Saturday 21 April 2018

Jesus shows way as City hint at renewed title push

West Ham 0-4 Man City

David Silva scores Manchester City’s second goal during their 4-0 victory over West Ham. Photo: Getty
David Silva scores Manchester City’s second goal during their 4-0 victory over West Ham. Photo: Getty

Jason Burt

Suddenly there is fresh impetus to Manchester City's season, a verve, a samba swagger, a one-touch destructiveness with the introduction of 19-year-old Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus already making the significant difference.

A star has arrived in the Premier League as he took Sergio Aguero's place and, maybe, the first step to taking his long-held mantle as the league's best striker.

This emphatic victory gave City an aggregate score of 12-1 in their three meetings with West Ham this season. What a blow for the Hammers. But they never stood a chance against a City side who moved level on points with fourth-placed Liverpool and just a point behind second-placed Tottenham. Playing like this they are back.

Jesus arrived at the start of January and, before this, already delivered performances of promise: a cameo and then a first start in the FA Cup last weekend.

Here he claimed his first goal, with City able to eventually bring Aguero on with Jesus moving wide to highlight that fluidity.

They have such firepower at their disposal that they could just go on a run now (they have a favourable sequence of fixtures) that - with Chelsea manager Antonio Conte watching from the directors' box - might even shake up the title race if they can improve defensively.

With Vincent Kompany now close to fitness and on the bench, even this turnaround could be possible.

A team-sheet scan brought the news: Claudio Bravo dropped and Aguero also not in the starting XI. Bravo lost his place, inevitably after his appalling form - not even Pep Guardiola is that stubborn - summed up in one damning statistic: from nine shots on target he has faced in 2017, he has saved just one.

And so it was Willy Caballero in goal, just as he was when City last visited this stadium, less than a month ago in the 5-0 FA Cup thumping. So they began with an air of confidence, and they claimed an early goal.

It came courtesy of a blunder by Aaron Cresswell, who played the ball infield from halfway but, unfortunately, straight to Kevin de Bruyne, who ran forward and with the West Ham defenders backing off slipped his pass wide to Jesus who played a clever, first-time return pass to his team-mate who, again first time, swept the ball low into the net.

And it was soon two for City, with Leroy Sane collecting De Bruyne's pass, nutmegging Sam Byram and easily beating Jose Fonte - West Ham's £8m debutant defender - to cross low inside the six-yard area for David Silva to send the ball back into the net. It was simple, skilful, and devastating.

To think West Ham had not even started badly. But they were being carved apart by City's pace and movement as Guardiola's side came at them from all angles and at all velocities. The front three of Jesus, Sane and Raheem Sterling - aged just 19, 21 and 22 respectively - are full of potential as well as being so potent in the here and now.

The goals flattened the atmosphere which fell further as a slack pass by Pedro Obiang, and Sane intercepting quickly to pick out the run of Sterling, who stayed onside, and he had the calmness to cross low for Jesus to simply tap it past Darren Randolph.

At half-time there were boos, immediately drowned out by the PA system, and West Ham appeared to have lost heart.

The inevitable fourth arrived midway through the second half when Sterling ran on to De Bruyne's curling pass, turning back inside he was caught by Fonte, who was enduring a traumatic debut, and Yaya Toure sent the resulting penalty low past Randolph.

The rows of empty seats among the West Ham fans became thicker - and there was still more than 20 minutes to go. With the stadium emptying, apart from the jubilant City fans, West Ham manager Slaven Bilic, knowing the game was up, withdrew Andy Carroll, saving him for games to come. This one was over long before the final whistle.

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