MANCHESTER City striker Stevan Jovetic ensured former club favourite Mario Balotelli’s return to England was relegated to a sideshow as the 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 after his move from AC Milan – it was another forward who had previously made the move from Italy who took centre-stage.

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

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Sergio Aguero added a third 26 seconds after coming off the bench to wrap up victory before Pablo Zabaleta’s late own goal.

For all their endeavour and ambition the best either could offer in the opening 40 minutes saw Edin Dzeko and Zabaleta shoot off target and Yaya Toure draw the first save out of Simon Mignolet, while for the visitors Daniel Sturridge had a nearpost effort batted away by Joe Hart.

Final Score: Man City 3 Liverpool 1

With centre-half Dejan Lovren playing only his second game and left-back Alberto Moreno making his debut there was a lack of understanding in Liverpool’s back line and that inexperience saw them undone just before half-time.

Moreno, a £12m signing missed a connection – from Lovren’s weak defensive header – allowed Jovetic to steal the ball and blast past Mignolet.

He 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 Daniel 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.

But Aguero’s strike, racing onto fellow substitute Jesus Navas’ through-ball, and exploiting the space Mignolet left at his near post.

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.

Reds’ boss Brendan Rodgers has warned Balotelli has to make the most of his chance.

“I look at the talent – he’s a wonderful talent,’’ he said. “There’s no doubt he’s at a stage in his career that this might be the last chance at a big club because he needs to settle down and show maturity.

“He’s got huge potential, but needs to come to Liverpool and be consistent because if he can do that we’ve got one hell of a player.”