Nine goals in two visits to the London Stadium for Manchester City this season – not bad for a team struggling to keep up with their closest rivals’ goals scored and heavy goal difference. Last night’s 4-0 away victory against West Ham United may have been a goal less than their 5-0 January FA Cup third round victory over The Irons but in terms of team performance, it had just about everything to be considered as one of City’s finer moments this season.
As unpredictable as the English top flight can be, you never know what you’re going to be in for during a trip to West Ham. In recent times it’s been one extreme to the other with what feels like the consistent good form of Andy Carroll against City and West Ham’s willingness to put up a fight as in their 2-1 victory at the start of last season, severely contrasting with their fortunes against City in the League Cup back in 2013/14 losing 9-0 on aggregate. Forget about blowing bubbles, West Ham either seem to blow hot or cold and by all accounts Wednesday night was a cold one in East London.
Analysing all things City and what such a convincing victory could mean for the rest of the season, @ASelbyInfo once again offers his Sky Blue Thinking on the five major talking points to come from West Ham United 0-4 Manchester City.
1) Blink and you’ll miss them – The Speed of City’s Strikeforce
Patience and taking the time required to string together enough passes to create a clear cut opportunity is one thing but passing for passing sake can be another. That being said whilst City’s tendency in recent games has been to build cautiously from the back and win games through dominating possession, in the club’s resounding 4-0 victory over West Ham it almost felt like a City of old. With a new look front three making their Premier League debut together, the speed of centre-forward Gabriel Jesus combined with the pace and acceleration of Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sané not only seemed to instantly gel but looked frightening on the attack.
Similar to a youthful Kun Aguero, Samir Nasri and David Silva in their prime, City’s new trident with an average age of a mere 20.67 years old continued to break forward with blistering pace and often left West Ham defenders for dead. Clearly keeping up such an intense level of pressing all game is always going to fall down towards the end of a match but at its peak, City did once again look exciting and were a joy to watch especially in attack. Therefore as City look to keep up the pace with their closest rivals, their advantage in terms of speed that the club have with their trident of Sterling, Sané and Jesus could really speed up their chances of securing a top four finish before it’s too late! Take one look again at Sané’s assist for David Silva’s goal and the acceleration of both Sané and Silva – astonishing pace on the break.
2. John ‘The Warrior’ Stones
Often praised for his confidence on the ball as well as his ability to build an attack from the back but conversely criticised for his defensive inexperience and questionable in-game decisions, it’s nice to comment on John Stones in a positive light with regards to his impressive defensive display during City’s 4-0 victory. Positioning may not be his strongest facet, nor his interceptions when compared to the rashness but often decisiveness of Nicolas Otamendi in his tackles but against West Ham blues fans will have seen a much different side to John Stones than they may have done so far.
After selling Stones to City some critics and Everton fans alike may have suggested that their replacement in Ashley Williams offers more in terms of consistency and is much more of an efficient tackler but John Stones proved in City’s hammering of The Hammers that he’s certainly not there to just make up the numbers and he’s capable of being much more than just a ball playing, good with his feet central defender. As well as a courageous and astute last ditch tackle in the first-half, you need only look at his head wound for evidence of the warrior that John Stones could become at the club.
3. Are Sergio Aguero’s days limited?
After Guardiola opted for Gabriel Jesus as City’s centre forward as part of the same front three that dismantled Crystal Palace so convincingly last weekend, it meant that City’s star talisman Sergio Aguero even when fully fit was consigned to the substitutes bench. Whether it proves significant in Pep’s grand scheme will only be revealed in time but as an image, it was certainly symbolic to leave the Argentine forward on the bench. Had the plan backfired perhaps Sergio, the goalscorer let’s not forget of one the club’s most historic goals, would have been well within his rights to question the manager’s decision to field an inexperienced 19 year old in his place.
However after the Brazilian continued to shine after a busy few minutes in his first taste of English top flight football against Tottenham Hotspur and off the back of a 3-0 FA cup victory, it could be a long way back for Aguero if Pep wishes to keep with a front three that is both so raw and incredibly exciting. Don’t be surprised to see Aguero reintroduced to the fold sooner rather than later with Jesus perhaps thrown in at the deep end to see whether he would sink or swim. Nonetheless with the Brazilian waiting in the wings treading water his next opportunity it might not be long until Aguero makes his long-rumoured move away from Manchester City if Gabriel Jesus continues to impress and ends up taking the role as City’s main striking option.
4. Pep is certainly not afraid to make the big decisions
It can sometimes take a big manager to make big decisions in football and in Wednesday’s victory Pep Guardiola did just that. Living up to his no nonsense reputation and willingness to make the big decisions even if it reflects badly on his standing in the game if his calls prove costly, Guardiola dropped the South American duo of Willy Caballero and Sergio Aguero without hesitating. Should City have gone and lost the game because of Sergio’s replacement Gabriel Jesus buckling under pressure on what was his first start in the Premier League or step-in goalkeeper Willy Caballero carrying on where his goalkeeping counterpart Claudio Bravo had left off, inevitably Pep would have been left with egg on his face but sometimes it can be the courageous choices such as these which split the very good and the best managers in football.
Both rewarded for their good performances in the FA Cup, not only did City look much more secure in defence with a goalkeeper that just simply seems to fill the goal that bit more in terms of size, Jesus also offers a rawness and an element of surprise to Premier League opposition – who other than in international football won’t have seen much of him play. For all of the justification however, had City lost the game in disappointing fashion none of it would have meant anything but thankfully for Pep he continues to live up to expectations. And in a similar vein to the onlooking former City boss Roberto Mancini watching from the stands at the London Stadium, expect bigger and bolder decisions by Guardiola the longer he stays at the club.
5. Look high and look low – can you find Nolito?
Earmarked as a player that had been followed closely by Pep’s former club FC Barcelona in the summer as they attempted to provide him with a return to the club where he developed but instead the former Celta Vigo attacker Nolito followed in the footsteps of his former mentor and eventually swapped Spanish for English football. A move away for Vigo’s former talisman had been long rumoured especially after flourishing in the last La Liga campaign and subsequently breaking into the Spanish national team ahead of Euro 2016 and eventually came as City looked to have secured what initially looked like a bargain buy, costing just over £10m n a summer window where spending passed the one billion pound mark. However despite an eye catching start to English top flight life, starting all three games in August and scoring against Stoke City in the same month as the new season got underway, the Spaniard has been rarely seen since to the frustration of many a fantasy football fan up and down the country.
At present his omission doesn’t really matter given that City’s attacking trident looks as strong as ever before but if he isn’t injured or even suspended, then his absence can only be either tactical or for something other than footballing reasons. Clearly whilst City are producing the football they are doing with a near fully fit squad at Guardiola’s disposal perhaps Nolito’s time away from the limelight is one less headache to think about but given that the 30 year old provided the pre-match interview and spoke highly of the game last Wednesday, you’d have thought there’d have been some involvement at least even from the bench. His last full 90 minutes in the league came against Bournemouth in September 2016, his last appearance against Hull on Boxing Day and his last significant contribution was a goal in City’s 4-2 away defeat Leicester in December. Perhaps not a bad return when considering the meagre price paid but with much higher expectations for the Spaniard, it’s understandable why many expected more than the outlay he’s contributed so far this season. When needed in much more difficult times however only time will tell what is going on with Nolito and here’s hoping it’s merely a tactical decision by Guardiola rather than anything else!