Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Manchester City: Champions signal their intent with easy opening win

Ominous start as city get into stride

Eyes on the prize: Sergio Aguero plays a starring role for Chelsea

The champions of England will have more memorable days than these over the next nine months, and Manuel Pellegrini's team will have to play better over the course of the season if they are to fulfil all the targets that their ambitious masters in Abu Dhabi have in mind. But if this was Manchester City simply getting started, they will be formidable once they hit their stride.

Sergio Aguero, on as a substitute, scored a second goal in injury time as Newcastle pressed for an equaliser – and as substitutes go, the Argentine is not a bad option to bring on to close the argument. There are 37 games left and tonight Chelsea, most people's idea of City's nearest title contenders, have their first match of the season. Yet, three points away at St James' Park is no bad first-day launch-pad for any team.

The threat that there was in Newcastle's new-look team was gradually extinguished by City who look now like the kind of side – and the kind of club –that are comfortable in their position at the head of the elite. When there was danger, Vincent Kompany and Martin Demichelis were superb, and there was a late block by the new signing Fernando when the Newcastle substitute Ayoze Perez had a sight of goal.

Those were the details, the bigger picture is that City simply look so strong in every area of the pitch. It is hard to imagine a repeat of the chaos that engulfed them in their previous defence of a Premier League title – they just look too robust, too well-organised and too professional. It is a successful club in which the key figures are secured on long-term contracts, with potentially Edin Dzeko the next. It is the kind of operation set up to win trophies.

Afterwards, Pellegrini reflected on how this team compared to the one he led to the title in his first season in England.

"It is difficult to compare. Last year maybe a lot of people doubted if we could win the title – it was my first season. Now we have had one year of my way of working. We also have a strong squad. In the Premier League there are five or six who can win the title. We need to have the same attitude."

In the Premier League era, the champions have never lost on the first day of the following season, and from the moment that David Silva scored his team's first on 38 minutes it never looked as if City were in any danger of defeat. That was not to say that Newcastle were poor, they had two periods at the start and then at the end of the second half when they created chances, but it takes a lot to place City under the kind of pressure that might break them.

Pellegrini selected Joe Hart in goal ahead of Willy Caballero, and there were not many moments when the City goalkeeper found himself tested. The new signing Fernando, £12m from Porto, looked accomplished in midfield, another giant to go alongside Yaya Touré. Some of Newcastle's new players showed some promise too, but it gets no harder than trying to break down the reigning champions.

Newcastle had four new signings in the starting XI and St James' Park was given its first opportunity to admire the work that had gone into Rémy Cabella's quiff-mohican. The signing from Montpellier was the pick of the new boys, along with Jack Colback, a local lad on his competitive debut having crossed the divide from Sunderland. The chance Cabella created for Moussa Sissoko in the 90th minute was arguably the best for the home side.

Afterwards, Newcastle manager Alan Pardew looked more relieved than anything that it had not turned into one of those difficult days at St James' Park when the home crowd's patience snaps. Pardew knew that at a club where they will cling to the smallest signs of encouragement, there was enough promise shown from the likes of Cabella and Colback.

The two Newcastle supporters killed in the MH-17 flight, John Alder and Liam Sweeney, were remembered with a touching pre-match presentation to the families from both captains and representatives of Sunderland.

Then the silence came to an end, the flowers were removed and the roar signalled another nine months in the tumultuous life of Newcastle United and the Premier League.

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