American Manchester City supporters had it pretty good, for once.
City’s friendly with Sporting Kansas City was the back half of a twin bill on ESPN2 after Tottenham Hotspur‘s 3-2 victory over Toronto FC.
The 8 p.m. CT start in Kansas City meant that Americans in the lower 48 would see the match anywhere from the dinner hour on the West Coast to late prime time on the East Coast.
It may seem a small thing, but for American supporters accustomed to waking up on Saturday morning—or on odd occasions just flipping the City match on after coming home in the middle of the night—this friendly was a rare chance to see City play in the hours normally reserved for sports viewing.
That City put a thrashing on the reigning Major League Soccer champions was just more for City’s American fans to love.
Here are six things City boss Manuel Pellegrini took away from Sporting Kansas City 1-4 Manchester City.
Pellegrini’s iteration of Manchester City not only consists of prolific goalscorers, but often wastes no time getting on the board.
Last season, City scored early goals at White Hart Lane and at Old Trafford that put Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United down early. Neither of City’s foes recovered, and both suffered humiliating home defeats at the hands of Pellegrini’s rampaging charges.
Against Sporting KC, new City signing Bruno Zuculini’s gorgeous and opportunistic strike put City ahead before many of the home team’s fans had reached their seats.
It was the same as it ever was for a Manuel Pellegrini City side in hostile environs.
Give Sporting Kansas City this much: They did not play this friendly with Manchester City not to lose.
Sporting KC ran at City and ran with them. The first 15 minutes were so wide open that the match looked less like a friendly between two reigning league champions and more like a weekend pickup game at the local park.
Not surprisingly, the more talented side (City) had the better of things in that carefree opening. Jesus Navas flew up and down the right side of the pitch at speeds that no Sporting KC player could match.
Zuculini’s goal was not even City’s best look at goal, as Scott Sinclair and Kelechi Iheanacho (more on him later) had better chances that went begging.
Only a sorry defensive lapse from Aleksandar Kolarov sullied City’s first-half performance, as C.J. Sapong slipped behind Kolarov and scored as the match’s first half-hour ebbed away.
Stevan Jovetic had two semi-breakaways thwarted in the 38th and 42nd minutes, but City’s ongoing threat of Sporting KC’s goal would pay another dividend before the whistle for halftime.
City took on Sporting KC shorn of most of the Sky Blues’ star power. Of the team that started in City’s last match of the 2013-14 Premier League season, only Kolarov made the XI against Sporting KC.
The XI City offered against the MLS champions are unlikely to ever play against a Premier League side or even in an early round of the Capital One Cup.
Against a backdrop of relative mortals in sky-blue shirts, Navas really stood out.
Navas’ free kick onto Dedryck Boyata’s forehead in the 45th minute was more precise than any American football quarterback could produce with a throw. Navas also assisted on City’s fourth and final goal in the 88th minute.
With City resting so many of their stars (including a newly ailing Alvaro Negredo), Navas’ David Silva impression was right on time.
City’s starting goalkeeper, Joe Hart, suffered such a dip in form last season that Pellegrini and City’s executives decided it would be a good idea to secure the services of a more capable backup than Costel Pantilimon.
Willy Caballero is certainly better than Pantilimon. But after watching him against Sporting KC, it is hard to see him taking Hart’s job unless Hart falls apart again.
Caballero is much more comfortable with the ball at his feet than Hart is, which makes it less harrowing when City’s defense plays it back to him. Watching Hart handle a back pass is like watching a grizzly bear play hopscotch.
But Caballero is also pretty aggressive and cavalier with his distribution. Yes, he is probably under orders from Pellegrini to try to ignite a break with a long outlet pass here or a quick outlet pass there.
Above all, though, the goalkeeper’s primary responsibility after stopping shots is getting the ball out of his end safely. More than a few of Caballero’s chancy passes turned into moments of near panic as Sporting KC stole the ball back and countered quickly.
This is still Hart’s job until further notice.
Even stalwart City fans may not have been all that familiar with Kelechi Iheanacho before the Sky Blues’ friendly with Sporting KC.
They probably know who he is now.
Iheanacho was incandescent against Sporting KC. And he seemed to be everywhere. The ESPN2 broadcast team could not stop gushing about his pitch awareness and skill.
Then Iheanacho scored in the 88th minute, a more than just reward for a long and productive night’s work.
Iheanacho is only 17, and based on comments made during the match broadcast, this will be all City supporters will get to see of the young Nigerian on this American tour.
But what a debut.
Manchester City’s recent friendlies against Dundee and Hearts were like City’s tangle with Sporting KC in that most of City’s real stars were not involved.
Pellegrini favored near wholesale substitutions in Scotland. Against Sporting KC, though, some of the players Pellegrini will be depending on in the 2014-15 season got stretched out.
Jovetic, Fernando, Kolarov, Navas and even Sinclair were all on the pitch for better than an hour. That decision spoke to Pellegrini’s desire to win the match.
It also was a nod to the oncoming bullet train that is the 2014-15 season, which will be here before Pellegrini and his players know it.