By Jay Jaffa at Villa Park
It may have been a summer of uncharacteristic inactivity, but Manchester City look anything but a team unprepared for their Premier League title defence, emerging as strong winners in the Community Shield on Sunday.
Nigel de Jong and Vincent Kompany set the tone, thundering into Ramires and Fernando Torres within the first quarter of an hour. Stefan Savic wasn't as precise, picking up a booking for a late challenge on Eden Hazard, but it exemplified the attitude Roberto Mancini had instilled in his team over the summer break.
They were half a yard quicker, an extra per cent more intense and tackled that bit harder. In truth, the final score of 3-2 flattered Chelsea.
It might be a team of familiar faces, but City look thoroughly prepared for what will undoubtedly be a far tougher season than the one they have just emerged from.
Their rivals have strengthened – Arsenal suddenly look potential dark horses for the title, Chelsea have a wealth of attacking options and Manchester United have reinforced as well.
But despite Mancini's open criticism of Brian Marwood and the lack of transfer activity at the club this summer, they dismantled Chelsea to claim the first silverware of the season on the same day they agreed a deal with Everton for the transfer of Jack Rodwell.
Speaking after the match, Mancini said: "I think he [Rodwell] is a good player. He is young and with us it will be the first time he'll play to win things."
He was right, and City look in good shape to add to the honours already won under the Italian. Granted, Chelsea were reduced to 10 men after a rash, over-zealous challenge by Branislav Ivanovic, but City showed no remorse in the second-half, delivering three goals in quick succession to turn the game on its head.
City were sparked by the inspirational and hulking frame of Yaya Toure – again dominant, if slightly more understated, the Ivorian drove his team forward and back into the game with a fine low strike.
But the second goal would have delighted City fans the most as last season's rebel Carlos Tevez did what he does best, carrying the ball into positions that create panic in the opposition ranks. David Luiz didn't pressure him enough and John Terry was caught flat-footed on the edge of his box as Tevez unleashed a stunning right-footed shot into Cech's top corner.
The moody Argentine may have packed his bags and left for five months of last season, but he was present and accounted for alongside Sergio Aguero on Sunday afternoon - impressing more than the man that won the title with the final kick of last season.
There has been minimal talk of an exit this summer and Mancini seems to have settled his differences with the forward - excellent news for the club. The 'like a new signing' cliché has never felt so apt.
With Samir Nasri looking sharp in behind the two Argentine strikers – how many goals could they score together in a full nine-month season? - and David Silva only featuring for the final 15 minutes, City look in rude health. Nasri's finish was so brilliant in it's insouciant ease and precision that it looked like something from the training ground.
It's an intangible quality but City just seemed to have 'it'. Maybe it's the effect of claiming their maiden Premier League title, but even at 1-0 down, there was a confidence and swagger about their play.
There was no panic, but a reassured style that bore the belief that they could score when they wanted – just as the travelling fans proclaimed after Tevez's goal. And when they did feel like scoring, it was devastating.
Three fantastic goals in 12 minutes swung the match in their favour and left many at Villa Park walking away wondering just who will be able to perform better over 38 games than Mancini's men.
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