By Harry Slavin
The start of the Premier League season may still be three weeks away, but Manchester City are already sending a strong message to those looking to dethrone them.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side have been delivering the kind of performances you'd expect from a title-winning side on their pre-season tour of America, thumping all-comers and scoring for fun.
But these top-class performances have been delivered without a single one of their marquee players in sight.
City had 13 first-team players absent from their matchday squad to face AC Milan in their International Champions Cup opener, some recovering from injury and some recovering from World Cup campaigns.
Despite a list of unavailable players long enough to fill a stellar starting line-up, and then some, Pellegrini’s side dismantled the Serie A outfit with disconcerting ease. This didn’t look like your average second-string side.
|Find out how the Premier League new boys got on in pre-season action|
New signings Fernando and Willy Caballero looked at home in an organised and ruthless side that tore Pippo Inzaghi’s men apart in a 5-1 rout.
Jesus Navas and Scott Sinclair devoured the opportunity to impress, and youth took its chance as well, with 17-year-old Kelechi Iheanacho grabbing his second goal in as many games. Make no bones about it – this was a strong side.
When City failed to launch any real bid to retain their title after their first Premier League triumph in 2012, manager Roberto Mancini blamed a lack of depth in his squad. This time around, Pellegrini has no such excuse.
In 24-year-old Jovetic, the Chilean has yet another genuine option up front. Young players such as Karim Rekik will be spoiling for a chance to impress, and you can bet Willy Caballero didn’t join the club at his peak to sit back and act as Joe Hart’s understudy.
|ON YOUR MARKS
Man City's opening PL fixtures
||Newcastle United (a)
||Stoke City (h)|
Just 12 months ago, City struck five past Milan in a friendly at the Allianz Arena. Hart, Yaya Toure, Edin Dzeko, Fernandinho and David Silva all started in Germany. Yesterday, in an even more convincing performance, none of their services were required.
Injuries and undulating form threatened to derail Manchester City’s search for a second Premier League title last season, allowing them only to clinch glory on the final day, just as they had done in 2012.
The relief that greeted that first title soon turned to despair as the following season delivered nothing but failure in every competition, ultimately costing Mancini his job.
Unlike the Italian, Pellegrini appears to have had the support from the board to address squad weaknesses and has no intention of suffering the same fate, building a side capable of juggling domestic and European duties – and the summer business hasn't finished yet, with Eliaquim Mangala, for one, still set to sign.
The players now at Pellegrini's disposal are more than capable of retaining their domestic crown, but after last season’s progress in the Champions League, back-to-back titles may be the minimum requirement.