COMMENT: The Montenegrin scored twice in the Blues’ 3-1 home win over Liverpool on Monday night as they made a statement about their title intentions
By Greg Stobart at Etihad Stadium
Just hours after signing for Liverpool in a €20 million deal, Mario Balotelli sat in the stands at his former club and, with the television cameras trained on his every flinch, spent most of the night looking like he would rather be anywhere else.
When Manchester City went 3-0 up against their closest rivals for last season’s title, Balotelli pulled his top so high up his face that it looked like he was trying to cover his eyes.
After all, the controversial Italian was not just being forced to witness his new team-mates surrender to a defeat at his old club, but it was his effective replacement who did most of the damage.
Stevan Jovetic made just 13 Premier League appearances last season and spent less than 400 minutes on the pitch after joining from Fiorentina. In some quarters, he had already been written off as an expensive flop.
But here, he scored the first two goals in City’s 3-1 victory over Liverpool as the Premier League champions made a significant statement about their chances of retaining the title this season.
Jovetic, who joined City six months after Balotelli was sold to AC Milan, showed why the club felt they had upgraded on the Italian.
His performance, off the back of an excellent pre-season, was about more than just his two lethal finishes. It was the movement, strength and slick passing that opened up the Liverpool defence.
Brendan Rodgers, the Liverpool manager, will be encouraged that the team played well for 40 minutes and will improve once their new signings settle. The job of strengthening the squad has been achieved when they can field a strong starting line-up even without the likes of Balotelli, Lazar Markovic, Emre Can and Adam Lallana.
But the gap between last year’s top two seems to have stretched following the departure of Luis Suarez over the summer.
The Uruguayan might have made the difference in that early period when Liverpool looked dangerous, but City opened the scoring when Jovetic capitalised on some hesitant defending from new boy Alberto Moreno – and the champions never looked back.
Jovetic almost feels like a new signing for a team that won the league scoring 102 goals last season, a reminder of the awesome strength in depth at Manuel Pellegrini’s disposal.
Another was the sight of Sergio Aguero coming off the bench midway through the second half. Within seconds, he was wheeling away in celebration following a typically astute run and composed finish.
Pellegrini’s hardest task will be to make use of his whole squad and keep everyone happy.
Who, for example, are his best two strikers? As he praised the qualities of Jovetic and Aguero in his post-match press conference, the suggestion seemed to be that they will be his first choice pairing.
In midfield, Fernando patrolled like a nightclub bouncer, stopping Liverpool attacks and using the ball accurately. In the tough games – particularly against the top sides in the Champions League – the Brazilian looks like he will prove a very shrewd addition.
All the summer hype has been about Chelsea following their lavish spending on big-name players in Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas, Filipe Luis and Didier Drogba.
But City showed why they won the league last year and they will again be fighting for the title until the very end this term.
And in Jovetic, they have another player capable of winning matches on his own.