Game of the Week
Manchester City 3–1 West Ham United, The Etihad Stadium, August 28th 2016
Pep Guardiola and Manchester City made it 3 wins from 3 in the Premier League, and 5 from 5 in all competitions, as the Sky Blue’s beat West Ham 3–1 on Sunday evening.
On Saturday, both Chelsea and Manchester United maintained their 100% record, with the latter leaving it very late. Following this, the pressure was very much on City to do the business and keep pace at the top of the league before the international break. But, if City were under the pressure, they certainly didn’t show it. In the first half, Guardiola’s side were superb. An early onslaught led to the opening goal in the 7th minute as Raheem Sterling finished a superbly crafted team goal. Silva evaded multiple challenges from Valencia in the midfield to slot in the impressive Nolito who found Sterling to guide the ball past Adrien. It was a wonderful goal, and one which no doubt would’ve pleased Guardiola due to its high intensity and quick pace. It was the sought of attacking intensity which seemed to desert City last season. A second goal soon followed, as Sterling was brought down on the right hand side, which allowed De Bruyne, still searching for his first goal of the season, to whip in a beautiful cross for Fernandinho to head home emphatically. It was a timely reminder that City don’t just have to pass the ball into the net as they can also rely on their emphatic technical ability. It’s not the first time that De Bruyne’s delivery from a dead ball has been superb, last weekend Aguero profited from another stunning free-kick to score against Stoke.
In the second half, City were less impressive, to the obvious concern of Guardiola. Antonio pulled one back for West Ham on the hour mark, as City began to retreat into their own half. Bilic’s side grew in confidence as the away team stormed forward trying to find an equaliser. In the end, it was another Sterling goal which sealed the 3 points for City as the ex-Liverpool man displayed the composure needed of a top quality striker to round Adrien and slot the ball home from a difficult angle. Pep’s celebration was short lived however, as he displayed a mix of frustration and ellation. It was the perfect way to cap off a near perfect performance by Sterling. The £49m man was under immense pressure this season following his relatively poor performances last year and his dismal Euro 2016. Given Pep’s harsh style, as Joe Hart will vouch for, many expected Sterling to suffer under Guardiola. Yet, it seems as though the new manager has put the Englishman at the centre of his plans as he personally tries to improve Sterling’s ability. The quality of the two finishes from Sterling demonstrates the high confidence he is currently playing with and the hard work he is putting into getting better. I’d expect his performances to get better and better as City become more accustomed to Pep’s tactics and style.
And what next for both teams? For West Ham and Slaven Bilic, its another defeat. In the first half, West Ham were on the ropes as City absolutely dominated. Of course, Bilic will be disappointed by the lack of threat from his side going forward, but he’ll be pleased with West Ham’s resurgence in the second half, where they matched City. Antonio’s second goal, in as many games, will delight his manager, certainly after his poor defensive error costed West Ham the opening goal in their defeat against Chelsea on the opening day. Up next, is another home game at the London Stadium against Watford, who were beaten 3–1 by Arsenal this weekend, and a game which the Hammers will expect to win. Bilic will be relieved that his team now have 2 weeks to recuperate and recover, as players begin to come back from injury. Key man, Dimitri Payet is still not fit enough to play, and new signings, Zaza and perhaps a few more before tomorrow night’s deadline, need to have time to settle in.
For City, Pep will be feeling some mixed emotions. The performance in the first half was sensational from the home side. Yet, City let West Ham back in the game as they couldn’t maintain the same intensity, which will be cause for concern. Next up for City is the first Manchester derby of the season which pairs Jose and Pep together for the first time since their titanic clashes in Spain. With both teams leading the title race, this game could be an early indicator of where the title will end up. Before then, however, is an anxious wait for City fans as Sergio Aguero learns his fate following his elbow on Winston Reid. I’m sure there’ll be some in the Red half of Manchester who will be delighted if Sergio is suspended for the derby… but for all those neutrals, Aguero will be sorely missed. Either way, its sure to be a classic and the anticipation might even get us through the dire international break… no offence Sam.
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