Saturday 3 December 2016

Guardiola's City picadors cut Hammers down to size

Manchester City 3-1 West Ham

Tim Rich

Published 29/08/2016 | 02:30

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: Getty Images
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: Getty Images

It's revealing that Pep Guardiola's home city of Barcelona banned bullfighting six years ago because its cruelty could no longer be justified. The next time the Manchester City manager returns to Catalonia he might like to bring a video of this game as an example of just how cruel sport can be.

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There were times, especially in the first half, when West Ham looked as helpless and hurt as a bull pierced and speared by the picadors. The wonder of the afternoon was not that a West Ham side, wrecked by injury and humiliated in the Europa League, lost but that they were not annihilated.

Guardiola has won his first three games in charge of Manchester City, which is precisely how he began his time at Bayern Munich and some of the play was as breathtaking as anything he produced at the Allianz Arena.

However, there would have been frustrations eating away at him on the journey home. Michail Antonio's goal was both defensively sloppy and gave Slaven Bilic's side, who became more resilient as the game wore on, the chance of snatching an improbable draw.

Unseen

And then there was Sergio Aguero's elbow that caught Winston Reid in the throat and forced him off the field. It was not seen by the referee Andre Marriner but the FA may inflict retrospective punishment that could cost the striker his place in the Manchester derby.

Manchester City's Raheem Sterling celebrates. Photo: Reuters
Manchester City's Raheem Sterling celebrates. Photo: Reuters

As it is, Manchester City top the embryonic table on goal difference and had shots from Manuel Nolito and Aguero been only slightly better directed or had Adrian not blocked Samir Nasri at close range, the difference would be more than a single goal.

Having been knocked out of Europe by Astra Giurgiu, a club from the furthest corners of the Europa League, West Ham would not have relished their journey north. In the opening minutes, first Aguero and then David Silva had sent shots slithering past both of Adrian's posts and then, with a relentless inevitability, they were behind.

The isolation and elimination of Joe Hart has been the principal drama of Guardiola's first few weeks in Manchester but the rebirth of Raheem Sterling is something for which the new England manager Sam Allardyce would be grateful.

The forward, who endured almost as wretched a European Championship as Hart, scored the first and third goals of the afternoon.

Sergio Aguero of Manchester City is challenged by Winston Reid of West Ham United. Photo: Getty
Sergio Aguero of Manchester City is challenged by Winston Reid of West Ham United. Photo: Getty

The first was a pure Guardiola goal, a move than began with the goalkeeper and threaded its way down the pitch like liquid. Stopping it was like trying to prevent a flood with a pillow.

The key move was a one-two between John Stones, who was playing well inside the West Ham area, and Silva that finished with Nolito pulling the ball back for Sterling to crack home. It was his first goal for Manchester City since March.

Guardiola puts down the difference in Sterling's play to the fact that he now 'feels love from the coach'.

He also has the knack of being in the right place at the right time. Silva had just smashed a shot against the post when Sterling took the ball past the 'keeper and, spotting a gap between James Collins and the near post, slipped his shot into a tight angle.

Manchester City midfielder Fernandinho jumps to head in their second goal. Photo: Getty
Manchester City midfielder Fernandinho jumps to head in their second goal. Photo: Getty

Collision

Hart, by contrast, is in a kind of Alaska. Everyone at the Etihad Stadium knew that this was almost certainly his last match as a Manchester City player and his announcement as the substitute 'keeper received a rolling cheer. When Willy Caballero lay injured on the ground after a collision with Ashley Fletcher, there was just a chance Hart might come on for a grandstanding farewell.

He simply sat and laughed at the prospect, Caballero continued and at the final whistle a man who has been Manchester City's finest 'keeper of the Premier League era joined his team-mates in the centre-circle.

Neither manager would have appreciated the two headed goals. City's arrived 11 minutes after Sterling's opener as Fernandinho met a free-kick from Kevin De Bruyne, delivered with pace and finesse.

The Brazilian did not feel the breath of a challenge as he met it and Adrian slapped his gloves on his thighs and shouted, hopelessly, despairingly at his defence.

Bilic, who had beaten Manchester City here last September, must have been tempted to withdraw Arthur Masuaku at the interval. The defender, signed from Olympiakos in the summer, had confessed to being bewildered by the intensity of the Premier League when making his debut at Chelsea.

Now, pulled every way by Sterling, already booked and fortunate to still be on the pitch after a couple more poor challenges, he would have craved the sanctuary of the dressing room. He was kept on and just before the hour mark, he turned Pablo Zabaleta and produced a cross that Nicolas Otamendi missed but Antonio did not.

Both managers punched the air, though the emotions in their fists were entirely different.

Independent News Service

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