Date: 26th August 2014 at 8:21pm
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The new season at the Etihad switched on where it had switched off at the end of last. A deluge of rain welcomed our brethren from the opposite end of the East Lancs Road, but it didn’t prepare them for the final deluge which was to beset them once they entered the field.

With the home fans in the south east and south west level 2, the new-found Gene Kelly Corners, singing in the rain and looking resplendent in their ponchos the stage was set for the season’s biggest of matches to set the season alight.

And the participants did not disappoint as Pellegrini’s predictable line-up set about their task. With the world`s best right back, Zabaleta back in harness to accompany Demichelis, Kompany and Clichy, the line in front of Hart had a solid, tried and tested feel about it. Indeed Demichelis minus the hair looks half the man he did last season, but his physique now belies his age and he was in astonishing form for this match. Fernando once again got the call to sit in front with Nasri, Yaya and the master Magician himself guiding the route to goal.

Pellegrini is nursing Aguero back to fitness so he paired Dzeko and Jovetic up top, the latter of which was to treat the audience to a forward masterclass of a performance.

But it could have been different. City opened the more promising, but without teeth. And this was best demonstrated when a routine chance for Dzeko didn’t find its way home as early as the seventh minute. City’s forward motion looked purposeful and across the midfield there was an air of easy confidence as the doors were kept firmly closed.

Brendan Rodgers, however, although naïve on occasions, is no mug. He pushed his men out wide where the spaces were, forcing Clichy and Zaba back in the process and poured additional resources into midfield, where Coutinho was the pick of the bunch. For the next half an hour with a bit more potency, Liverpool could have established the kind of foothold in this match that that they set up at Anfield last season, but tonight Joe Hart, apparently under threat from Willy Caballero was well up to the challenge, a challenge that at times included robust attempts to dislodge his concentration.

Sterling continued to cause problems down City’s left and on the other side Moreno was pressing ahead. However it was in the front division where Liverpool couldn’t find the answers, Sturridge coming up empty on a chance I would have expected him to take.

The Kompany-Demichelis axis looked in tandem, and Zaba was simply Zaba. But Fernando needed to be at full throttle to deny the real Reds with Silva, Nasri and Yaya at times running into blind alleys and tough challenges from Countinho and Henderson. Liverpool simply lacked Suarez. Sturridge doesn’t make the same intelligent runs and new signing, Balotelli was unable to play. Gerrard looked to press forward at every opportunity always mindful that he has more defensive responsibilities these days and has to be prepared for tracking back to sit in front of the back line.

Then as always seems to happen in football, the team doing the most attacking gets undone and just ahead of half time, Liverpool were undone. City had begun to re-establish themselves in the game, finding spaces and attacking at angles through the channels. The impressive Nasri flicked the ball into the box, Lovren’s unconvincing header went loose towards Jovetic. He wanted it more than the Moreno and drilled the rebound through the legs of Mignolet and into the net.

The Etihad exploded and the Gerrard song rapidly followed “We’re not really here” and “Blue Moon”. The goal had simply dismissed the effort Liverpool had put in for almost all of the first half and some might say it was probably against the run of play. At this level, ladies and gentlemen, you have no choice but to make everything of your opportunities. It is a cruel footballing world.

For Jovetic it was a continuation of the true form that this exceptional young footballer has to offer. The Pedmachine from minute one told you what was in this lad’s locker and despite the injury traumas of last season, this time we will see the real Jovetic.

Indeed he was in a hurry to ensure that he reminded us at the first available opportunity. “City time” was just about to evaporate when a neat ball to Dzeko was equally neatly flicked into the path of Nasri. Jovetic delayed his run perfectly to ensure that when Nasri played the ball into the box it would be in front of him and he simply hammered it home past a stunned and static Liverpool defence.

One would have expected this to be a signal for City to run riot, but against Liverpool there is always a danger and with Sterling still trying to ignite things, the Blues couldn`t afford to give him any green lights. But Liverpool have never been a team for throwing in the towel, and this side proved to be no exception.

With Mr Oliver presiding over the game more like Oliver Hardy, a procession of dead ball situations were presented to Liverpool, with Gerrard stepping up to the plate almost every time. He did set up one chance for Sturridge but most of it went unrewarded, only troubling Hart into punching on odd occasions.

It was time for changes. Would Pellegrini shut up shop? Sacrifice a forward for Fernandinho maybe? No, Sir. With Silva having taken the usual constant battering from sundry committed opposition midfielders, it was time to unleash not the Beast but an injection of real pace. Up stepped Navas. A friend of Moreno he might be, but he is the last thing Moreno wanted to see down his flank after an hour’s hard graft.

