Sunday too must have offered Roberto Mancini’s men courage. Andre Villas-Boas’ first match in charge at Chelsea ended in stalemate at the perennially difficult Britannia Stadium. Another Premier League truism was satisfied as the Red Devils from the other half of Manchester hit a late winner in dispatching of West Bromwich Albion 2-1. Nevertheless, it was obvious that neither of City’s direct rivals had hit their stride.
The Citizens know the importance of a strong start to the season – five points picked up from the previous season’s first four games threatening to adversely affect their top four push in the last campaign, a defeat to Sunderland the nadir. Facing vulnerable Premier League new boys Swansea City provides them with the opportunity to avoid the same mistakes.
The Welsh side unlikely to divert from the possession-based principles which underpinned last season’s surprise promotion, City’s need to assert themselves on the match immediately is imperative. Whilst the names and faces may not be familiar, Joe Allen and Leon Britton are neat ball players following the prototype of Xavi Hernandez, and Nigel de Jong must realise the importance of denying them time to settle. Scott Sinclair and Nathan Dyer, likely to flank new signing Danny Graham in attack, contain pace and trickery in abundance. They too will be a goal threat.
Such thoughts will surely be troubling Mancini ahead of the game. Critics of City will argue that they ought to be more preoccupied with taking command of games themselves. An innate caution often hindered the team during the 2010-11 season – an overreliance on Carlos Tevez for goals being the result. Whilst their form at the City of Manchester Stadium was largely good, points were dropped against sides as average as Birmingham City, Blackburn Rovers, Fulham and Everton. For a side with aspirations of wresting the Premier League crown from their city rivals, such margins of error are crucial. Defeating Swansea – handsomely, if at all possible – ought to send a message to the rest of the league. This City vintage must be more assertive, more creative and attacking, than the often all-too-inhibited team of last season.
They will, however, have to do it without the talismanic Tevez. Whilst a suitable buyer has yet to be found and he remains at the club, he has undergone far too little training to be considered for Monday’s opener. Sergio Aguero, signed for £38m ostensibly as his compatriot’s replacement, is likely to start from the bench too. The onus will be on Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli, against both of whom question marks remain, to fill the void.
Manchester City’s seasonal aims are obvious. With their rivals in faltering form over the weekend, the opportunity is there to make a bold statement to the rest of the league. The question is: are City bold enough to take the initiative?