LONDON • When Manchester City play like this, one wonders how they made such a pig's ear of their English Premier League football title defence last season.
At The Hawthorns on Monday, Yaya Toure and Co. looked like they meant business once more, launching their challenge in rather ominous fashion as they beat West Bromwich Albion 3-0.
As poor as the home side were - more reminiscent of the team who drifted through the first half of last season under Alan Irvine than the one invigorated by Tony Pulis after Christmas - they were unfortunate to face a City side in such an assertive, unforgiving mood.
David Silva was magnificent and Toure was not too far behind.
So often, mood makes the difference where City and, in particular, Toure are concerned.
Last season was below what we're used to doing. There are a lot of title favourites now and we're not part of it, I've heard. It's something that gives us extra motivation.
VINCENT KOMPANY, the Manchester City captain, with a point to prove
Manuel Pellegrini suggested afterwards that Toure was "back to the Yaya of two seasons ago".
It may be premature to make such a pronouncement, given that his form has fluctuated during his City career, but this was a reminder that he can dominate and bully all but the very best opposition.
Pulis conceded that he had got his tactics wrong, saying that, by going with a flat 4-4-2 against City, he yielded too much space in midfield.
Toure was the prime beneficiary, scoring the first goal in the ninth minute and doubling his tally with a superb second midway through the first half. Vincent Kompany made it 3-0 before the hour.
As for Raheem Sterling, it is a compliment to say that, on his first competitive appearance since his £49 million (S$106 million) move from Liverpool, he looked neither fazed nor out of place.
There were a couple of reminders that he still lacks conviction in front of goal, but he did well enough to suggest that he will keep his place when Chelsea visit the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
"I'm not disappointed because Raheem plays 70 minutes very well (before he was substituted)," said Pellegrini.
"If he continues to play like this I am sure he will (live up to the expectations of being) the player we bought."
Chelsea will be a very different examination for City. But, after a weekend in which Arsenal and Chelsea came unstuck at home and Liverpool and Manchester United won without setting pulses racing, this was certainly an impressive start.
In terms of their passing, movement and control of the game, it was of a level that they failed to reach often enough last season.
By half-time, City had completed 417 passes - more than all but three other Premier League teams managed over 90 minutes at the weekend. That figure was higher than any team mustered in the first half of a top-flight game last season.
And, while there is such a thing as sterile domination, as Arsenal's Arsene Wenger likes to call it, this was nothing of the sort. This was possession with purpose.
When they pass the ball with this kind of expertise they certainly make it tempting to believe they must have an outstanding chance of taking the title back from Chelsea. And the frightening thing, perhaps, for their rivals is that Sergio Aguero played only a peripheral role in this victory.
The striker was restricted to a substitute's place because of his lack of match fitness. But, even without their scorer extraordinaire, City delivered a performance that was utterly compelling.
The quality of City's squad has never been in doubt in recent years. Their biggest difficulty has been maintaining focus.
That focus seemed to return on Monday. But, of course, the bigger test will come on Sunday. Win, and they will be five points clear of the champions.
Easier said than done, but easier to imagine when City look hungry once more.
THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE