Throughout the Premier League season, we will be reviewing Premier League matches to provide an assessment from both a Fantasy Premier League and footballing perspective. This article discusses Manchester City’s 5-0 win over West Ham.
West Ham: Fabianski, Fredericks, Diop, Balbuena, Cresswell, Wilshere (Snodgrass 56), Rice, Antonio (Fornals 45), Lanzini, Anderson (Hernandez 65), Haller
Man City: Ederson, Walker, Stones, Laporte, Zinchenko, De Bruyne (Gundogan 79), Rodri, Silva (Foden 80), Mahrez, Jesus (Aguero 69), Sterling
Key Talking Points
• Sterling hat-trick
• Aguero and Bernardo benched
• West Ham’s defensive collapse
• No way past City’s backline
• First-half sloppiness from Guardiola’s side
It seems that whatever Liverpool can do, Manchester City are able to do it even better. Having pipped the Reds to the title in 2018/19, City set the tone for the new season with an even more emphatic victory over West Ham than Liverpool could muster against Norwich last night.
The scoreline itself tells the story of the second half rather than the first. West Ham made a bright start, pressing high up the pitch in an attempt to win the ball in dangerous areas. Manuel Lanzini’s involvement was particularly notable during ventures into the City penalty area but nothing came from them aside from a couple of half-hearted penalty appeals.
Those forays did provide positive signs for a potentially productive link-up between Lanzini and Sebastian Haller, but these were only glimpses at best, given the way the game went. Nonetheless, it could well be worth monitoring this over the next few matches, during which West Ham should have more of the ball as they face Brighton, Watford, Norwich and Aston Villa.
In their own half, West Ham defended well in the main during the first 45 minutes. A narrow back four left very little space for either Raheem Sterling or Riyad Mahrez to cut inside onto their stronger foot as they so often do.
However, this setup was also West Ham’s undoing for the opening goal. Space was left down the right for Kyle Walker to make an overlapping run and cross for Gabriel Jesus, who duly opened his account for the season. Partly as a result of coming off after City took total control of the game, this was one of just two goal attempts and penalty box touches from Jesus in total.
Leaving Aaron Cresswell two on one against players of City’s quality was never going to end well and the left-back could have done with some more support from one of the midfielders on that side. But despite that minor lapse in concentration for the opening goal, it was a positive first half for Manuel Pellegrini’s men.
This was helped to some extent by City being sloppy themselves, giving possession away cheaply on a number of occasions, but fortunately for them, in areas that West Ham were not able to punish with a goal or even an attempt that would test Ederson.
The second half was a totally different story. City came flying out of the blocks, with no sign of their first-half sloppiness on show and had the ball in the net twice within ten minutes of the restart, although one was subsequently ruled out following a VAR review.
Sterling was able to open his account for the season during this period, slotting past Lukasz Fabianski to round off a fast break. City’s ability to counter at such speed meant that West Ham were unable to adopt their previously well organised defensive shape. This resulted in the likes of Sterling drifting into ever more dangerous areas as the match went on, as West Ham’s previous commitment to force the wide players away from goal disintegrated.
Aside from forcing a double save from Ederson midway through the second half, it was clear that West Ham heads dropped after the second goal.
This allowed Kevin De Bruyne, who was the provider of the second goal, to gain an even greater influence on the game. Often popping up in the right channel to form an overload with Walker and Mahrez, the Belgian created a total of three chances. Two of these were big chances, setting him on his way to top the metric for a third time after Ryan Fraser took his crown last season.
The rest of the goals came via the impressive Mahrez, who laid on two more goals for Sterling as well as being fouled for the penalty, which was eventually converted by substitute Sergio Aguero.
Frequent direct goal involvements from De Bruyne and particularly Sterling were always inevitable this season. Sterling was particularly active inside the penalty box, managing four shots as well as taking seven touches there – leaving him level with Mahrez and one behind David Silva.
But the major talking point going forward is that after such an impressive performance today, Mahrez may have just secured himself a few more matches in the team. His display was backed up statistically, as no player was able to match his tally of four chances created and only Sterling took more shots.
The unfortunate injury to Leroy Sane will see Raheem Sterling line up on the left almost every time he plays, giving Mahrez the chance to nail down a regular spot on the right, with Bernardo Silva (also able to play centrally) his only competition.
Bernardo and Aguero will be given time to shine throughout the season, as the Argentine proved from the penalty spot in his cameo role. However, the form of the front three today suggests that both Aguero and Bernardo will be kept waiting for a starting spot. That strength in depth will be vital as City seek to retain the Premier League title and mount a challenge for the Champions League.
As imperious as City were going forward today and are in almost every game, a comment has to be made on their defensive solidity. Just 23 goals conceded last season saw a return of 20 clean sheets and aside from the aforementioned Ederson double save, they looked as assured as ever.
The headlines will go to Walker after his burst down the right for the first goal, but the consistent standout in the back four over the last 12 months is without doubt Aymeric Laporte, who is further benefited by Guardiola’s preference to field a left-footed central defender. When fit, Laporte plays and when Laporte plays, City are rarely troubled defensively.
It will be difficult for any team to stop either City or Liverpool this season. Norwich managed it for a half, as did West Ham aside from one defensive lapse. The difficulty is suppressing them for the entire 90 minutes, such is the quality that the title challengers possess.