Man City 4-0 Newcastle United
For the past week, the Luzhniki Stadium has had Usain Bolt. For the next few years, the Etihad Stadium has Jesus Navas. Speed was the dominant characteristic of Manchester City's stellar start to the season: the speed of their Spanish winger, burning rubber on the right touchline on his debut, and the speed of the entire team, quickly out of the blocks to accelerate into the lead in the title race.
If the accusations they were ponderous last season were often unfair, City have received an injection of pace and width. Newcastle were outflanked, outrun, out-thought and out of the contest long before referee Andre Marriner put them out of their misery. A summer splurge set City back almost £90 million but they needed only half of the newcomers to clinch victory.
Manuel Pellegrini is introducing his new signings to the starting 11 in stages: the forwards at a later date with the midfield men first. Navas and Fernandinho had a transformative effect, representing a significant upgrade on the displaced pair of Samir Nasri and Gareth Barry. The Brazilian brought power and an admirable passing range, while the Spaniard and his eager assistant Pablo Zabaleta subjected Newcastle's makeshift left back Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa to a torrid time. "Navas was running the whole match," said his manager, Pellegrini. More accurately, he was sprinting. Navas was City's own lightning Bolt, performing his impression of Jamaica's serial gold medallist.
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Indeed, City could assemble a rapid relay team of their own now. Fernandinho is another with a quick turn of foot. Perhaps his most telling contribution was to set up a shot for Edin Dzeko by winning the ball 25 yards from the Newcastle goal; the dispossessed Fabricio Coloccini was caught unaware by the Brazilian's ability to press at pace. "Fernandinho has worked hard the whole game," added Pellegrini.
He has brought a change of tack and of tactics. The holding midfield role has been abolished; Fernandinho has too much energy to stand still. Despite the best efforts of Arsenal and Manchester United to spend more, Fernandinho represents the biggest buy in the Premier League this summer. Expenditure brought excellence.
Perhaps Yaya Toure finally has a peer, instead of just a partner, in the centre of midfield. Fernandinho's recruitment was a tacit admission it was a mistake to sell Nigel de Jong 12 months ago. The Brazilian is a more attack-minded variant of the Dutchman, just as he is a fitter Jack Rodwell, a better Javi Garcia and a souped-up Barry.
The original – or, at 32, souped-down – Barry was not even on the bench. With Everton interested and the England international in the final year of his contract, it may be a pointer to his future. Another marker arrived with the team sheets. Alvaro Negredo, a scorer 31 times for Sevilla last season, was on the bench; in his cameo, he thought he had a first in City colours but was somehow adjudged offside.
And while Stevan Jovetic was injured, the attacking newcomers may find themselves third and fourth in the striking pecking order. City have a full complement of forwards again, but Dzeko has been promoted from serial substitute and revitalised and Sergio Aguero is enviably classy. Perhaps the fundamental difference between the newcomers is that Negredo and Jovetic were required for the squad and Navas and Fernandinho for the team.
At least the £20 million Negredo can slot in seamlessly among the replacements. The average cost of City's six outfield substitutes was £19 million. The cavalry are rarely as costly.
Nor, in this case, as superfluous. City's starters were far too good for Newcastle and, terrific as Navas and Fernandinho were, the goals came from the men Pellegrini inherited. David Silva headed in after Dzeko's cross was parried; Aguero provided a gorgeous finish from the Bosnian's flick; Toure, an unexpected choice to take a free kick, curled it in; and the substitute Nasri slid a shot past the overworked Tim Krul.
"The most important thing always is to win but after it is the way we did it," Pellegrini added. "We had from the beginning the attitude to play as an aggressive team, as an offensive team and we continued to attack during the 90 minutes."
The manager was the third newcomer visible from the off, the new keeper of what was Roberto Mancini's castle. Three months ago, at the FA Cup final, the City fans chorused "you can stick your Pellegrini up your arse," advice the City board didn't heed. The sacked Mancini remains the people's champion and his replacement was not serenaded; there was no hint of either dissent or nostalgia on this occasion. Not when Navas and Fernandinho gave a new era such an auspicious start.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Edin Dzeko – The longer the game went on, the more it was evident he was destined not to score. Despite that, the Bosnian was outstanding, playing a pivotal part in the first two goals. "I am sure we are going to see the Edin Dzeko that Manchester City bought two years ago," Pellegrini added, and this was the Dzeko of his Wolfsburg days.
MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: Outstanding. As their fans noted, they are now top of the league and this was an indication of the stylish brand of football Pellegrini favours. However, while a new era began, it is worth remembering they outclassed Newcastle home and away last season as well.
NEWCASTLE VERDICT: Is it too soon to call them a club in crisis? The unsettled Yohan Cabaye sat out what manager Alan Pardew called a "rough day." That was an understatement. Jonas Gutierrez limped off, Steven Taylor was sent off for a senseless forearm smash on Aguero, and the supporters, unsurprisingly, were hacked off. Echoing Arsenal, they chorused: "Spend some f---ing money". With Joe Kinnear in charge of transfers, however, they may regret it if he does.