Thursday 22 August 2019

Tom Morgan: 'They may be outstanding, but watching City is boring'

Their 5-0 win at West Ham was the kind of no-contest we are seeing far too frequently, writes Tom Morgan

Making it look easy: Raheem Sterling scores Manchester City’s third goal against West Ham on Saturday afternoon. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley
Making it look easy: Raheem Sterling scores Manchester City’s third goal against West Ham on Saturday afternoon. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

Tom Morgan

These 5-0 whitewashes are becoming Pep Guardiola's equivalent of "1-0 to the Arsenal" under George Graham. Even the near-perfect demonstrations of ruthless attacking intent can get rather dull.

Manchester City, version 2019-20, are ridiculous again, near faultless in every area. We are only one game in and yet the feeling at the London Stadium on Saturday, two-thirds empty by the final whistle, was so familiar. That is the 15th Premier League match won on the bounce, and - if you add the 6-0 FA Cup final win over Watford - 15 goals in the past three competitive outings.

It all adds up to new standards in excellence, but where is the jeopardy, the sense that anything can happen, and that anyone can beat anyone in England's top tier? West Ham, after all, are supposed to be one of the sides with designs on a top-six finish this season.

The most absurd of all is Kevin De Bruyne in games such as these. He is so economical with his sprints compared to City's other live-wires, and yet without fail appears to have fate at his disposal. He bided his time for much of the first half, took in the views, then erupted into a surge through the middle to create City's second for Raheem Sterling on 51 minutes. "Time's up West Ham, you can go home now."

What are mere mortals supposed to do against De Bruyne and the likes of Sterling, who keeps getting better and better? The man who faced such flak for England now has stats to rival the very best. A goal every other game last season and now a hat-trick - which takes him beyond 50 league goals for City - in Saturday's opener.

His bursting darts off the shoulder of his marker are sometimes too quick for the naked eye. As per that Champions League quarter-final against Tottenham, the video assistant referee came closest to stopping him. On Saturday, he was judged offside for an outstretched armpit prior to what should have been an assist for Gabriel Jesus. Chants of "what the f*** is going on" and "VAR is f***ing sh**" were as loud as it got, the crowd numbed by the predictability of it all.

Bernardo Silva and Sergio Aguero were on the bench for this game, in part because Guardiola wanted to make a point about Riyad Mahrez, who had called him after winning the African Cup of Nations to say he was desperate to play again. The Algerian did, indeed, look hungry and sent a shot flashing into the side-netting, before setting up City's third with a delicate chipped cross into the path of Sterling.

There was also an encouraging debut from Rodri, who looked ever-ready to stick his foot in to ensure Jack Wilshere and West Ham's midfield were outclassed.


Wilshere said City ranked alongside the best teams he had faced. "I was saying to the new lads, it probably won't get harder for you than this first game," he said.

"Wherever they go, they have a plan and stick to it. They have great players and trust each other in possession. Even if they're marking them, they give it to them and come to want it."

The midfielder, who was an England teammate of Sterling's at the 2014 World Cup, hailed the City forward's remarkable turnaround in fortunes. "I was with him at the World Cup with England and people were getting on to him,"

Wilshere added. "It shows what type of character he is to come through that. He's a nightmare to play against."

On the abuse Sterling faced as England failed in Brazil, Wilshere added: "He wasn't even bad that World Cup but he took a lot of stick and to come from that to become the player he is, mentally he's so tough. He's playing in a great team but he's arguably their key player."

There was no need for Aguero and Bernardo in the starting line-up, but still Guardiola and De Bruyne were not satisfied.

"It was far from perfect," said De Bruyne. "The first half was a little bit tough, we couldn't find our rhythm and our organisation was a little bit chaotic." Guardiola agreed: "The first half we were sloppy in our passes.

"[We needed] our basics to be precise and be crisp, but our passes were not good."

City have won their past nine opening fixtures in the Premier League and, from the observer's perspective, the only thing "sloppy" about City was Aguero's first pathetic attempt at a penalty on 85 minutes, which was easily saved by Lukasz Fabianski. The Argentine's blushes were saved, however, after VAR showed Declan Rice had encroached and a retake was ordered.

"After what happened against Tottenham in the quarter-finals... I'm used to living these situations," said Guardiola. Unfortunately, for the rest of the Premier League, there was no sign here that teams are learning to live with City. (© Daily Telegraph)

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