It has taken Pep Guardiola exactly five games -- three of which were half-paced preseason friendlies -- to show his new audience what a difference quality makes.
Manchester City's squad has contained stellar talent in abundance for eight or more years now, but the 5-0 win over Steaua Bucharest in the Champions League playoffs on Tuesday night provided something of an eye-opener, even in these bejeweled times. It was City's biggest-ever away win in European competition and featured a strolling, effortlessly effective performance from a group of players who could go on to achieve serious notoriety under the Catalan.
For Sergio Aguero, an individual scandalously under-rewarded in the personal player accolades, it was yet another confirmation of class. Not often will we witness a footballer coming so close to equaling a totally unwanted record in a game where he scored a hat trick. Martin Palermo missed three penalties for Argentina in a 1999 Copa America match vs. Colombia. Then, as now, the striker hit one penalty over the bar and had one saved. While Palermo got the chance to take a third (which he also fired over the top), Aguero pulled himself together and smashed an incredible hat trick instead.
There was confidence and vivacity aplenty, as the ball was pinged around the bewildered Romanians, as if they did not exist. At times, the home defence stood static like traffic bollards as passing triangles zipped between their ranks.
If the season opening 2-1 win against Sunderland had showcased the visiting side's tenacious defending, here was the other side of the coin. With City's full-backs running freely into midfield and wide men playing without care nor fear, Guardiola's men were an absolute treat to watch.
The Nolito-David Silva tandem down the left once again looked a solid bet to unhook defences, while Raheem Sterling continues to enjoy the renaissance in form that many City supporters knew was on the way. The winger -- attacked needlessly last season for being an expensive transfer out of Liverpool -- also became a bizarre scapegoat for England's collective meltdown at Euro 2016. With a little praise and understanding about what makes the winger tick, Guardiola has resurrected the 21-year-old's fortunes in a matter of weeks.
With such undeniable attacking prowess on show, the work of the City defence has become of secondary interest in these opening weeks, but again Guardiola has worked his magic in this area too.
The unrecognisable Aleksandar Kolarov is enthusiasm personified, whether playing in his unaccustomed centre-back role, or -- as against Steaua -- returning to the left side of defence. With Kolarov and Pablo Zabaleta asked to join the midfield as often as possible, City's all-action, all-purpose style is easy on the eye in a way reminiscent of the Dutch 1974 World Cup side led by Johan Cruyff.
That team -- built by Rinus Michels -- gave birth to the idea of "Total Football," with versatile players able to switch positions on the pitch at the nod of a head. Cruyff later brought the same ideas to Barcelona as a player under Michels, then as the coach himself -- a line which eventually took in Guardiola as a player.
As a manager, the Catalan has become synonymous with the agile interchanging of positions; quick, clever passing and thrusting, high-pressing football.
That Steaua were dismantled with such consummate ease takes nothing away from the performance. City's previous European outing -- a 1-0 aggregate defeat at the semifinal stage last season against Real Madrid -- was memorable only for the weak-willed and colourless display served up to celebrate the club's inaugural semi in the tournament.
Manuel Pellegrini, regressing rapidly from his first gung-ho season of effervescent attacking -- ended his tenure watching his side practically raising the white flag of surrender in the Bernabeu. It is -- even in these nascent days of empire building -- difficult to imagine a side fronted by Guardiola going into any game and sitting placidly in their own half like City did on that balmy May evening.
Instead, the new coach has instilled a fearless vivacity that provides so many problems for the opposition that they do not know where to start plugging the gaps. The bandwagon rolls into Stoke next Saturday and it will be fascinating to see how Mark Hughes's energetic side deal with City's bewildering movement.
By this time there may be further news on City's only doubt at present: the goalkeeping spot. Willy Caballero, in again for the benched Joe Hart, completed another quiet game in Romania that featured two saves and a host of shanked passes out of defence. If Guardiola's well-publicised interest in Barcelona's Claudio Bravo becomes concrete, City will have the goalkeeper capable of injecting the same pace from the back that he has already engendered throughout the rest of this side.
With Caballero's evident inability to play a thrusting first-time pass, he will surely soon return to back-up status. And, when a new arrival takes his place between the sticks, the Catalan's enthusiastic team-building will be complete.