City's title defence built on past woes
Prior to the start of the season, Manuel Pellegrini said he was keen to avoid a repeat of the "disaster" that was Manchester City's 2012-13 campaign and their first-ever Premier League title defence.
Normally, the Chilean is quiet on matters that happened before his arrival -- "I prefer what they sing now," he said of the fans chanting against him at the 2012 FA Cup Final; "I was not here with Mario Balotelli, so it's not my duty to analyse what happened," he said when asked about the Italian's transfer.
So it was a little out of character for him to comment on City's previous campaign as Champions.
Some may have initially believed it as a sly dig at his predecessor, but Pellegrini isn't really the sort for handbags at dawn. He creates boring news conferences, not headlines. Instead, it was a warning shot to his players ahead of what would undoubtedly be a tough start to the season.
Two tough games played, two wins. And the Manchester City vehicle is barely in third gear. While Chelsea grab the spotlight with a demolition of Burnley and a grind-it-out victory over Leicester, the Sky Blues have gone somewhat under the radar following their more difficult fixtures and, at this stage, both title-challengers have exactly the same record.
The result of the Champions' 3-1 victory over Liverpool will have all eyes turned toward their strength in depth up front. Indeed, Stevan Jovetic is practically a new signing, having missed most of last season, and he's started with a point to prove. While he was somewhat hit-and-miss at Newcastle, he was superb on Monday evening.
He dropped deep to pick the ball up from David Silva and Samir Nasri on a number of occasions when the visitors pressed in the first half. In fact, he was crucial in relieving that pressure at times, frequently leading breakaways down the left flank and beating Glen Johnson too often for Brendan Rodgers' liking.
The goals spoke for themselves: two assured finishes. The first came from an error in the visiting back four, but it still needed putting into the net -- and a volley with that ferocity could just as easily ended up in the top tier with a rush of blood. There was barely a flicker behind his eyes as he belted it through Simon Mignolet.
His second, meanwhile, was perhaps less 'impressive' technique-wise, but was much more notable for the buildup. Neat play down the right-hand side between Silva, Nasri and Yaya Toure opened Liverpool up. Of course, it wouldn't have been complete without a back-heel-flick-turn from Jovetic, who sprinted into the middle to then apply the finish, scuffed or not.
The third of the evening was a record-breaker. It took Sergio Aguero 23 seconds to find the net after leaving the bench, and that goal meant he had scored 50 times for the Blues at The Etihad. More than anyone else, too, as he had begun the game level with compatriot Carlos Tevez.
The blot on the copybook was the first goal Pellegrini's men conceded this season. In the end, it was an own goal from Pablo Zabaleta, but the biggest error was from Martin Demichelis in allowing Daniel Sturridge to win the ball back by the corner flag. Both Joe Hart and his right back were unlucky.
Rightly or wrongly, the plaudits for the victory will go to the Montenegrin up front. While the visitors may have been taught a lesson in being clinical -- Liverpool had more shots on goal and more touches in the opposition area than their counterparts -- one of the biggest reasons for that wasn't in the Blues' attacking third.
In as much as the work of Gareth Barry went unnoticed in his time with the club, much of the key to Pellegrini's system on Monday evening was Fernando. The Brazilian's reading of the game was superb and so often was he in the right place to cut out a ball through toward City's box, or to nick possession from the toes of an opponent. He anchored the midfield and was never once a threat to Simon Mignolet; that's not his job.
Last season, Javi Garcia was the man to do that, but a lack of pace always impacted on Toure's ability to roam forward when paired with the Spaniard. Now, the mobility of Fernando means there's less pressure on the Ivorian to hang fire, and he can take a chance on a burst forward.
The final word has to go to Zabaleta, who, it became clear on Monday night, laughs in the face of simulation.
Pellegrini needn't be concerned about failing to build on what he achieved in 2013-14, it would seem. There's no complacency in the camp and the victories and performances are just as professional as they were back in April and May this year.
Already in late August there are signs that lessons were learned from the last title defence.