When you have bought as many good players as Manchester City have over the years, blowing away teams at home, while obviously enjoyable, cannot be the upper limit of your ambitions.
City have been doing that for years and while they have certainly started this season well, even their first four wins might not have been taken as sufficient proof of a new, hungry side, the type of team with the mental and physical resources to win back the Premier League title.
That is why Saturday’s 1-0 win at Crystal Palace meant so much to Manuel Pellegrini, and why he was so pleased that City edged a tense game through the last-minute intervention of relatively unknown substitute Kelechi Iheanacho. “To win after the international break,” he said, “to win against such a strong team as Crystal Palace, the team that was in second position, and to win without three important players of course gives us more trust in our squad.”
David Silva and Raheem Sterling were missing, while Sergio Aguero went off with a knee injury after 25 minutes. Pellegrini will confirm today whether they will be able to face Juventus tomorrow. This, then, was a test of whether the second-string front line – Jesus Navas, Samir Nasri and Wilfried Bony – could score goals, as well as a debut for £55m man Kevin De Bruyne, who played with intelligence and imagination after replacing Aguero.
What pleased Pellegrini most though was not just the attacking play but the defensive solidity to hold off a Palace team who tried to blow City away in the first 20 minutes.
“In the first half we were not the same aggressive team with and without the ball, so it was important to keep a clean sheet again,” he said.
This was City’s fifth clean sheet out of five; they are defensively unrecognisable from last year’s mess. Vincent Kompany and Eliaquim Mangala have been such a good pair at centre-back that £28m Nicolas Otamendi has no obvious way into the side.
“Maybe we are more consistent, more solid, more concentrated when we don’t have the ball,” Pellegrini said.
City simply look hungrier than they did last season, playing with far more spirit and courage than they managed as champions in 2014-15. Now, though, they must prepare for a very different test, at home to the Italian champions.
Pellegrini insisted he had not said “one single word” about Juventus before the visit to Palace. When he starts planning – against “such an important team, a good team” – he will desperately hope that Silva, Aguero and Sterling recover. Iheanacho is not even in City’s Champions League squad, so much will be demanded of De Bruyne, Navas, Nasri and Bony. Juventus are certainly too strong and too canny to be swept aside.Reuse content