Stevan Jovetic, the Manchester City striker, ensured the return to England of former club favourite Mario Balotelli was relegated to a sideshow as the Barclays Premier League champions ruthlessly brushed aside the team who ran them so close last season.

While all the pre-match talk was of Liverpool's new £16m striker - watching from the directors' box just hours after finalising his move from AC Milan - it was another forward who had previously made the move from Italy who took centre-stage.

The Montenegro internationalist endured a miserable maiden campaign dogged by illness and injury but is now reaping the benefits of a full pre-season, scoring City's first two goals either side of half-time in a 3-1 victory.

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In 153 minutes this season he has scored as many times in the league as he did in his first nine matches 12 months ago. Sergio Aguero, his main rival for a starting spot up front, added a third less than 20 seconds after coming off the bench to wrap up victory before Pablo Zabaleta's late own goal offered Liverpool some scant consolation.

While not exactly cagey in the early stages, both sides seemed to be lacking the surety which so often defines these encounters between the top sides. For all their endeavour and ambition, the best either could offer in the opening 40 minutes were shots off target from Edin Dzeko and Zabaleta, while Yaya Toure drew a first save out of Simon Mignolet. For the visitors, Daniel Sturridge had a near-post effort batted away by Joe Hart. The City goalkeeper found himself facing a variety of potential threats, with Liverpool having plenty of opportunities to test him from corners and free kicks around the penalty area, but they failed to take advantage of those and their slightly greater share of possession.

The visitors were undone when Alberto Moreno missed a chance to clear Lovren's weak defensive header; he allowed Jovetic to steal the ball from under his nose and blast past Mignolet.

Jovetic then proved his first was no fluke with a second in the 55th minute, converting Samir Nasri's cut-back from David Silva's nifty flick and should have had a hat trick but bundled a shot wide from possibly his best position of the night.

Another former City striker, Sturridge, who had what he thought was the equaliser ruled out for offside, forced Hart into a reaction save with an angled shot but there was little else from the visitors, who gave second-half debuts to winger Lazar Markovic and Emre Can. Aguero's strike, racing on to fellow substitute Jesus Navas' through ball and exploiting the space Mignolet left at his near post, showed rather pointedly that City have well and truly moved on from Balotelli.

Liverpool's final substitute of the night, Rickie Lambert, provided a small crumb of comfort by following in his own header which Hart had brilliantly saved only for the final bounce to come off Zabaleta before it crossed the line.

It was not enough. With their first rival dispatched, it is advantage City.