Manchester City got their season off to the perfect start by thrashing West Ham United away by five goals to nil. A Raheem Sterling hat-trick followed Gabriel Jesus’ opener, and Sergio Aguero came off the bench to score a retaken penalty. Here are five things we learned as the Premier League Champions got off to a flyer.
Nothing gets me smiling quite like a goal from City’s emphatic Brazilian forward. In his first game wearing the #9 shirt, Jesus made a strong start to a season that will be all about reminding people of his status as one of the world’s best young forwards. The skilful striker surprised some by usurping Sergio Aguero in the starting XI today, but Guardiola’s decision was well justified.
Jesus showed an insatiable desire to be involved in play everywhere on the pitch, linking passes together and winning tackles as far back as Ederson’s penalty area. His goal was of the highest quality – a powerful run and clever finish at the near post – and he was unlucky not to get a second. If he keeps this up he may find himself sharing minutes more evenly with our all-time leading scorer, Sergio Aguero, across the campaign.
A Change of Pace for Walker
Last week I wrote about Kyle Walker’s impressive turn in the Community Shield, but while his highlight in that game was an astonishing bit of defending, today he contributed a fantastic assist.
Everyone knows that Walker is fast, but even City fans were surprised by the superhuman 22mph he managed to create Jesus’ goal – that’s less than two miles per hour under Usain Bolt’s average pace. Then, having made an intelligent run, Walker picked up the ball and got his cross to Jesus absolutely perfect. For the rest of the game, he was a tank, charging down attacks and further showcasing his ridiculous athleticism. Our new Portuguese signing Joao Cancelo was watching on from the bench – what better way to show him how hard it is to get into City’s line-up?
Sterling Starts Strong
In truth, I thought Raheem Sterling had a poor first half. In the City Xtra group chat I even said something like “He’s breaking down every attack he gets involved in”. That’s coming from someone who usually avoids criticising the Englishman; I’ve proudly called Sterling my favourite player in the world for over a year now.
In the second half, though, it was a totally different story. Raheem was at his lethal best once more and he now has twice as many goals this season as the rest of the squad combined. His first goal was a typical cool finish to end a counter-attack, his second a beautiful lob over Fabianski and the third a great little sweetener. Hat-tricks are becoming a more and more common occurrence for Sterling as he sent himself to the top of the Golden Boot race. I know it’s only gameweek one, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he stays there.
Many people tipped Riyad Mahrez to have a brilliant season this year after settling in over his first campaign. Now, it’s more than that – he has to perform if we’re to achieve anything this season, because Sané’s injury means Sterling will be needed on the left all year. Happily, the Algerian was pretty much perfect on his first game back from the African Cup of Nations.
After a few scoring chances in the first half, Mahrez assisted Sterling’s second goal with a glorious dinked pass over the top of the West Ham defence. Next, he won the penalty from which Aguero (eventually) scored. To cap it off, Riyad managed to set up Sterling’s hat-trick with the kind of pass De Bruyne would be proud of. A confident Mahrez is a joy to watch, and today he looked a different man.
The ‘V’ Word
At the start of the new season, this was a perfect game to highlight a fundamental flaw with the newly implemented VAR system. Yes, most of the decisions were taken fairly quickly and yes, they were all correct. What worries me is the passion that was sucked out of the match. I know I’m not the only City fan who didn’t even bother celebrating Sterling’s second goal, convinced that some minute detail would be found to justify ruling it out.
Over the course of the season, I fear fanbases across the league will become accustomed to holding their breath at every goal, penalty save or spot-kick awarded, waiting to see if it will be overturned before letting themselves get excited. We’ll see a huge increase in decision accuracy this season, of that there’s no doubt at all. The question is this: is it a sacrifice worth making?
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