier League home games. Fearsome.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 25, 2014
Liverpool hit back after Pablo Zabaleta’s own goal, but it was too late to signal a comeback. City, who are yet to reach anywhere near their full potential in either of their two games this season, were deserved winners and have six points from two potentially tricky matches.
With a trip to Arsenal and a home match with Chelsea following this weekend's game with Stoke at the Etihad, City will need to improve if the momentum is to be continued. However, after a preseason disrupted by World Cup involvement for many of their players, their start has been impressive.
New signing Fernando continues to impress, with his tenacity and tackling ability adding a new dimension to City's midfield. He brings steal to an already impressive midfield and at £12 million looks a bargain.
The importance of this win wasn’t lost on Pellegrini, who said afterwards:
I said in the press conference before that these games are games of six points. 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.
Pellegrini snippets: never lost faith in Jovetic, Dzeko injury not bad (i.e. a kick), Mangala still not fit enough to play at weekend #MCFC— Daniel Taylor (@DTguardian) August 25, 2014
It may be early days, but City's strength in depth looks like it could be key as they look to defend their Premier League crown.
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_