I was recently alarmed to learn that since the inception of the Premier League, only one team (Manchester United in 2012/13) has lost on the opening day of the season and gone on to win the title. Of course, that’s not to say losing your first game is the end of the world, but when you know that doing so makes winning the league a statistical improbability, it does ramp up the pressure to get off to a winning start somewhat.
Thankfully, City were able to withstand the pressure on Monday night when they put in what was arguably the league’s best team performance of the opening weekend and ran out 3-0 winners over West Bromwich Albion. Here’s how I rated the players on the night.
1 Joe Hart – 7/10
This was far from the England No. 1’s busiest or most challenging evening between the sticks but what little he had to do he did well and with a minimum of fuss. Hart’s main activity seemed to come in the form of crosses and set-pieces into the box and whether catching the ball or electing to punch, he dealt with them all decisively and effectively. A clean sheet on the opening day is the most positive way for a goalkeeper to begin a season (incidentally, City haven’t conceded a single goal away from home on the opening day since the 4-2 defeat at Aston Villa in 2008/09) and the four-time Premier League Golden Glove winner will be hoping there’s plenty more where that came from.
3 Bacary Sagna – 8/10
With Pablo Zabaleta only deemed fit enough to make the bench, the responsibility of occupying the right back spot against West Brom fell to Bacary Sagna and the Frenchman put in what was comfortably his best performance in a City shirt to date. He offered a constant outlet on the right hand side when the Blues were attacking and any attempts from West Brom to attack down their left were swiftly thwarted. Several commenters on Twitter attributed the reinvention of Bacary Sagna to his drastic change of hairstyle during the summer and who am I to argue? One good performance is unlikely to be enough to usurp first choice right back Zabaleta on a permanent basis but if Sagna can replicate it when called upon next, he might just give his manager what is known in the trade as a “selection headache”.
4 Vincent Kompany – 8/10
Following a couple of disappointing, injury-riddled seasons and a less-than-impressive pre-season, there were many doubts in the build-up about whether Kompany could even be trusted to start this game but start he did and the performance he put in should go a long way towards restoring some faith in City’s captain. Rickie Lambert and Saido Berahino are far from the toughest opponents Kompany will square up against this season but it was a composed defensive showing from the big Belgian, free of the recklessness and ill-discipline which has come to epitomise his game in recent times, and his goal from a corner (a corner!) and subsequent display of passion was a timely reminder of how important an in-form Vincent Kompany can be to this team. His fall from grace in the past couple of years was worrying and dramatic, but if that troublesome calf holds up and Kompany can maintain a steady level of consistency this season, it won’t be long before he’s being talked about as one of the world’s best defenders again.
20 Eliaquim Mangala – 8/10
Much like his central defensive partner, there were huge question marks over whether or not Mangala should have been picked to start this game following a hugely underwhelming debut season in the Premier League, a poor showing in the final pre-season friendly against Stuttgart, and the fact Jason Denayer waits eagerly in the wings. Much like his central defensive partner, the 24-year-old put in a solid defensive performance which should help to silence his critics, for the time being at least. It’s perhaps disingenuous to try and draw too many conclusions from a single match, but Mangala’s positional sense appears to have come on leaps and bounds since last week, never mind last season, and he seemed calmer and more confident when playing the ball out from the back, except in situations requiring greater urgency, in which he acted accordingly. This was an encouraging start to his second season in English football but a greater test awaits Mangala against Chelsea next week, almost a year on from his City debut against the same opposition. He looked a hell of a player that day, and next Sunday will be the perfect opportunity to prove it wasn’t a fluke.
11 Aleksander Kolarov – 8/10
There are times when one looks at City’s squad and can’t help but notice a glaring gap in the left back position where a world class player should be. I’ve often thought Kolarov and his fellow left-back Gael Clichy are two halves of a terrific player and we’d have a real force to be reckoned with if only we could combine the best bits of both of them. Last night was one of those games where the best bits of Kolarov came to the fore and he showed why it’s perhaps worthwhile keeping him around. Though he was never unduly troubled defensively, his desire to bomb forward and support attacks down the left could not be faulted and that left foot of his is a lethal weapon when he gets himself into good crossing positions. Were it not some excellent tracking back from West Brom’s Berahino, Kolarov would probably have got his name on the scoresheet in the first half as well, which would have been a just reward for his tireless efforts. This will be the fifth season in a City shirt for the Serbian Roberto Carlos, let’s hope we see his best bits more often than his worst.
25 Fernandinho – 7/10
After representing Brazil at the Copa America during the summer and not featuring in a single minute of City’s pre-season fixtures, it was something of a surprise to see Fernandinho named in the starting line-up to face West Brom but he went about his job professionally and assuredly and completed the full 90 minutes having barely broken a sweat. City’s rumoured pursuit of Paul Pogba during the summer put the likes of Fernandinho’s and his compatriot Fernando’s places in the team in serious jeopardy but now that transfer looks unlikely to come off, it’s up to the Brazilians to show us City won’t be any worse off.
