Friday, June 22, 2018

West Ham United 1-4 Manchester City: The Champions Cruise to Victory

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West Ham welcomed Manchester City to the London Stadium in the 35th Premier League game for both teams this season.

Points meant nothing for the newly crowned champions as their title was already mathematically secured beforehand, but they were absolutely vital for the Hammers who must be prepared to steal whatever they can to help them escape relegation.

The Teams

Manager David Moyed chose his usual three-at the-back system with wing-backs that are able to drop and extend the back-line to five in case of need. Playing against Manchester City, it was to be expected. Adrian was in goal, with Declan Rice, Angelo Ogbonna and Patrice Evra forming the last line of defence. The two wing-backs were former City left-back Pablo Zabaleta and Aaron Cresswell. The experienced duo flanked the midfield pairing of captain Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate, while Edimilson Fenandes and Manuel Lanzini supported Marko Arnautovic up front.

The visitors lined-up in their usual formation. Ederson Moraes was in goal, Kyle Walker, Nicolas Otamendi, Aymeric Laporte and Fabian Delph were the back four, Fernandinho anchored the midfield containing Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne, while Raheem Sterling on the right and Leroy Sane on the left flanked Gabriel Jesus as the centre-forward.

The Tale of Two Quarters

The game started in an expected fashion. Manchester City took control and dominated. They easily kept possession and attacked continuously, while the Hammers did their best to stay focused in defence. But playing against such a dominant team, they needed luck on their side, and it took only 13 minutes only for luck to turn its back on them.

The flow of the City attack was such that Sterling and Sane had switched sides for a moment, and after receiving the ball from Sterling, Sane tried his luck from range. Evra stood in the ball’s way and tried to divert the shot away, but all he managed to do is catch his goalkeeper on the wrong foot and send the ball into the far corner.

As for West Ham attacks, Arnautovic played with passion upfront, causing trouble for City defenders whenever he could, but he was mostly alone up there. He displayed great leadership throughout, urging his teammates to come forward and press, but they rarely listened. There was a constant feeling that he could do some damage with a little support.

Three minutes after going down, Lanzini finally provided him with that support and the pair immediately caused havoc in the visitors’ box, but Ederson reacted in the last moment ahead of Cresswell who had run up to join the fray.

However, such moments were too far apart, the ball spent a lot of the time in and around West Ham’s box. City circled around like vultures, constantly probing, continuously looking for an opening. And after 27 minutes, they found one.

A long through pass by Fernandinho surprised the Hammers’ defence and had them running back, but Sterling was ahead of them. Adrian speedily rushed out and tackled Sterling successfully outside the box, but he couldn’t keep the ball away from the England international who picked it up again, cut inside and took a shot, but now there were several defenders in the box and the shot was blocked. Nevertheless, the ball was once more picked up by City players and De Bruyne eventually squared it low across the six-yard box, Adrian diverted it slightly and unfortunately as it hit Rice and scraped off Zabaleta before trickling into the net.

Guardiola’s team dominated for a while longer, and then, in the 37th minute, West Ham broke on a counterattack and Otamendi was forced to stop Lanzini with a deliberate foul, which got him into the book of referee Neil Swarbrick. Soon after that West Ham had a goal disallowed after Arnautovic was judged to have fouled Ederson while taking the ball off the City goalkeeper before he placed it in the net.

But at that point the home team still believed they could hurt the champions, and their belief brought result. They fought bravely to win the ball high up the pitch in the 40th minute, and it ended with Gundogan giving away a foul right on the edge of the box. The position was relatively good for a left-footed shooter, and Cresswell made use of some good work by Noble and Arnautovic in the wall to guide his shot through and right into the net, almost grazing the near post.

Visibly buoyed by getting a goal back, West Ham were now playing a lot braver, pushing higher up the pitch, winning possession and coming in sight of goal. But they couldn’t find an equalizer, and during the four minutes of stoppage time, City slowly worked towards re-establishing their domination.

City Take Care of Business

After the break, the visitors were quickly in full swing again. It took them only eight minutes to put the game to bed, and it was the brilliance of Gabriel Jesus that did it.

The Brazilian attacker dropped deeper and turned playmaker for a second, releasing a beautiful pass for Sterling on the right wing, in behind the Hammers’ defence. Sterling spotted Gundogan on the far post and squared it towards him. Having seen it coming, Zabaleta quickly stepped out to close Gundogan off, but Jesus wasn’t idle after his initial pass. He ran forward immediately, and just as the defenders got in front of Gundogan, he got in front of them and claimed Sterling’s cross for himself, just inside the six-yard box. From there it wasn’t to hard to find the net for a striker of that caliber.

From that moment on, the spirit of the home team that briefly sparked in the second quarter of the game vanished, and there was only one team playing. They even had a clear penalty not given by the referee as Sterling sold a dummy to Cresswell inside the box and the West Ham defender swept his legs from under him.

The clock was showing 64 minutes when they added a fourth. The Hammers lost the ball cheaply and the champions pounced, with Sterling’s cross this time finding Fernandinho who had no problems dispatching it at a full run into the net from around the penalty spot.

David Moyes spent all three substitutions at his disposal quickly after the hour mark, but to no avail. Joao Mario replaced Fernandes, Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez replaced Lanzini, and Arthur Masuaku replaced Evra.Try as they might, the home team just couldn’t trouble their visitors anymore.

Guardiola on the other hand made his first move forcibly after 61 minutes, as Walker hobbled off the pitch and Danilo came on. Ten minutes later he called upon the experience of Yaya Toure to wrap the game up, withdrawing Gundogan from the fray. And with ten minutes remaining, 19-year-old Lukas Nmecha made his Premier League debut coming on for Jesus.

Afterthoughts

As has been said above, Manchester City didn’t need these three points, but they will still be happy with the performance they gave and the consequential result – Guardiola said before the game it was “all about breaking records now”.

West Ham on the other hand would have done a huge job had they managed to get anything from this game; not that they likely expected to. Only three points above the relegation zone, they will have to look elsewhere for good results to secure survival.

Match Report

WEST HAM: Adrian 7.5, Zabaleta 6.5, Ogbonna 7, Rice 6.5, Cresswell 7, Evra 6 (66′ Masuaku 6), Noble 6.5, Kouyate 7, Fernandes 7 (65′ Mario 6), Lanzini 7 (66 Chicharito 6), Arnautovic 7.5.

MANCHESTER CITY: Ederson 6.5, Walker 6 (61′ Danilo 6.5), Otamendi 6, Laporte 7, Delph 7.5, Fernandinho 8, Gundogan 7.5 ( 71′ Toure 6.5), De Bruyne 8.5, Sane 7.5, Sterling 7.5, Jesus 8 (80′ Nmecha N/A).

GOALS: Sane 13′,  Zabaleta (OG) 27′, Cresswell 42′,  Jesus 53′, Fernandinho 64′.

YELLOW CARDS: Otamendi 37′.

REFEREE: Neil Swarbrick.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on four different football blogs.

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