MANCHESTER -- A trio of thoughts on Manchester City's 3-1 win vs. Liverpool in the Premier League.
1. City striking power punishes Liverpool
This was a Monday evening to suggest that Liverpool have much to make up on Manchester City. The champions were victorious without hitting top gear. They had too much power for last season's runners-up, both in terms of physical strength, and resources, too. Match-winner Stevan Jovetic is ostensibly their fourth-choice striker, while Liverpool's first-choice, Daniel Sturridge, despite some promising bursts, looked lonesome in trying to get around the muscle of Vincent Kompany and Martin Demichelis.
When Edin Dzeko limped off with a little more than 20 minutes to go, City were able to bring on Sergio Aguero, who despite a poor World Cup is one of the world's best strikers. Within seconds, the Argentine ran onto a Jesus Navas flick, as Dejan Lovren trailed in his wake and took the game beyond Liverpool. Such striking quality is what makes City far and away the best squad in the English game.
For Brendan Rodgers' team, that may be where Mario Balotelli comes in. What Liverpool lack is someone to hold the ball up in attack and dominate defenders in the fashion he can at his fully focused best. The Italian, still popular among City fans, received a cheer and chorus of song when, sat in the stands, his face appeared on the video screens.
The maverick forward is a gamble for Liverpool, but this was a defeat to suggest some of its logic. Rodgers' team is fleet of foot, but without Luis Suarez to carry them, they lack a player to make opposition defenders think, work and turn. Rickie Lambert's late cameo as sub and part in Pablo Zabaleta's own goal showed the benefit of a player of power, even if the late-blooming veteran is no long-term fix.
Lambert's arrival, though effective, was too late. By then, Jovetic and Aguero had won the night. Balotelli's former club had exhibited a far greater depth in quality to his new Liverpool home.
2. Gerrard bears the brunt
When can Steven Gerrard smile again? Never the most shiny happy person in his public persona, he is still living with the pain of last season's catastrophe, which saw Liverpool throw away what appeared to be the grip they had on the league title.
City fans did not shirk the chance to remind Liverpool's leader of his part in his club's downfall, and the foul-mouthed song that makes mention of the Demba Ba followed him everywhere like a tuneless albatross. "He's gonna slip in a minute" was more family-friendly. The home fans were not going to let this chance for mockery slip.
City's support revelled in their club's status as English champions, never forgetting their chance to rub in that they were the beneficiaries of Liverpool's late-season falter. Any lulls in play provided opportunities to revive the barracking. Liverpool's fans were made to dream by going so close in May and do their best to provide vocal support for a captain blameless in their eyes. His past heroics leave him hugely in credit with them.
Back in the deep-lying midfield role from where he inspired Liverpool's title charge, he sat in front of his defence, his duties restricted to a high proportion of defensive work rather than the short passing with which he begins his team's wildfire attacking for which youngsters like Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho provide the legs. Gerrard's loss of pace and deeper role means he now rarely gets a chance to join in the fun, though one long-range effort was deflected wide and he was subsequently jeered for his troubles.
When Jovetic gave him the slip to set up an early Dzeko chance, there was a reminder that the skipper is still quite inexperienced as a defensive-minded player. Gerrard's part in the Montenegrin's opener was hardly gold-plated security work, either, as he and Lovren went for the same ball and Jovetic eventually pounced.
3. Harsh lessons for Liverpool
Up in the exec seats, resplendent in bright red trainers sat Balotelli. "English football is generally better," he had said during his first interview as a Liverpool player. "English football is beautiful."
This, though, took time to be a paragon of pulchritude and looked for a long time like early-season fare in which neither team looked capable of hitting a stride. The champions' victory came via the excellence of Jovetic and making fewer mistakes at key moments.
Liverpool struggled badly to bed in half of a new defence, with Lovren and Alberto Moreno on the left being the source of City's opening and third goals. On his debut, Moreno's hesitancy allowed Jovetic to take advantage for the opening goal, and Lovren was outpaced by Aguero, just on as a substitute, for the third.
Last season, City's usual method of home victory -- they won 17 of 19 at Eastlands -- was to start like gangbusters and overrun opponents, but this was not such an occasion. The suspicion is that City are still undercooked, their preparations and recovery process after their players' World Cup exploits do not look to have gone smoothly. Yaya Toure, the battering ram who powered them to two titles, looked particularly off the pace to follow a troubled time in Brazil.
An early booking for a foolish grapple of Coutinho cramped the Ivorian's style and it was left to Fernando, playing his first home game, to get through the work in midfield as his partner idled. The Brazilian was not playing in his country's world party and looks the fresher for it. Fernandinho, on the bench here after his harrowing experience back home, faces a challenge to win back his place.