Manchester City 3 West Ham 1: If these are the first, stuttering steps of Manchester City’s new era under Pep Guardiola — and make no mistake, there are still deep flaws in his team as his own touchline antics will testify — then the rest of the Premier League could be in trouble when, and if, the manager ever gets his team playing the way he wants.
For 45 minutes, City were dominant, outplaying the opposition with an ease which had the home supporters in raptures.
But the defensive frailties which were so obvious under Guardiola’s predecessor Manuel Pellegrini were evident in the manner of West Ham pulling to within a goal of their hosts, at 2-1, and only Raheem Sterling’s second goal of the day, in injury-time, finally allowed manager and spectators to relax.
Sterling, of course, seems to have benefitted more than any player from the Guardiola revolution although his manager was quick to shift the praise onto the player.
“I’ve done nothing, it is all him,” said Guardiola. “I have just tried to do my best for all the players, not just Raz.”
This was a fifth consecutive victory for City under Guardiola and appeared all but guaranteed within the opening 18 minutes as City scored twice and threatened on at least a half dozen other occasions.
The opener came when David Silva showed great strength in midfield, slipping the ball through for Nolito who picked out Sterling with a magnificent drag back, allowing the England man to finish confidently from 12 yards.
The only surprise was that it took until the 19th minute for Fernandinho to double the lead as he rose unmarked to meet a Kevin De Bruyne free-kick and head past Adrian from seven yards. There were other chances before the interval and after the break, the pattern was re-established.
Nolito had the ball in the net, only for the “goal” to be ruled out for offside, the same winger shot into the side-netting after a half-cleared set-piece and, with Sergio Aguero appearing more influential, the Argentinian had two or three strong chances.
He also did well to avoid punishment as he appeared to catch Winston Reid with an elbow, although whether it is deemed deliberate and means disciplinary action, only the FA will decide this week.
“I didn’t see the image so I can’t comment,” said Guardiola. “Hopefully, nothing happened. If it happened, we’re going to accept that and adapt, to do our best.”
By then, Guardiola had bigger problems to contend with, having seen Willy Caballero help West Ham gain a foothold in the game on 57 minutes when he failed to deal with Arthur Masuaka’s cross and Michail Antonio rose above Nicolas Otamendi and Gael Clichy to head in.
But Sterling finally putting the game to bed in injury-time. Played through by Silva, he rounded Adrian before expertly rolling the ball over the line from a difficult angle.
MAN CITY (4–1–4-1):
Caballero 6; Zabaleta 6, Stones 7 (Kolarov 58, 6), Otamendi 7, Clichy 7; Fernandinho 7; Sterling 7, De Bruyne 9, Silva 8, Nolito 8 (Nasri 75, 6); Aguero 7 (Fernando 87).
WEST HAM (5-4-1):
Adrian 7; Antonio 7, Collins 6, Reid 5 (Calleri 77, 6) Ogbonna 7, Masuaka 6; Tore 5 (Byram 46, 6), Noble 6, Kouyate 6, Valencia 5 (Lanzini 59, 6); Fletcher 7.
A Marriner 7
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