42 Yaya Toure – 8/10
As last season drew to a close, it looked to be an absolute certainty that Yaya Toure would be bringing his four-year love affair with City to an end, the feeling among many City fans being that it was probably the right time for both parties to sever ties. It was therefore surprising, relieving and more than a little confusing when Yaya instead committed his immediate future to the club amid talk of a move to Inter Milan in June, and displays like the one he put on against West Brom are the perfect reminder of just what we would have been missing out on this season had he not decided to stick around. Yaya looks sharp, enthusiastic and reinvigorated following a summer in which he was free of the distractions of international football and last night the Yaya Toure of 2013/14 returned to the Premier League with a bang.
City’s first goal of the night will probably end up being awarded to a combination of David Silva and West Brom’s Craig Dawson but there was no doubt about who the second belonged to as Toure curled Wilfried Bony’s lay-off beautifully past Boaz Myhill and into the top corner. A midfield combo of Yaya Toure and Paul Pogba would have been the stuff dreams are made of, but last night the former showed he’s still more than capable of making dreams come true on his own.
15 Jesus Navas – 6/10
When Jesus Navas signed for City in 2013, we were told we’d acquired a direct, pacy winger who would stretch opposition defences and get in behind them, yet in two years I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually seen him take a defender on. Navas ended the 2014/15 season with more assists than anyone else in a City shirt, yet all I seem to be able to remember him doing was smashing cross after cross into the ankles of opposition full-backs. This is Jesus Navas, this is what he does, and there was plenty of it on display against West Brom but it would be unfair to say he had a particularly bad game, only that he wasn’t brilliant. The signing of Raheem Sterling gives City, amongst other things, a more symmetrical look with pace and width on both the left and the right and Navas will hopefully benefit from this, but I fear for his place in the starting XI should Kevin De Bruyne join the club in the coming weeks.
7 Raheem Sterling – 7/10
Amidst all the hand-wringing, disgust and general dismay surrounding City’s summer capture of Raheem Sterling, it appears to have been overlooked in many quarters that the Blues have added a superb young player to their ranks who is only likely to improve them greatly. This wasn’t the most memorable or remarkable debut of all time, but it did offer an exciting glimpse of what Sterling has to offer this team as he linked up excellently with his new teammates, most notably Silva and Kolarov. Sterling was somewhat profligate with possession at times and should have scored when one-on-one with the keeper in the first half (although a lesser, slower player would never have found himself in that position) but on this evidence, there’s no doubt Sterling will prove to be a wonderful signing for City once he’s had time to settle in.
21 David Silva – 9/10
Wonderful, magical, majestic, sensational and incredible are just some of the superlatives that don’t even come close to describing how good David Silva was last night. I worried Silva might suffer from a slight dip in form this season following what was probably his best in a City shirt last year but he was back and better than ever against West Brom, popping up in acres of space all over the field and dictating play with sublime style and grace. It was a superb all-round team performance and Silva was still head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch.
Is it even debatable that he’s City’s greatest player of all time anymore? I think not.
14 Wilfried Bony – 7/10
Since joining City from Swansea in January, it’s probably fair to say Wilfried Bony hasn’t quite made the impact that was expected of him just yet. The departures of Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic this summer have paved the way for Bony to either challenge Sergio Aguero for the sole striker’s role in a 4-5-1 or partner him in a 4-4-2 and the decision to start him on Monday night when handing a full debut to Kelechi Iheanacho seemed to be the more likely choice was a good indication of Pellegrini’s faith in the Ivorian hit-man. Bony was unlucky not to convert a half chance in the first half and made amends by teeing up Yaya Toure for City’s second goal of the night. He may well find himself on the bench next week if Aguero is fit and ready to start, but Bony’s time to blossom as a City player hopefully isn’t too far away.
10 Sergio Aguero – Too late to mark
One of the keys to City’s success this season is keeping their new number 10 fit for as long as possible. He looked rusty after coming off the bench for his first appearance since the Copa America final but it shouldn’t be long until he’s up to speed and scoring goals on the regular again.
26 Martin Demichelis – Too late to mark
He may be 34-years-old and he may have missed the whole of pre-season having represented Argentina at the Copa America, but that doesn’t mean he can’t come on for the last ten minutes of a match and cruise around defensive midfield like a vintage Rolls Royce. This might actually be the way Demichelis is most often deployed this season, and I’m sure he’ll be more than useful to have in the squad.
8 Samir Nasri – Too late to mark
Nasri is another player many had assumed would be leaving the club over the summer but he’s still here and still looks committed to the cause. Like Navas, the signing of Kevin De Bruyne could well plunge Nasri’s role in the team into doubt if it comes off, but there’s undoubtedly still a good player in there and hopefully he’s up for a fight for his place.
Written by Dan Burke