West Brom 0 Manchester City 5
It was a case of the sight of one offside flag prompting the white flag of surrender as Manchester City returned to the top of the Premier League.
OK, given how Pep Guardiola’s side attacked woeful West Brom at will, there was probably only one outcome anyway. But it was the second City goal that proved to be the decisive one that effectively opened the door for a landslide victory.
When Sian-Massey Ellis’s flag went up for offside against Bernardo Silva with the score at 1-0, a couple of West Brom’s players appeared to stop play. But Cancelo certainly didn’t as he hoisted a curling shot into the top corner from the edge of the box.
Massey-Ellis is recognised as one of the most efficient officials around but replays showed she actually allowed play to continue for a few seconds, until she thought the attacking phase had concluded – as per the rules – before raising her flag.
But after consulting the VAR, referee Chris Kavanagh awarded the goal because the offside was incorrectly flagged.
Anyone looking to criticise the officials here would be wise to consider the old adage ‘play to the whistle’.
Three goals in the first half an hour ended this match as a contest as the gaping chasm of class was laid bare between two teams apparently hurtling in opposite directions.
The fact City did it without the injured Kevin De Bruyne, who is out until some time next month with a hamstring injury, underlined their strength in depth.
Ilkay Gundogan stepped up with two goals and looks a man on form, and paid tribute to a City legend who recently passed away. Gundogan said: “I feel proud to wear [Colin Bell’s] number and I try to represent it as good as possible, to give him the tribute.
“I’m just in the right spaces at the right moment. I’m in a bit more of an offensive role, if I get the chance close to the box I try to make the right decisions. I just tried to do my best.
“We will try our best, we had a few plays in the last couple of weeks in a few different conditions, struggling with injuries, all the players are getting more and more ready. obviously Kevin is a big miss for us but we have players who will get more game time and we need everyone because everyone gives us a different quality we need to keep going.”
It acted as a powerful warning to the rest of the Premier League in this strangest of seasons where no team has taken a stranglehold on the summit that this could be their year. By the full-time whistle, West Brom had conceded 29 home goals in the Premier League this season — more than any other side in Europe’s top five divisions.
Sam Allardyce was brought in by West Brom to shore up their leaky defence — as well as repair their chronic shortage of goals.
But since his first game in charge, they have conceded 22 Premier League goals — nine more than any other side in this period.
West Brom started with real purpose and intent and their new weapon under Allardyce — their long throw-in — caused City some serious defending in the opening minutes, with three such set-pieces.
City weathered the storm to take the lead after six minutes and from then on, the outcome was never in any doubt.
Receiving a pass from Cancelo, Ilkay Gündogan took a step to sidestep his marker then curled a disguised shot beyond Sam Johnstone into the top corner of the net.
Then came the decisive second goal and the rest of the game passed like a procession.
Albion had their only effort of the first half in the 28th minute when Callum Robinson failed to get enough power or direction on his shot which trickled just wide.
And it wasn’t just that miss that was punished as City exploited a lack of concentration and some criminally lax defending for their third goal on the half hour.
Romaine Sawyers just had to clear his lines but instead was caught dithering and far too easily dispossessed by Gündogan, who turned inside Dara O’Shea before burying his shot, this time with his left foot, into the far bottom corner.
Gündogan has now scored seven goals in his last eight Premier League appearances, as many as he’d netted in his previous 61 in the competition. But the German midfielder was denied the chance of a hat-trick when he was substituted just seven minutes into the second half.
Any amount of bellowing and encouragement from Allardyce’s assistant Sammy Lee seemingly failed to lift the Baggies players.
City continued to toy with West Brom’s defence and it was no surprise when they made it 4-0 in first half time added on. Riyad Mahrez received a pass from Raheem Sterling after City worked the ball from left to right and there was a certain inevitability about what happened next. The former Leicester City winger cut inside on to his favoured left foot and whipped a shot into the far corner.
By half-time, Allardyce appeared to have opted for damage limitation as he brought on a central defender, Kyle Bartley, for Robinson, his only striker. It seemed to matter little as City’s dominance continued.
Rodri planted a rising effort that kissed the top of the bar before City made it 5-0 with alarming ease.
Rodri chipped the ball over Albion’s defence, Mahrez nonchalantly squared the ball across goal on his instep and Sterling swept home an unmissable chance from four yards.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION (4-4-1-1): Johnstone 6; Furlong 4, Ajayi 4, O’Shea 4, Gibbs 3; Snodgrass 5 (Phillips 59 mins, 5), Livermore 4, Sawyers 4, Grant 4 (Robson-Kanu 64 mins, 5); Pereira 5, Robinson 4 (Bartley, 46 mins, 5).
MAN CITY (4-3-3): Ederson 7; Cancelo 8, Stones 7, Rúben Dias 7, Zinchenko 7; Gündogan 9 (Laporte 52 mins, 7), Rodri 8, Bernardo Silva 8 (Gabriel Jesus, 60 mins, 7); Sterling 8, Mahrez 8, Foden 7 (Torres 52 mins, 7).
Referee: Chris Kavanah 7/10.