MANCHESTER: Manuel Pellegrini, in a rare display of emotion, punched the air in winning delight after his superb Manchester City ravaged Chelsea 3:0 and established themselves – after only two games – as early-season favourites to dethrone troubled Blues. This victory, for City, was massive in so many ways.
Managers Pellegrini and Jose Mourinho have never been the best of friends, going back to their simultaneous time in Spain and Mourinho’s contention that he had to correct mistakes by Pellegrini and other predecessors at Real Madrid.
City and Chelsea went into the game with incomplete squads. Kevin De Bruyne remains a target for City who are expected to increase their offer to £50m this week while Chelsea are still on pursuit of Everton’s England central defender John Stones.
Pellegrini still had time to take an unusual swipe at Mourinho’s style of football, pointing out that City scored 102 goals in winning the Premier League title in 2014 while Chelsea scraped together a mere 73 last season.
He added: “It is never our intention from the kickoff to score only on goal and try to finish the game. We will play the way that we always do and that is to attack. My thinking is that, as managers, we must take care of the Premier League, of English football.”
Last season’s league games both ended in draws, with honours even, but Chelsea ended eight points clear of their runners-up. City have sought to close the gap by outspending Chelsea this summer. They have already splashed £49m on Raheem Sterling while Chelsea’s main acquisitions have been struggling Radamel Falcao and reserve goalkeeper Asmir Begovic who replaced suspended Thibaut Courtois at City.
Chelsea also had the challenge of trying to play their way out of the shadow of controversy over the dropping of doctor Eva Carneiro and physio Jon Fearn after the row over their treatment of injured Eden Hazard the previous weekend.
Pellegrini was as a good as his word in that City came flying into the match. Begovic made three superb early saves with Sergio Aguero the victim each time as City dominated.
Then, just when it appeared that Chelsea were settling down so City went ahead with a superb strike from the little Argentinian, controlling a pass from David Silva on his chest and wrongfooting four surrounding Chelsea defenders before clipping the ball past Begovic off the foot of a post.
Mourinho’s concern about his defence was evident from his immediate order to set Kurt Zouma to warm up but it was a surprise when skipper John Terry was substituted at half-time. It was the first time, in 177 games, that Mourinho had ever replaced his captain during a game.
Terry appeared unhappy to be sitting on the bench for the second half without any obvious sign of injury treatment, suggesting that Mourinho was concerned at a lack of pace in the centre of his defence.
Ramires had a goal disallowed early in the second half but Chelsea would not have deserved to be level although they had improved.
The balance of the game then tipped back towards City with record £49m capture Raheem Sterling perpetually active in attacking support. Only a fine saving tackle from Gary Cahill blocked what might have been a second goal for Aguero.
City keeper Joe Hart made a fine save from Eden Hazard on the one rare occasion on which the Belgian escaped his markers. Diego Costa, distracted earlier by an angry clash with Fernandinho, complained that Hazard should have passed the ball.
It was a crucial failure. Within another seven minutes later City skipper Vincent Kompany held off Brane Ivanovic to head home and then Fernandinho thrashed home a third. It was decisive, it was magnificent.
Arsenal back on form
Earlier Arsenal celebrated their first victory of term by 2-1 at Crystal Palace.
Manager Arsene Wenger had warned, after the Community Shield victory over Chelsea, that the new season would not start so easily for Arsenal with the immediate prospect of two London derbies. He was proved right with the opening home defeat by West Ham which should have jolted his players out of any sense of complacency.
Hence they were well worth their victory and might have deserved more goals. Olivier Giroud opened the scoring after only 16 minutes with Joel Ward surprising even Palace fans by equalising four minutes later.
Arsenal then had to wait until a header from Alexis Sanchez, back on duty after a holiday extended because of his Copa America duties, forced the winner. The score will go down, officially, as an own goal by Damien Delaney – who had been responsible for Palace’s last own goal, in May 2014 against Liverpool.
Once back in front Wenger looked to seal up the game with fullback Kieran Gibbs replacing Mesut Ozil, who had played a decisive role in the Gunners’ command, on the left flank.
Palace had late chances. But a Ward header flew straight into the hands of Petr Cech and a corner from Jason Puncheon’s right -wing corner was flicked towards goal by Mikel Arteta but deflected over the bar off the head of Jordon Mutch.
Wenger later praised his team for the response after the previous week’s defeat but refused to make any predictions about what this mean for the title race.
He had particular words of praise for Ozil, saying: “It is a pleasure to watch the quality of his passing and the intelligence of his passing. What I want from him is a few more goals this season. For the rest of the build-up in the game he was magnificent.
“He works harder than people think he does. He is not spectacular in his defending but he wants to do the job, he wants to help the team.
“What I liked in his game today was he made many runs without the ball behind the defenders which is a bit new as he likes to come with the ball but today he mixed up his game better.”
** ‘Tinkerman’ Claudio Ranieri’s 100pc start to life as Leicester manager continued with a 2:1 win at man West Ham on first-half goals from Shinji Okazaki and Riyad Mahrez.
Okazaki’s goal was set up by winger Jamie Vardy, making amends to his club after being fined in midweek for using racist slang about a Japanese man in a casino. West Ham ended up with 10 men after the late expulsion of goalkeeper Adrian for a bringing down Vardy late in the game.
** Dick Advocaat may be regretting that his wife changed her mind about wanting him to quit Sunderland after saving them from relegation last season. The Black Cats were back at the bottom of the table after a second defeat, 3:1 at home to promoted Norwich. The victory was Norwich’s first on Wearside since 1997.
** Stoke maintained their jinx over Tottenham by recovering from two goals down to draw 2:2 at White Hart Lane. Spurs, who lost both league games against Mark Hughes’s men last season, conceded goals in the last 12 minutes to Marko Arnautovic (penalty) and Miriam Biram Diouf.
Spurs might even have lost but for three fine saves from captain Hugo Lloris who is a possible target for Manchester United if David De Gea heads off later this month, as expected, for Real Madrid.
** Bafetimbi Gomis and Andre Ayew both scored for the second game running as Swansea comfortably beat Newcastle who had Dutch World Cup fullback Daryl Janmaat sent off for two yellow-card fouls on Ecuador’s Jefferson Montero.
** Critical Everton fans called for chairman Bill Kenwright to quit in a banner flown over St Mary’s but the protest faded away into thin air as two-goal Romelu Lukaku led the way to a 3:0 win at Southampton.
** The Football Association is to invest £260m in the grassroots game over the next four years to improve facilities, coaching and participation through 30 new city hubs featuring 4G pitches and new infrastructure. The Premier League will also give £56m a year to the grassroots game from next year’s new £5.1bn TV deal.