Three minutes later it was time to complete the ground attack by introducing Aguero. Skrtl and Lovren must have had sinking hearts. And so they should. Aguero ran straight to the inside right slot, received a delicious pass from Navas with one foot and then slotted home goal number three in typical Aguero fashion. Did he really need the extra touch?

In amongst this Dzeko headed for the treatment table his leg bruised by an unruly challenge from the “talking skull”. But the Blues were in full flight now and looked capable of running up a decent score. Liverpool looked out of it as they had on several occasions last season as the end of the match approached.

Pellegrini decided the score was enough and sent on Fernandinho affording Jovetic the mixed blessing of getting an ovation whilst being deprived of a chance of taking the ball home. This seemed to spur Liverpool on because for the first time there was an air of negativity about the substitution. Yes the intention was to add to the horrors of Skrtl by pushing Yaya into the vacant forward berth. The problem was that he kept coming too deep for the ball and this seemed to invite Liverpool forward.

Markovic had impressed the moment he walked onto the field, providing the kind of “keeping them ticking” job synonymous with the Steven Gerrard of days gone by. Cleverly bringing his wide players and fellow midfielders into the fray he helped set a bridgehead for Liverpool by now camped in City’s half. His tackling was excellent and kept City on the defence.

With time ticking away, Sturridge forced Demichelis into probably his only mistake of the night and crossed for replacement Lambert to power a header goalwards. Hart saved magnificently at point blank range only for the ball to cannon off Zabaleta and into his own net, this despite Hart scooping it out from way behind the line. Hawkeye or whatever it is called was not needed for this one!

Oliver signalled five additional minutes and in the days of old this would have signalled panic stations around the Etihad, but this team is a very professional outfit and the visitors were not going to be afforded a shock outcome and City blocked out the match at 3-1.

It was what has become a typical match between Liverpool and City, now taking over very much as the leading challenge between Manchester and Liverpool. Both of these teams play magnificent football and I suspect that both will be around when the season’s silverware is up for grabs.

Unlike Mancini, Pellegrini has bought wisely and added additional strength to the Champions. Fernando really looks the ticket with powerhouse displays and quality passing, a bit like Nigel de Jong with brains. It is this range of skills that allows Yaya a free reign to forage into the opposition half whenever he takes the fancy. He should just do it more often.

The newly fit and hungry Jovetic is like a new signing. We are already identifying a quality forward with excellent movement and a desire to make up for what he missed last season. We haven’t seen Mangala yet.

The competition for places is also brewing with Hart putting in an excellent performance and the streamlined Demichelis clearly on his toes in the knowledge that once Mangala is considered ready, it will be he that heads for the bench. The overall performance levels are fantastic. Under Pellegrini there won’t be the hangover that City experienced under Mancini. The team is stronger, fitter and capable.

So what of Liverpool? They ran City closer than anyone expected last season, but building upon that was always going to be difficult minus Suarez. One player might not make a team but his avarice and eye for goals is not emulated in the squad that Rodgers now has at his disposal. Will the entrance of Balotelli help or hinder? The chapters start at the weekend.

I have long been impressed with Coutinho and the entry of Markovic for me made a difference to the side and the Barclays Premier League will witness the emergence of a really useful player over the next few weeks. Moreno is looking a good acquisition, but for this writer he was too quick to bite the grass last night if any City player was within a few feet, gaining many undeserved free kicks in the process.

And so to Steven Gerrard. At the expense of immeasurable damage to the social life of the Pedmachine, is father time starting to toll his bell? Having enjoyed and watched this remarkable footballer through the years, often at City’s expense, dismantle teams almost single-handed, I am not seeing this right now. I am seeing this icon in red seemingly forcing his body to perform at its peak at a time when maybe he shouldn’t. To even suggest this to him would seem ridiculous, but when I see him looking to involve himself in every dead ball situation, I see Xavi. I see the archetypal Barcelona midfielder who for the last two seasons has looked as though his days are numbered and he wants the dead balls to try to keep up his statistics. Xavi has been a spent force for two seasons. I would hate to see Gerrard ploughing the same furrow. He might not have achieved last season what he so nearly did, and some observers said he deserved, but it is not going to come his way this season either as the Premier League looks as though it might join most of the other leagues in Europe by becoming a two-horse race. A big horse and a little horse maybe.

It is going to be as impossible for Liverpool to replace Gerrard as it is for any top team to replace any top player especially as the game doesn’t lend itself these days to encouraging players of Gerrard’s all round abilities and I can’t help thinking that with the onset of Markovic, maybe Steven can take well-earned rests between the challenges of the Premier League, Champions League and the lesser prizes.

The season will tell its own story, but for today, Pellegrini has got a big match out of the way and three points into the season’s tally. Stoke are up next and another attempt, no doubt, by Mark Hughes to ruffle the Etihad feathers. Let’s see what Saturday brings!!!

 
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