By Jay Jaffa
There is an anniversary approaching for Carlos Tevez that he, and indeed Manchester City, would prefer to keep under the radar.
In 26 days it will be exactly a year since Roberto Mancini and the Argentine spectacularly fell out mid-game on the sidelines of the Allianz Arena and during the interim, plenty has been said and done.
“He's finished with me,” said Mancini in the aftermath, and indeed Tevez was banished to Argentina and then chose to stay there for the best part of five months.
But the 28-year-old served his penance and returned to the club for the thrilling climax to last season before featuring heavily in a busy pre-season schedule.
And now, three games into their Premier League defence, El Apache has completed the redemption, morphing from troublesome rebel to the reliable goal-getter he built his reputation on.
Tevez put in a man-of-the-match performance on Saturday evening, helping himself to a couple of assists and the late goal that capped what was a laboured 3-1 win over QPR. Indeed, it was such an inefficient performance that Mancini bemoaned his side's finishing in the post-game interview, saying: “We have one problem at the moment - when we have a chance to score, we don't score.”
It was an exaggeration, of course, as City have notched an impressive 11 goals in their four competitive games, but the feeling lingers that too many of last season's stars have yet to find their rhythm.
|FIGHT TO THE FINISH
|Read our match report as Manchester City are made to work hard for a 3-1 victory over QPR at the Etihad Stadium|
Just four players have found the net for Mancini's side thus far and the team has largely been propelled by the most complete player in the league, Yaya Toure, and Tevez.
Samir Nasri has chipped in with two goals and Edin Dzeko grabbed his second of the campaign at the Etihad on Saturday evening but other star names are yet to contribute.
David Silva has been used fleetingly, Mario Balotelli too, whilst Sergio Aguero is sidelined for a further few weeks. Meanwhile at the back, the once-watertight defence marshalled by Joe Hart and Vincent Kompany looks unsteady and leaky. Seven goals have flown past Hart this season; a furious stomp on his post in the aftermath of the Bobby Zamora goal evidence of his frustration.
All of this has piled the pressure on Tevez and yet for a man renowned for his emotional U-turns and tantrums, it has yet to faze him.
Like a before and after for a rapid weight loss advert, Tevez emerged at Villa Park for the Community shield looking sleek and powerful. A new man; he admitted to losing a stone of timber over pre-season and has appeared sharper, quicker and more alert than at any other point in his City career.
The glint is in his eye, the smile back on his face and as Yaya Toure wrestled him to the ground to celebrate the third goal – an opportunistic redirection - it was clear the magic that made Tevez such a prodigal talent has returned.
The goal was his fourth in four games – a personal record for Tevez in England – and was vital in the context of the match. Last season, a different Argentine (not Pablo Zabaleta) popped up to score the crucial goals – Aguero contributed a staggering 23 league goals in his debut season and City became reliant on their summer signing from Atletico Madrid.
With Aguero currently unavailable for the longest stretch of games in his time in England, and Mancini patching up a team seemingly incapable of adapting to his experimental 3-5-2 (it was abandoned for the win over QPR), Tevez has been invaluable.
He only scored four goals for the eventual champions in 2011-12 but has already amassed that figure this campaign and despite the defensive malaise Mancini is still toiling away at, internally he must be reassured that Tevez will more than make amends for that absent season.
This will be the first sustained period that Mancini will be able to call on both of his supremely gifted, creative, goalscoring strikers.
With bigger tests to come and a Champions League group even tougher than that of last year, City fans can draw solace from the responsibility - a word not often used in this context - Tevez has claimed. The greatest compliment is to say that without Aguero, City are still just as dangerous a beast.
The Premier League era has perhaps only ever seen a return to form and popularity as swift and unanimous as Eric Cantona's comeback at Manchester United and as City aim to retain their crown, everyone on the blue side of Manchester will be counting on Tevez to emulate the Frenchman from the red half.
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