Sunday 22 April 2018

Silva's late intervention keeps City on right track

Man City 2 West Ham 1

David Silva celebrates scoring Manchester City’s late winner against West Ham United. Photo: Getty Images
David Silva celebrates scoring Manchester City’s late winner against West Ham United. Photo: Getty Images

Jason Burt

After almost an hour, we were heading towards the possibility of Pep Guardiola marching on to the pitch at the final whistle for another manic Pep talk; this time he would not confront an opponent, but 11 red-faced men.

Manchester City, for a good stretch of this game, struggled against a West Ham side fighting for their lives. They set up with 10 players behind the ball, but showed they were capable of delivering a bloody nose by taking a shock lead.

It was a bloody nose, but not a knockout blow because, once again, City found the impressive reserves to rally and turn things around with a late, late show.

David Silva's 83rd-minute goal capped it and it is now nine points that they have salvaged from that minute until the end of a game this season.

Without those late interventions, they would not be top of the league. 'Pep time' has replaced 'Fergie time'.

In the last week alone, they have overturned a similar half-time deficit at Huddersfield Town, scored the winning goal with the last kick of the match against Southampton - before that infamous Nathan Redmond incident - and turned over another losing position to re-establish their advantage to eight points over Manchester United.

Manchester City's Nicolas Otamendi scores his side's first goal of the game. Photo: PA
Manchester City's Nicolas Otamendi scores his side's first goal of the game. Photo: PA

The Manchester derby at Old Trafford next Sunday has taken on an even more extraordinary importance; if that was at all possible. This was City's 20th straight win in all competitions - 28 including the end of the previous campaign - and their 13th in the Premier League, joining only Arsenal (2001-02) and Chelsea (2016-17) in achieving that in a single season.

The overall record is 14, set by Arsenal, over two campaigns and so could be equalled against United. If it is, if City go 11 points clear, the title race is surely over.

What will give them further belief is Guardiola himself, although he will be concerned at disappointing performances from - in particular - Sergio Aguero, Danilo, Eliaquim Mangala and Kyle Walker.

Slow

Manchester City's Eliaquim Mangala and West Ham United's Michail Antonio battle for possession. Photo: REUTERS
Manchester City's Eliaquim Mangala and West Ham United's Michail Antonio battle for possession. Photo: REUTERS

The manager even said that he had "learnt" from this game and the turning point was clear: it came at half-time when he took off the ineffective Danilo, who was at left-back, switching Fabian Delph there from being the holding midfielder, and bringing on Gabriel Jesus. His team, he said, had been too "slow".

It meant City went to a 4-1-3-2 formation or, effectively, 4-1-1-4, with Kevin De Bruyne the deepest-lying midfielder. Guardiola went for it. It was another successful Pep talk.

Up until Silva's goal, the story would have been about West Ham's stand-in goalkeeper, Adrian.

The Spaniard produced a series of outstanding, flying saves as he grasped his chance with first-choice Joe Hart, on a season-long loan from City, ineligible.

West Ham, though, carried a threat. Michail Antonio was deployed as a lone striker and it is a role, with his power and pace and ability in the air, that he can thrive in.

Manchester City's Raheem Sterling reacts after a tackle from West Ham United's Arthur Masuaku. Photo: REUTERS
Manchester City's Raheem Sterling reacts after a tackle from West Ham United's Arthur Masuaku. Photo: REUTERS

However, it was from set-pieces, corners in particular, that they were at their most dangerous - and City, again, their most vulnerable.

There was an early warning when Antonio reached a Cheikhou Kouyate flick-on, but at full stretch he volleyed over from close range. City dozed once more as Aaron Cresswell played a corner short to Manuel Lanzini. He returned it to the defender, whose inswinging cross was met by Angelo Ogbonna, with Nicolas Otamendi caught out, and he powered a header down into the turf. Ederson got a hand to it as it bounced up, but could not prevent the goal. Wow.

There was a sense of disbelief at half-time and that continued until Delph won a free-kick on the penalty area's edge. Adrian, inevitably, superbly pushed away De Bruyne's effort, but the ball was eventually returned as Sterling and Jesus combined. Jesus crossed low for Otamendi to earn himself some redemption by bundling home under the challenge of 18-year-old Irish defender Declan Rice.

West Ham began to tire, were pushed even further back and paid the price.

West Ham United's Adrian gathers the ball from Declan Rice. Photo: REUTERS
West Ham United's Adrian gathers the ball from Declan Rice. Photo: REUTERS

After Ederson had denied Antonio on a rare breakaway, West Ham fatally stood off De Bruyne, who was given time and space - which he does not need - to weigh up a cross that was a gift to Silva, who slid in to volley the ball back across Adrian.

Finally City were ahead, although in injury-time West Ham had one last chance, with Marko Arnautovic cutting the ball back to fellow sub Diafra Sakho, who steered his shot narrowly wide.

City won. Again. Despite their difficulties, it felt strangely inevitable, which would suggest the narrowness of their wins, the ability to make such late comebacks, is the sign of champions.

Or it could, dangerously, be the mark of a team who believe they are already champions. We will soon find out. Next Sunday is a litmus test - for red and for blue. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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