BOLTON // With August yet to enter its final week, a league table can only convey so much, but as Manchester City survey the rest of the division from their position at its summit, they can do so content with one thought. They have laid down a marker to their rivals.
Not merely in the results - though a 3-2 win at the Reebok Stadium is not to be sniffed at - but in the number of goals scored, the level of performance produced and the message sent out.
A side that is both evolving and entertaining, something that could be obscured by the furore Sergio Aguero's dramatic debut against Swansea generated. After another pulsating, positive display, it is undeniable. This is no one-man show.
"We dominated the game," said Roberto Mancini. "We need to score more goals than last season."
The change in approach was summed up their own supporters. When, less than 140 minutes into the campaign, they had struck for a seventh time, a chorus of "boring, boring City" emanated from the South Stand. Their tone was ironic. There was nothing negative on an afternoon when, to protect a slender lead, Mancini opted against reinforcing the defence and brought on Adam Johnson and Carlos Tevez instead.
The fans' mood was telling, too. They could afford to applaud when Tevez was summoned, the rebel being reintegrated back into the fold at a time when, with Aguero in the attack and others among the goals, City no longer seem so dependent upon his tireless efforts. David Silva and Edin Dzeko, whose strikes sandwiched a memorable effort from Gareth Barry, have now scored in both league games. Each, in his own way, is illustrating an improvement.
The one fault that could be found in the Spaniard's game last season was a comparative lack of goals; after a mere four then, he is half way towards that tally now.
Dzeko, meanwhile, has already equalled his efforts in the league in the previous campaign, when he often looked off the pace.
His partnership with Aguero is at the embryonic stage, but it shows a shift in shape from City, who rarely fielded two out-and-out strikers last season. The consequence was a more open game, especially with a foot injury sidelining Nigel de Jong, their premier destroyer, but the concern was the concession of two goals.
"Three-two is OK, but sometimes one-nil is good for defenders," Mancini said; such action-packed encounters worry the puritan in him.
"We can't concede two goals like today." Both he deemed "stupid" and both were created by the former City winger Martin Petrov. The Bulgarian's low cross was hooked in adeptly by Ivan Klasnic, while his free kick was headed in by Kevin Davies.
Defensive recriminations were a common theme. Owen Coyle lamented the nature of a couple of goals Bolton sieved. The first was the most obvious, Silva's shot, while crisply struck, was utterly misjudged by Jussi Jaaskelainen.
The second was both a well-worked corner routine and a lovely individual goal. James Milner directed his set-piece to Barry, whose scorching shot was struck with accuracy and power.
Milner, quietly impressive on the left flank, managed a second assist when Dzeko flicked his pass away from Zat Knight, and shot beyond Jaaskelainen. The fourth City player to have the ball in the net was the full debutant, though Aguero's effort was disallowed. His afternoon was notable, too, for a glaring miss as well as some beguiling movement. His manager said: "He played very well."
His thoughts then turned to strengthening what is looking a formidable attacking armoury. Samir Nasri's appearance for Arsenal against Liverpool on Saturday was something of a surprise, but reports his move to City had broken down followed. Mancini disagreed: "I hope we can have Nasri in the next few days," he said. "I am sure we [can] close in 24 hours, maybe 48. We have followed Nasri for 40 days."
Time, though, is of the essence. Should Nasri play for Arsenal against Udinese on Wednesday, he will be cup-tied for the Champions League. "A big problem," Mancini said, suggesting it would be a deal-breaker. Even beyond that, the Italian hopes for a further acquisition as well. Ambition is evident both in the transfer market and on the pitch. The handbrake is well and truly off.