Man City deliver statement of intent with Liverpool win
If Manchester City wanted to send an ominous message that it will take something special to remove their status as Premier League champions, Sergio Aguero took 23 seconds to deliver it.
City - without needing to be anywhere near their best against the team that took the title race to its final day last season - were already cruising with a two-goal lead when Aguero made his 69th-minute entrance as a substitute for the limping Edin Dzeko.
In the space of those few seconds the Argentina forward strolled onto the pitch at Etihad Stadium and right onto the end of Jesus Navas's perfect pass to put the home side out of sight of Liverpool and maintain their 100% start to the season.
It was a symbolic, highly impressive demonstration of the power City manager Manuel Pellegrini has at his disposal, made even more emphatic as it was produced against a Liverpool side that had the title in their grasp in late April only to stumble near the finishing line.
Watching it all, impassively for the most part, was the man who has been consigned to City's past but who is now entrusted with ensuring Liverpool have a bright future after the departure to Barcelona of last season's 31-goal top scorer Luis Suarez.
Mario Balotelli's face was cheered when it appeared on the big screens as he remains a popular figure with City's supporters, but just hours after the 24-year-old was officially confirmed as a Liverpool player he had the size of the task awaiting him laid out by his former employers.
Many have predicted the title will be a two-horse race this season - and even though the campaign is only two games old it already looks like City and Chelsea will be the teams best equipped to last the course.
|Manchester City's main summer singings|
|France international defender Eliaquim Mangala from Porto for £32m|
|France right-back Bacary Sagna on a free transfer from Arsenal|
|Brazilian midfielder Fernando from FC Porto for fee in region of £12m|
|Argentine goalkeeper Willy Caballero from Malaga for £4.4m|
|Former Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard on loan from New York City|
Adding to that impression was the fact that the real architect of City's win was another talented individual they were barely able to call upon when they reclaimed the Premier League.
Stevan Jovetic came to Liverpool's attention as a teenager when he scored both goals in Fiorentina's shock Champions League win against them in 2009, but injuries have meant a wait to see him look at his best for City after they paid £22m for the Montenegro forward in July 2013.
Two goals here - the second a magnificent team creation which he started and finished - hinted that this could be his season if he remains in good health.
Jovetic started with Dzeko, allowing Pellegrini to ease Aguero back after his own injury difficulties. If all three stay fit and Alvaro Negredo comes back as he did in the early part of last season, City will be the benchmark for attacking threat.
City eventually won with ease after an awkward first 40 minutes. The three points were earned with a comfort they never enjoyed in the 2-1 victory against Liverpool at home last season, remembering they also lost a 3-2 thriller at Anfield.
This was routine once Liverpool's poor defending allowed Jovetic to give City the lead. The gap between the sides looked wider than at any point last season, although this must also be placed in context by the early stage of the campaign.
For Liverpool and manager Brendan Rodgers, the dilemma has been an obvious one. How can he reassemble his squad to compensate for the loss of Suarez, not just his goals but also the psychological impact and pressure he applied to opposing players and supporters?
There will be a sense of relief among opponents that he is not around to torment them, while it will also take his former Anfield team-mates time to get used to not having such a lethal weapon in their armoury. There is rarely any good news in selling your best player but Rodgers is determined not to let this be an issue that overshadows the new arrivals.
|BBC Sport's Robbie Savage|
|"Manchester City and Chelsea are the two best teams for me. I know City are the champions but I still think Chelsea are the team to beat with what they have added."|
Of course Suarez would have been banned here anyway, and it is absolutely right that Rodgers is allowed time to see how reinforcements such as Balotelli, Lazar Markovic and, when fit, Adam Lallana fare.
He has the nucleus of the squad that did so brilliantly in vain last season, including the attacking gifts of Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling, who will presumably need to dovetail with Balotelli.
Rodgers admits he has taken "a calculated risk" on Balotelli. He is banking on the Italian showing hitherto undetected maturity while also accepting the reality that if he fails at Liverpool his career will be regarded as one in decline.
Ironically, given the focus on Liverpool's attacking resources and how Suarez can be replaced, it was familiar troubles further back that were actually at the root of their downfall.
Rodgers was right to contend that Liverpool were the better team for 40 minutes, but once Jovetic took advantage of Dejan Lovren's poor header and debutant Alberto Moreno's switch-off the game was up.
|Manchester City's second goal against Liverpool saw a build-up of 19 passes, the fourth longest move of 2014-15 so far||Manuel Pellegrini's side only lost one match at home last season, a 1-0 defeat by Chelsea|
|Manchester City have scored at least once in 70 of their last 71 Premier League home games||Manchester City did not win away in the Premier League until 19 October last season. They won their opening game of this season at Newcastle|
Lovren, the £20m signing from Southampton, had an uncomfortable night, while Moreno - a £12m arrival from Sevilla - was swiftly acquainted with the need for maximum concentration in the Premier League.
Liverpool's performances and finishing position last season put Rodgers way ahead of schedule. A top four place - even if it means finishing lower than second - should be regarded as satisfactory.
For City, expectation will be the retention of the title and further progress in the Champions League.
And what better way to show they mean business by dispensing comfortably with last season's league runners-up without getting anywhere near their top gear.
The marker has been placed by City, and placed early.