Yaya Toure leads Manchester City to convincing win vs. West Brom
After the other three serious title contenders had started their seasons so indifferently, this was a highly impressive statement of intent from Manchester City, who dismissed West Bromwich Albion with two first-half goals from Yaya Toure and a second-half header from Vincent Kompany for a 3-0 win on Monday.
Given the criticism directed at both last season, there perhaps couldn't have been better goalscorers to broadcast the message that this is a revitalized City, the jadedness of last season shaken from limbs and minds, and that it comes with renewed hunger this season.
Certainly there was a sense of urgency about City that was lacking for much of the last campaign. It may yet be that Manuel Pellegrini, undermined by the constant rumors about the possible appointment of Pep Guardiola next summer, becomes a lame-duck manager and this season becomes one of drift, but there was no evidence of that at the Hawthorns. Rather, City took control of the game early and never let it slip. Furthermore, speculation about Pellegrini's ouster took a hit with the Chilean agreeing to a contract extension with the club on Friday.
James Chester had already made a vital clearance to hack away a Bacary Sagna cross when, after eight minutes, a David Silva snap shot fell to Jesus Navas by the goal-line. He cut the ball back and, although Yaya Toure's shot was far from ferocious, it deflected off both Silva, who attempted a backheel, and Craig Dawson on the way in.
Toure was credited with that goal, which seemed a little generous, but there was no disputing his claim to the second. A shimmer from Silva presented him with possession 25 yards out, he exchanged a quick one-two with Wilfried Bony and then bent his shot into the top corner -- a goal of great simplicity and high technical merit.
Whether this means that Toure is back after a largely indifferent season is probably too early to say. He had excellent games last year and against a team that possesses little attacking threat, when he is able to stroll forward and leave just Fernandinho to guard the back four, he remains a highly potent player. The question is whether, at 32, he still has the energy to play in that away against high-class opposition. Silva, meanwhile, was excellent, seemingly relishing the central role he occupied so infrequently last season as Pellegrini stubbornly stuck to a 4-4-2 formation.
It might have been more before half time as well. Bony had a shot deflected just wide after fine work on the left from the rampaging Aleksandar Kolarov before Raheem Sterling, who had a quietly promising debut after his £49million ($76 million) move from Liverpool, ran on to a Sagna pass but stabbed his shot weakly at Boaz Myhill. Finishing is a fairly clear weakness in the 20-year-old's game, and he squandered another one-on-one early in the second half, again prodding a tame effort at the goalkeeper.
West Brom simply never got a foothold before half-time, not even after abandoning the 4-4-2 with which it started the game and moving to a 4-5-1, with Saido Berahino moved across to the right. For home fans the highlight of the night was probably the presentation of the Venezuela striker Salomon Rondon, a £12 million ($19 million) signing from Zenit St. Petersburg, before kick-off.
Tony Pulis' side did improve after the break with the introduction of Claudio Yacob for James McClean. That did, at least, reduce Silva's influence, and when Rickie Lambert, on his debut for West Brom, whipped a free-kick just over and Berahino directed a cross straight at Joe Hart, a comeback didn't seem entirely beyond the bounds of possibility. But just before the hour Vincent Kompany met a left-wing Silva corner and guided a header inside the post to make the win absolutely safe.
West Brom will improve, and the combination of the striking options it now has and the probable return of the characteristic Pulis organization and aggression should mean that the club at least matches the ambitions of the nine-year-old birthday boy interviewed on the pitch before kick-off who proudly announced he thought it would finish fifteenth this season.
For City, meanwhile, there must be a sense of relief. After the patchiness of last season, it's been the first of the big sides really to make a mark this season. If it can produce a similar performance against the far tougher prospect of Chelsea next Sunday, it might suddenly find itself with a five-point advantage over the champions almost before the season has begun. That wouldn't mean that the inconsistency that haunted it last season had been eradicated, but it would be a significant cushion to have at that early stage.