Pep Guardiola started Nolito in attack ahead of his Spanish compatriot and low cross extraordinaire, Jesus Navas. Willy Caballero returned to the side following what was Joe Hart’s final appearance in the midweek Champions League qualifier against Steaua Bucharest. Still surprised not to see a Scum back page including a photoshopped Guardiola and a farm animal with the headline, “Guardiola has no Hart as he puts Willy in.”
Hart’s newly signed replacement, Claudio Bravo, is expected to make his debut in the Manchester Derby after the International break.
The Hammers started in a 3-5-2 formation. Michail Antonio – who deservedly received a call-up to Sam Allardyce’s first England squad – dropped to wing-back from his more natural attacking midfield position.
West Ham’s injury list meant a debut for Slaven Bilic’s recruit from the red side of Manchester, Ashley Fletcher. The forward was, on paper at least, partnered with Ecuadorian forward, Ener Valencia.
The first half turned out to be as one sided as a Fox News point of view, with Man City taking control of the game. Besides the two-goal lead provided by Raheem Sterling and Fernandinho, the home side also forced their opponents to change their approach.
Guardiola’s side was essentially a 4-1-4-1 with Sergio Aguero occupying the three defenders while the wide men Sterling and Nolito pinned West Ham’s wing-backs into a full-back position. This allowed David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne to press ahead and break the midfield line as Bilic’s side morphed into a formation closer to 5-4-1.
City’s ten attempts at goal were double that of West Ham’s but the two goals were the only efforts on target during the first 45 minutes.
The second half saw the introduction of Sam Byram for the quiet Gokhan Tore. The former Leeds defender’s entrance allowed Antonio to push forwards and ultimately score a carbon copy of his winner from last week’s home match against Bournemouth.
Despite West Ham reducing the deficit, City continued to create chances but was somewhat wasteful with only three from 12 shots testing Adrian in the West Ham goal. The last effort saw Sterling put the game to bed in injury-time as Guardiola flung his arms in the air wondering why it took so long to kill the game.
Unsurprisingly, Man City had the majority of possession (67%) and that’s to be expected throughout the season. What is worth noting is that in addition to double the possession, Guardiola’s side played twice as many backpasses as their visitors from London (20-9).
The difference in this area between both Manchester clubs – who face each other at Old Trafford on September 10th – is quite clear. Under Jose Mourinho, Man Utd have played 10, 5 and 9 backpasses during their opening three games in the Premier League. This suggests a more direct approach when attacking, particularly with target man Zlatan Ibrahimovic up top, while Man City has played 16,18 and 20 to Willy Caballero.
The Argentinian keeper was preferred to England’s Joe Hart due to his superior distribution. But the arrival of Bravo from Barcelona will see Caballero revert back to his role as no.2 in the pecking order at the Etihad.
The overall pass list showed how much of the ball the Citizens had. The top eight were Man City players while only Mark Noble and Adrian completed enough passes to feature amongst the home side’s starting 11.
Naturally, a greater amount of possession should result in more chances created, thus increasing the likeliness of a win…unless you’re Liverpool at Burnely. This game followed traditional thinking and the way in which the opportunities were fashioned might give further indication as to Man City’s general control of proceedings.
Only one of the seven chances West Ham created was via a short pass. Long balls and crosses were the go to options when trying to claw back the early deficit following Sterling’s opener.
City meanwhile, created more than double their opponent’s chances with a total of 18. There was a variety in terms of where and how they were generated which would have pleased their manager no end.
The resurgence of Sterling has been credited to the immediate impact of his new club manager. The former Liverpool winger seems to have his self-belief back following a disappointing European Championships.
Just looking at the 21-year-old’s first three league games this season compared to his 60 minutes during that shock elimination at the hands of Iceland proves how much better he is playing.
|RAHEEM STERLING||1-2 Iceland (60mins)||2-1 Sunderland||Stoke 1-4||3-1 West Ham|
|Pass Completion||72.7% (8/11)||80.4% (41/51)||74.3% (26/35)||84.6% (33/39)|
His two goals and two assists in three league games bode well for the season. His defensive performance at Stoke was particularly impressive aside from the mismatch marking on Ryan Shawcross which led to a penalty. Both City and England fans will be hoping for this form to continue as he rediscovers his confidence under the tutelage of Guardiola.
West Ham will be disappointed with their first half showing. Bilic needs to take some of the responsibility for setting his team out wrongly from the start but the Croatian can point to the numerous injuries he is currently dealing with, particularly to his attack. The Hammers will be a very different outfit once the likes of Sofiane Feghouli, Andy Carroll, Andre Ayew and star man Dimitri Payet return.
Man City will hope their international players return unscathed ahead of the much-anticipated showdown between Guardiola and Mourinho. There’s also concern as to whether or not Aguero will be retrospectively punished for his flailing elbow on Winston Reid. The Argentinian is the League’s best striker and would be a big loss to any side regardless of the attacking depth and flexibility City has. One thing’s for certain though, if this is the early stage of Guardiola’s effect on his team and individuals then Mourinho will be in for quite the battle.
EPL Results (Gameweek 3):
Tottenham 1-1 Liverpool
Chelsea 3-0 Burnley
Crystal Palace 1-1 Bournemouth
Everton 1-0 Stoke
Leicester 2-1 Swansea
Southampton 1-1 Sunderland
Watford 1-3 Arsenal
Hull 0-1 Man Utd
West Brom 0-0 Middlesbrough
Man City 3-1 West Ham