Visions of glory, of sweeping, majestic attacks cutting a swathe through deadened opponents, were sacrificed in favour of the mundane duty of strangling the life out of matches. Sure, moments of genius – usually provided by Carlos Tevez or David Silva – would often hand the Citizens the points. However, Saturdays at Eastlands were often fraught. The purist in the Blues fan would yearn for the swashbuckling fearlessness of Bell, Summerbee and Lee, or the delicate, thrilling artistry of Kinkladze and Bernabia. What they got was 10 men behind the ball, precariously defending 1-0 leads.
Last year’s corresponding fixture with Wigan Athletic at the City of Manchester Stadium is a case in point. A fortuitous David Silva goal the only tangible evidence of the tangible financial gulf separating the teams, a visibly nervous team cheaply conceded possession alarmingly frequently to their lowly opponents. Neat, tidy, hopeful – Roberto Martinez’s men worked their way back into the match. Only a weak Connor Sammon finish ensured the three points stayed at Eastlands. The pressure of winning seemed stultifying. Rather than doing things with a flourish, City would wait for the opposition to die. Kind folk would describe it as pragmatic – less tolerant thought it cowardly.
Twelve goals in their opening three games suggests this season’s crop do things a little differently. There is a swagger about Manchester City, a bravado befitting of the millions pumped into the team. Performances are beginning to match reputations. Once more, people are drooling over the standard of football – drooling over the regal Edin Dzeko’s callousness in front of goal, and marvelling over Sergio Aguero’s dynamism and Samir Nasri’s ability to try the unexpected. Twelve goals have been plundered in three Premier League matches – three quality opponents eviscerated. Style is finally being added to substance.
Wigan travelled to the City of Manchester Stadium last season knowing that the twin effects of stifling the influence of Carlos Tevez and retaining possession in midfield would frustrate their lofty opponents. Manchester City were formulaic. They could be counteracted. This weekend, you fear for the Latics. They travel to Manchester as lambs to the slaughter – the fresh victims of Dzeko, Aguero, Silva and company. City’s mindset marries beauty with pragmatism, and they are a far more fearsome prospect for it.
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