City followed up a 2-2 Champions League draw against CSKA — a match in which they threw away a two-goal lead — by losing 2-1 at Upton Park, dropping down to third place in the Premier League in the process.
It’s not difficult to spot where their season is going wrong. City have conceded 10 goals in the Premier League this season – five more than second-placed Southampton — have only one clean sheet in the last six matches, and continue to give the impression they will always ship chances against tenacious opponents.
Certainly the jury remains out on whether the arrival of expensive summer signing Eliaquim Mangala — who cost almost €40m from Porto — has solved a long-standing problem in the centre of defence (even last season, remember, as they eased to the title, the performances of Demichelis and Nastasic were heavily scrutinised as City struggled whenever captain Vincent Kompany was absent). West Ham, in fact, successfully targeted Mangala as a weak link and, with Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia outstanding, created problems for the visitors in an impressive victory.
“I think they leave him exposed,” said West Ham manager Sam Allardyce afterwards. “He’s only just joined the Premier League. They don’t protect him and he’s only just got here, so the more and more you can get down the side of him, with the space that Clichy leaves, the better. Kompany is used to it, he’s been at this level for such a long time, this lad’s not, he’s finding his feet. We all know that Manchester City play a certain way, they come away from home expecting to win and go and attack you. We’ve seen a lot this season that the spaces they leave can be exploited by other teams. We exploited them brilliantly.”
Allardyce’s words should be a concern to City manager Manuel Pellegrini, especially with a home match against United looming on Sunday (as well as a League Cup tie with Newcastle in midweek) and fixtures against Bayern Munich, CSKA and Southampton lined up in November. But unsurprisingly, he wasn’t in the mood to discuss Mangala’s weaknesses. “When I am talking about defence, I am talking about the team, I am not talking about one individual player,” he said. “I don’t analyse the individual performance of players with the press. I do it with the players in private. But we must improve.”
In reality City, who had 70% possession and hit the bar twice through Aguero and Toure at Upton Park, had plenty of opportunities to get something from this encounter despite a leaky defence which gave away possession on too many occasions. But they did come up against a very good West Ham side, whose vibrance secured a deserved 1-0 lead, Morgan Amalfitano tapping home a 21st minute Valencia cut-back despite claims of offside. Sakho’s header — rising above Mangala for his seventh goal in a row from a Cresswell cross — sealed victory in the 75th minute, before a wonderful Silva strike, weaving past three markers and curling home a sweet left-footed effort, made the finale interesting. The only worry for West Ham is that Sakho, a summer signing from Metz, went off with a shoulder injury while Valencia must surely show signs of tiredness eventually, having played in the World Cup and moved clubs already this season. But with the two new boys on board, the Hammers are serious contenders for the top six.
“Its always about goalscorers,” admitted Allardyce. “The new boys have made a difference. You can organise your team to be solid and defensively organised, but your front men make a real difference when they get the chance.”
Pellegrini will hope Allardyce is right, because City do have the attacking players to retain their title — even if Aguero faces possible suspension if The FA, as expected, investigate his stamp on Mark Noble that was missed by referee Martin Atkinson. Whether they have the defence to complete the defence, however, is not yet so clear..
WEST HAM: Adrian 7, Jenkinson 7, Collins 8, Reid 6, Cresswell 7, Noble 7, Song 9, Amalfitano 7 (Kouyate 66; 6), Downing 6, Valencia 8 (Cole 75; 6), Sakho 8 (Nolan 88).
MAN CITY: Hart 7, Zabaleta 6, Kompany 6, Mangala 5, Clichy 6 (Kolarov 77; 6), Fernando 6 (Milner 77; 6), Toure 6, Navas 6, Silva 8, Aguero 7, Dzeko 5 (Jovetic 59;7).
Referee: Martin Atkinson.