For all the talking points and questions raised by Sunday’s clash at the Etihad Stadium, one thing was made abundantly clear – Manchester City are back, and they mean business.
This was a performance brimming with intent, built around a fast, physical style of football that Chelsea had no answer for. It was a world away from the City team who flattered to deceive for so much of last year.
That season was a write off for City, and one that almost cost Manuel Pellegrini his job. For large chunks of the year they looked like a team sleep-walking their way through the campaign, lacking any real urgency or drive. So what is behind this return to form?
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Key to this revival is the performance of the players who form the spine of their team: Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero. At the back, Kompany had a season to forget last term, and looked a shadow of the player who could stand shoulder to shoulder with any centre back in the world a couple of seasons ago.
This year, on the evidence of just two games, the fire looks to be back in his belly. He has spoken convincingly of the disappointment of last season, and the determination amongst the squad to do far better this time.
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He is an inspirational leader for City and, when he is at his best, he seems to carry the team with him as their performance improves accordingly.
In midfield, Toure looked off the pace and mildly disinterested for most of last season. Distracted by the seemingly never ending speculation over his future, he gave the impression of someone whose mind was already somewhere else.
Yet when he is in the mood, there are few more destructive players in the Premier League. In this age of high temping passing football and diminutive playmakers, he is somewhat of a throwback to bygone era.
His driving runs from midfield mark him apart, and when he is on song he gives City an entirely new dimension to their game. With the uncertainty over his future finally resolved, he looks leaner, stronger, and, crucially, more motivated than last season.
Up front, Sergio Aguero was majestic on Sunday, leading Chelsea’s defence on a merry ride, and it was only the acrobatics of Asmir Begovic that denied him more goals. When he plays like this it is hard to think of many better out and out strikers in world football. The key for City is keeping him fit for a whole season.
Behind the scenes
Just behind Aguero, David Silva showed the type of magic that makes him such a key component of this team.
When City struggle to stamp their authority on games, he sometimes seems to drift out to the periphery, unable to exert his usual influence. However, on days like that one, when City assume the ascendency from the first minute and rarely relinquished it, he comes into his own.
His use of space and footballing intelligence is a joy to behold. While with Kompany, Toure and Aguero, it is often the case that when they play well, City play well, with Silva it is the inverse.
When City are at their best they give him the platform to exert his considerable vision and ability to control the game on proceedings. Quite simply, the better City play as a team, dominating the opposition and opening up space, the more Silva comes into his own.
Elsewhere on the pitch, the lavish outlay on Raheem Sterling may have raised a few eyebrows, but he did enough to suggest that he will be an exciting acquisition for City.
He had Branislav Ivanovic on toast for most of the game, although the most expensive English footballer of all time still has a tendency to frustrate with his final ball and aspects of his decision making. However, it is hard not to see how the experience of playing with players like Silva and Aguero every week will improve him as a player.
Defending the lead
In a deeper role, Fernandinho barely stopped to draw breath all match, hunting down Chelsea’s midfield like a man possessed, and denying them the space to express themselves.
Even the much maligned Eliaquim Mangala is starting to look more like a £30m player, rather than the deer in the headlight act he performed for much of last season.
City looked like a different beast from the last campaign. The lethargy that characterised them for so much of last year’s desperately disappointing campaign has been replaced by a new drive and determination. This was a clear statement of intent by City. Already two game into this season it is clear that they will prove to be far more dangerous title challengers than last year.
City fans, do you think you are realistic title favourites this year? Let us know in the comments box below.
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