Like most City fans, I don’t enjoy denigrating Roberto Mancini. This summer, while exciting, has been tinged with melancholy, as we watched the Italian quickly recede in the rear view mirror. A new manager has come in, coaches in tow, and four new players have quickly followed. The man who won us an FA Cup and our first league title since 1968 is already no more than a memory.
Unfortunately, as beloved as Mancio is to us fans, in the three months since his dismissal it has become increasingly apparent just how corrosive a presence he had become. Players declined to thank him for his efforts, while numerous journalists have reported on the rift between the departed manager and his players (some in less than tasteful fashion, it must be said).
However, perhaps the most glaring evidence of why Mancini had to go came on Monday night. In City’s first competitive game under new manager Manuel Pellegrini, they annihilated Newcastle United, playing with an effervescent joy rarely seen in the previous season. The passing, crisp as ever, was allied with a new, more direct attacking approach. This was evident in the opening seconds of the game, as Newcastle were harried straight from kick-off, pressured into losing possession time and time again. When they had the ball (quite often – the home side enjoyed 63.2% possession), City were relentless, constantly pouring forward, always looking for more goals. After a season in which our forwards spent too many games passing it across the box, trying to score the perfect goal (the agonising 1-0 win v Reading comes to mind), it was refreshing to see us test Tim Krul so many times.
Almost everyone impressed. Fernandinho may be the most tenacious midfielder I’ve ever seen, winning the ball back in key positions multiple times, and setting up attacks with sharp, decisive passes. Navas was everything we had hoped for, offering searing pace on the right hand side and some pinpoint crosses, as well as drifting inside when needed. Agüero reminded everyone of his quality with a superb finish in the first half. Džeko looked a man reborn, showing just how valuable the ‘arm round the shoulder’ can be for some players (according to Raphael Honigstein, the Bosnian “hated working with [Mancini], deeply”). Negredo had a fine (if brief) debut, and would have added a fifth goal if the assistant referee hadn’t erroneously declared his poacher’s finish to be offside. Meanwhile, Zaba was Zaba, and Silva was Silva. Amidst all the excitement of watching the new boys in our new system, it was reassuring to know the stalwarts of the side are still on top form. Even Nasri had a good cameo, showing great desire to nip in and score when we were already 3-0 up.
There are caveats, of course. The defence, while rarely tested, still looked ever so slightly porous, particularly after Kompany was forced off with a groin injury. That in turn exposed the one remaining weakness in this squad (ignoring Kolarov, that is…), and makes a move for Pepe or a CB of similar calibre even more pressing. Meanwhile, the visiting side were a mess. The effects of an unhappy fanbase, a turbulent summer, and an unsettled (and missing) Yohan Cabaye, were clear for all to see. Newcastle were half-decent for the first 30 minutes, but City’s intense start drained their morale quickly. We’re unlikely to have many easier games over the next 9 months.
Even so, this is a side that looks ready to take on the league, and in style. The contrast between these players and their jaded counterparts from 12 months ago is stark. Pellegrini’s charges look sharp, fit and hungry. Watching them play such brilliant football lastnight was great fun, and I can’t wait to do it every weekend. I don’t like to admit it, but those glances in the rear view mirror are likely to get less and less frequent as this season goes on.