EPL: What a ZZZZ...



(David Silva 38, Sergio Aguero 90+2)

There was something distinctly depressing about Manchester City's stroll to victory yesterday morning (Singapore time).

Without playing particularly well against Newcastle, the three points were never in doubt. They won without really trying.

If a pattern has been set, then it's a rather bland one.

The Premier League title race threatens to be a lazy Sunday afternoon for City and a dull spectacle for everyone else.

Unless their rivals recover lost ground quickly in the final days of the transfer window, City could coast to their familiar destination in a journey that offers all the entertainment value of a trip to the dentist.

Manuel Pellegrini sent out a starting 11 at St James' Park that had perhaps three reserves in the back four, a new man in midfield and a second-choice strike force with Sergio Aguero left on the bench.

They won through repetition, grinding down their surprisingly obdurate opponents through a combination of persistence and perspiration.

Apart from a few moments of improvised magic from Edin Dzeko and David Silva, the win was routine, functional and formulaic; hallmarks of a successful title defence, but not a scintillating one.

Of course, champions usually win. They can hardly do anything else. Greatness is churned out through a production line of sustained excellence.

Ordinarily, there is nothing tedious about the pursuit of sporting perfection. But there is something out of the ordinary with Manchester City.

Roger Federer's totalitarian control of a tennis racket was no less engaging than Tiger Woods' reign with a golf club. Dominance isn't necessarily humdrum. Brilliance is rarely boring.

But City do not excite in quite the same captivating fashion because the analogy doesn't hold. They are playing with a bigger racket head to begin with, strutting around the course with extra clubs in the bag.

Even allowing for the slight slap on the wrist from Uefa's Financial Fair Play enforcers, City's limitless resources ensured that Aguero, Silva, Vincent Kompany, Aleksandar Kolarov and Samir Nasri all signed new, lucrative contracts last week, with Dzeko expected to commit any day now.

As transfer targets ignore the ongoing flirting from both Liverpool and Manchester United, City have their prized belongings safely locked away in the Etihad vault.

Their attack is already the envy of other title contenders, including Chelsea.

Their midfield is an embarrassment of riches, whereas United's midfield is just an embarrassment (and Liverpool's central trio were hardly faultless against Southampton).

Benched Talent

In defence, City could conceivably swop United's entire-back three with superior replacements recruited from Pellegrini's bench (Kolarov, Martin Demichelis and Bacary Sagna would do for starters.)

The sobering reality for Premier League followers beyond the corridors of City's power is that Pellegrini reined in the pre-season spending - not to pander to Uefa's guidelines but because he didn't need to splash the cash.

Darwinism dictates City's progress. Steady evolution is all that is required.

Revolution is for the red shirts of Liverpool and United (and Arsenal to a lesser extent). If they do not strengthen in the coming days, they will succumb quickly. Even Chelsea may struggle to keep up.

Just a casual glance at City's line-up and substitutions reveal a methodical machine calibrated for winning.

Silva danced with Stevan Jovetic, Dzeko and Yaya Toure, swopping positions and making pretty triangles with the front two, culminating in City's delightful opener.

Dzeko staked his claim for regular inclusion with a flawless performance and yet Aguero still found time after his late introduction to score in the game's final minutes.

Kompany knitted an irregular backline together, but Eliaquim Mangala and Bacary Sagna will be introduced at some point and James Milner, Fernandinho and other World Cup returnees are still waiting to join the first-term fold.

As Brendan Rodgers and Louis van Gaal fiddle with their formations like a pensioner standing over a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle unaware that a few pieces are missing from the box, Pellegrini has extra round pegs for almost every round hole.

That's wonderful news for City supporters. Whether that's a reason for the Premier League to rejoice is another matter.

The weekend's opening fixtures felt like a formality. The campaign is only 48 hours old and City's title rivals are already playing catch up.

A sense of inevitability hangs over the Etihad. They clearly hold the balance of power, which is hardly a cause for celebration.

Winning through unrivalled beauty is one thing. Winning through one's bank balance is quite another.

The easier the title race becomes for City, the harder it will be to watch.


This article was published on Aug 19 in The New Paper.

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