The look at Boaz Myhill’s face said it all. With just nine minutes on the clock at the Hawthorns, visitors Manchester City had taken the lead against home side West Bromwich Albion.
He’ll be the first to admit he should’ve done better as Yaya Toure’s shot trickled over the line, with a couple of touches along the way pointing to the Dubious Goals Panel, but Myhill’s face was a picture. Send help, we’ve got 81 minutes of this to come. Here we go, the floodgates have opened. Brace yourselves boys. He wasn’t far wrong.
Manuel Pellegrini had the luxury of watching his fellow title contenders step up to the plate before him during the opening weekend of the Premier League season. The Chilean saw Manchester United kick it all off in unconvincing style, with a 1-0 home win against Tottenham Hotspur, aided in part by a Kyle Walker own goal, the talking point in an otherwise underwhelming victory.
The City manager wouldn’t have been too concerned by events at Stamford Bridge either. A spirited Swansea side, assisted by Thibaut Courtois’ red card and subsequent penalty, held Champions Chelsea to a 2-2 draw. It was a lacklustre start from Jose Mourinho’s men, who has managed to deflect the disappointment of the first game of his title defence ending in a draw onto Eva Carneiro. #scapegoat
If that wasn’t enough, Pellegrini would have been skipping out of training after witnessing the talking point of the weekend play out at the Emirates. Arsenal, much-hyped after an impressive pre-season and clinching the signing of goalkeeper Petr Cech from rivals Chelsea, were put to the sword by a lively West Ham United.
With new manager Slaven Bilic at the helm, and 16 year old debutante Reece Oxford with Mesut Ozil in his pocket, it was a disastrous home bow for Cech, who saw his errors play a big part in his club’s 2-0 defeat. The boos at full time spoke for themselves – it was a dismal day for the north London side.
Focus then shifted to the Britannia Stadium, with Liverpool looking to avenge last season’s 6-1 drubbing at the hands of Stoke. A 25 yard screamer from Philippe Coutinho, late in the game, sealed all three points for Brendan Rogers’ team, with a 1-0 win enough. But it had been another uninspiring opening match, with no distinct standard being set. Nothing remarkable had happened to intimidate or set a precedent. Nothing yet.
What the weekend had shown so far for Pellegrini and City was that it was all to play for and nothing to fear. No team had made a statement of intent, had suitably impressed so much to create a buzz, to make people stand up and notice.
There was an opportunity afoot, a chance to hit the ground running and send out a warning. It was time to banish doubts and ghosts from last season’s past, to wipe the slate clean in the all-out assault for four trophies. The opportunity couldn’t be wasted if City meant business – and it wasn’t.
Right from kick off, the visitors dominated. The look on Myhill’s face may have been embarrassment coupled with fear, but the goal had been coming from the off. Whether it had been helped over the line by David Silva or Craig Dawson was irrelevant – the best was most certainly yet to come. Fans and critics alike may have wondered which Toure would turn up this season, and within the opening exchanges there was no doubt.
This was Yaya Toure at his best – all power, tenacity, strength and force, blazing a trail through the midfield, leaving Baggies players dumbfounded. This was Yaya putting on a show at his brutal, brilliant best. With a restful summer behind him and no African Cup of Nations to distract, the early signs are ominous for the other title contenders.
That was before he played a one-two with Wilfried Bony and curled a spectacular 20 yard shot past the helpless Myhill to make it 2-0.
A collective gulp could almost be heard from Old Trafford, a sigh from the Bridge, a cry from Anfield and a plethora of expletives from the Emirates. If Yaya continues in such a malevolent manner, he is capable of having a big say in City reclaiming the title.
At that point it was game over, but City were relentless. Ridiculous possession stats were helped in part by Silva, the little Spanish wizard. Toure aside, he conjured up a spellbinding performance in midfield, orchestrating wave upon wave of City attack. With a 94.7% pass accuracy, he pulled the strings with an understated elegance, with exquisite vision and control.
It’s a job he has done since he signed for City in July 2010, a standard he set way back then, but perhaps unreasonably, only now is getting the recognition he so rightly deserves.
An intricate playmaker that joins the dots seamlessly, his input throughout was phenomenal, as it is when the 29 year old is at his unplayable best.
His passing sets him apart from the rest, yet what’s remarkable is that he goes about his duty in a calm, controlled manner, making the sublime look simple. But he is remarkable and he made a truly remarkable contribution to City’s win.
With 58 minutes gone, it was Silva’s corner that was met with a towering header from captain Vincent Kompany, who pummelled the ball into the net to make it 3-0. The ball came largely off the Belgian’s shoulder, but his resulting celebration showed just how much it meant to him. After last season, where injury hampered his place and performance, Kompany was eager to get back to his best. He admitted both he and the team have a lot of prove.
The celebration was a release. It was passion, relief, tension and nine months of frustration exhaled in ferocious fashion. Although there will be tougher tests to come, his performance was standard Kompany – dependable, assured and reliable.
All talk before the game had focused on £49 million star signing Raheem Sterling. After his exciting pre-season performances and promising link up play with Silva, fans couldn’t wait to see more. It was an encouraging debut – he’s bedded straight in, has rapid pace, is skilful and has enthusiasm in abundance.
He can be a bit naïve at times, but that will fade with experience. The 20 year old also had the chances to mark his first league game with a goal, and perhaps should’ve done better against Myhill, but the goals will come. The potential for Sterling now he’s surrounded by quality players is possibly more exciting than the player himself.
City could have scored more and certainly had the chances, but saw the game out comfortably, with Joe Hart keeping a clean sheet, helped by a competent defensive display. A big part in City failing to retain the title last season was poor defensive performances, with error-strewn games aplenty. But the back four were all solid, focused and maintained concentration throughout. Full backs Bacary Sagna and Aleksandar Kolarov, along with captain Kompany and fellow centre back Eliaquim Mangala performed their duties to the letter.
Although West Brom didn’t pose the greatest of threats to the back line, when called upon, the City defence stood firm. It sounds a given, but at points last season that conspicuously wasn’t always the case. Progress has been made and let’s state the obvious by saying having a solid defence goes a long way towards winning trophies.
It was an accomplished 90 minutes of football from Pellegrini’s side. They played with a swagger, with steely determination and competence. What was distinct was that it was truly a team performance, with no player going missing or not pulling their weight.
There was an infectious energy that other teams over the weekend had lacked. City had passion in spades, and Pellegrini even had the audacity to bring on star striker Sergio Aguero despite the three points being sewn up.
They are the team to set the benchmark. That verve and desire must now remain throughout seasonal trips to Vicarage Road, the King Power Stadium, and the focus and concentration must be maintained against fellow title rivals, starting with Chelsea at the Etihad on Sunday.
The first clash between the teams baying for title blood is an intriguing one, and will set more of a precedent than the opening games have. With the greatest of respect, a win like City’s yesterday against West Brom is bread and butter in their quest for the Premier League trophy – the real test comes on Sunday.
Pellegrini better hope that Yaya is in full cruise missile mode to demolish Jose’s bus, but whatever the result, collateral damage is guaranteed.