Friday 23 February 2018

Blue moon rising as City lay down early league marker

Everton 0-2 Man City

Manchester City's French midfielder Samir Nasri celebrates after scoring
Manchester City's French midfielder Samir Nasri celebrates after scoring
John Stones of Everton attempts to wrestle the ball from Samir Nasri
City's David Silva tackles Gareth Barry
Aleksandar Kolarov of Manchester City celebrates scoring the opening goal with Fernandinho

Chris Bascombe

Three games into the season, the most pertinent question is how long before Manchester City are out of sight.

It is not just the fact that the early pacesetters have three consecutive league victories, but the manner of the success and calibre of the opposition that gives the early weeks of this title race an ominous look.

After Chelsea were dismantled, Everton were resisted and overcome with the kind of character-led performance that has the stamp of champions.

Protest about premature predictions as much as you wish, but if ever a title appeared to be in a manager's hands after three fixtures, this is the season. Aside from an injury epidemic, City's greatest threat is themselves and a recurrence of the habits that undermined their title defence.

The evidence suggests that those blemishes have been eradicated. Including the climax of last season, a ninth consecutive top-flight win equals a club record dating back to 1912. Even a statistic like this, on the back of three penetrating performances, will not make City manager Manuel Pellegrini giddy.

You get the impression that if the Chilean won 38 successive matches, he would engage with interviewers with the kind of straight bat an Ashes cricketer would envy.


"What is most important is the next game," said Pellegrini, sounding rather like a curmudgeon telling youngsters to turn the sound down.

You can admire the professionalism, but he must be dancing inside given the flavour of this comfortable two-goal victory thanks to Aleksandar Kolarov and Samir Nasri.

Trips to Goodison Park are among the most accurate measures of title credentials. This is a venue where mental agility is assessed as much as skill.

City have never lacked the latter in the Abu Dhabi era, but it was their temperament that was suspect when they failed to defend their crown last season.

The criticism under Pellegrini is he has built a team that only play when the mood grabs them. If they are in this frame of mind for the next eight months, no amount of panic buying by rivals will stop them.

You would need a forensic examination to find a weakness in this City team over the past 270 minutes. Even the problem of Yaya Toure's propensity to have a breather mid-game has been resolved, with Fernandinho now looking like a midfielder who ought to have cost £29m.

Ally this with Eliaquim Mangala proving some merit to the argument that it does indeed take some footballers at least a year to adjust to English football, and you wonder why City are still looking to strengthen before the transfer deadline. Presumably Kevin De Bruyne will relegate Jesus Navas - the one component of the City line-up that continues to flatter to deceive - to bench duty.

Mangala and Vincent Kompany were as much a foundation of this victory as the razzle-dazzle of the attackers. Everton were reduced to sporadic attacks.

Romelu Lukaku had delivered a pre-match promise to put anyone who got in his path on the floor, but he was made to sound like a prize-fighter without a hook by City's centre-backs.

When the goal arrived on the hour, there was a certain inevitability Raheem Sterling was involved, teeing up Kolarov to beat Tim Howard at the near post.

Predictably, Sterling was booed due to his former allegiances, but only in a manner befitting of a pantomime. Whatever abuse is coming his way, the argument he is more likely to fulfil his title ambitions at the Etihad Stadium gains credibility by the hour.

Despite the wait for the opening goal, City could have been ahead after 80 seconds. Sergio Aguero replicated the start against Chelsea last weekend, testing the goalkeeper from the kick-off. Howard repeated the trick on 10 minutes after Navas and David Silva combined, Aguero possibly more culpable with the finish.

Silva was threatening to run the game at that stage, but Roberto Martinez identified the opening goal as the moment the balance of power irreversibly shifted in City's direction.

"The first goal seemed too important today," Martinez said. "We knew we were playing against a quality team and the first goal affected us too much.

"It is a real bad moment, we were really sloppy on the ball, give them a counter-attack and the ball ends up in the net.


We weren't clinical enough, but in terms of effort and a proper confrontation against the best team in the league, we have a real strong platform."

Nasri's clever chip over Howard a minute from the end secured the points and City left Merseyside looking even more formidable as they did on arrival.

City's performance will serve only to affirm to Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger of how much more needs to be done if they're to keep up with the leaders.

The race is long, but City might already be planning the bus parade by the time the others match this form.

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