City flying with Merlin

West Ham 1 Man City 3

City flying with Merlin

“We call him Merlin,” Michah Richards says. “He’s like a little wizard isn’t he?”

In magically curling the ball into the corner, Silva immediately transformed this match from an increasingly awkward 2-1 to a routine three points. The issue is now whether he has changed City’s campaign too.

Because, prior to that goal, it was not just the outcome of the game in question. On 58 minutes, Ricardo Vaz Te had acrobatically overhead-kicked the ball past Joe Hart to cut Chelsea’s lead. Suddenly, West Ham were building a charge and creating chances. City, by contrast, looked like they were beginning to buckle in the manner they had when squandering leads in 3-2 defeats to Cardiff City and Aston Villa. Without an away win before this game, manager Manuel Pellegrini admitted he was starting to worry.

Rather than give way to their clear defensive issues, though, City illustrated their attacking brilliance. It gave them that key first win on the road and may yet prove an important reversal. Richards certainly thinks so and admits it had been nagging at the team.

“We threw points away before, they are the ones that will make you win. We always play well in the big games, it’s the away games that we need to sort out, so today was a nice little benchmark for us,” he said.

“If you look at the games, especially against Villa, we played really well. We just had a lapse in concentration at the end and that cost us. But today, when they got the goal, we stayed strong and got the goals in the end. I thought the front five were outstanding today and Silva and Aguero were just breathtaking.”

As well as taking the breath away, Aguero took advantage of some poor defending that was uncharacteristically lax for a Sam Allardyce defence. In this sense, City were as fortunate as they were occasionally fantastic.

On 16 minutes, Aguero took advantage of a flat-footed back line to roll the ball past Jussi Jaaskelainen. On 52, he was left unmarked at a set-piece to head in.

At the other end, in contrast to the 3-0 win away to Tottenham Hotspur, this was certainly a game in which a strikerless formation cost West Ham. Mohamed Diame, in particular, missed one chance perfect for a proper striker.

Allardyce admitted he needs Andy Carroll fit again, while Mark Noble struck a similar chord: “There were spells in the second half where we had our goal and if we had that bit of cutting edge, someone in good goalscoring form it could have been a different game.”

Yet, as slack as West Ham were for most of this game, there could be no disputing the slickness of some of City’s passing. It was an energised display. Pellegrini actually told his team beforehand that Manchester United had beaten Southampton 1-0, along with wins for Chelsea and Arsenal.

Richards admits that was a bit of “reverse psychology” but may have been important given both the need to finally win away and the burning irritation at how last season went.

“We just knew we had to win. If we had dropped points today... we watched Liverpool because they kicked off early. They looked strong and Arsenal just keep winning so I think people always say Arsenal will blow up but when a team gets that confidence going it’s hard to stop.”

And last season?

“Yes, of course it hurt, especially to United. Because squad-wise I think we had one of the best in the league. There was no reason why we shouldn’t have been up there.

“How many points was it in the end, 11? It’s not really good. I think, this season, we have to make sure we correct that.

“This season it’s even harder because Chelsea look strong, Arsenal and then there’s Liverpool. So you’ve not just got an eye on United, you’ve got an eye on all the rest of the teams, so it’s going to be tough. Whoever wins it this year will really deserve it because there are so many teams that can win it.”

Few, however, have the strength in depth of City.

“It is scary,” Richards says. “When we don’t play well, that’s why people get on our backs because they see so many good players.”

Those good players now finally have a good away win behind them too.

WEST HAM UNITED: Jaaskelainen 8; Demel 5 (O’Brien 65), Tomkins 5, Reid 5, Rat 5; Noble 6, Morrison 5, Diame 5, Vaz Te 6 (Jarvis 65), Downing 6, Nolan 5 (Petric 83).

MANCHESTER CITY: Hart 6; Richards 6, Garcia 6, Nastasic 7, Clichy 6; Fernandinho 7, Toure 8, Nasri 7 (Milner 74), Silva 9; Aguero 9 (Jovetic 82), Negredo 8 (Kolarov 66).

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