It was a one-sided contest as Manchester City blew West Ham away in a cold night at the Etihad. The Hammers offered virtually nothing in attack; choosing instead to defend deep in hope that in City’s recent relatively poor run of form, they wouldn’t break them down. Once City got the first goal, the game looked a foregone conclusion.
The result gives City fans a much-needed lift after last weeks’ FFP bombshell and creates a four-point gap between them and Leicester City, who City play away this weekend. So, what have we learned from this game to take into the tense-ridden remainder of the season? Here’s our top five…
Back on track
This season has been very ‘stop-start’ for the Blues with recent games being no exception. After successive losses to Manchester United in the Carabao Cup and Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League, City needed this win. It comes at a perfect time with the fixture list for the next two months looking rather difficult.
The next week will see City try to fend off the Fox’s challenge for Premier League runner-up’s and, more importantly, the first leg of the Champions League tie against Real Madrid. This win over struggling West Ham will hopefully build needed momentum for these momentous games.
We haven’t seen this kind of push this season. Just when we think City have gotten into gear, they pull on the brakes. This most notably happened at the beginning of December when City beat Burnley away with a scintillating display, only to be soundly beaten in the derby within a matter of days.
We’ll see what happens this Saturday, but last night’s result could be the catalyst needed to spur the Blues on.
Key Players Return
There was palpable delight when the team-sheet was revealed and Aymeric Laporte and Benjamin Mendy’s names were in the starting eleven.
It’s been obvious how much Laporte has been missed at centre-back, but now he’s back it should also provide Mendy the adequate cover he’s needed to contribute more going forward. The eccentric Frenchman was a huge part of City’s attacking play in this match, and he should feel freer to play this role with his more subdued countryman running the back-line behind him.
While the fandom waits with baited breath for Leroy Sané to make his long-awaited return, City’s squad is starting to look like it has the depth needed to make a go of the rest of this difficult campaign.
Jesus and Agüero together
It’s been debated for some time whether Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus can be accommodated in the same team and Pep Guardiola decided to give it another go.
Rather than Jesus start on the left and cut inside as Sterling often does, he was positioned more centrally, taking turns with Aguero leading the forward line, with the other dropping back to provide an extra man deeper and drag defenders out of position. This worked with relative success as either man found themselves through on goal at various points throughout the game.
If either took their chances, City could have ran away with the game even more than the end statistics showed.
Set-piece of cake
The unthinkable has happened; and those who were there to witness it will not soon forget. Manchester City were able to score from a corner kick.
Kevin De Bruyne added another assist to his tally as he curled the ball into the edge of the near-side six-yard box to the tallest man on the pitch. Rodrigo headed the ball to the back-post and into the net, with Laporte there for a tap-in just in case.
Who would have thought that accurately crossing the ball to a big man in the box would reap dividends? Hopefully this wasn’t just a result of a man of the match performance from either midfielder, and this is something they’re able to replicate in future matches. If City can take advantage of the number of corners they get game after game, it’s another string in the bow at an opportune moment.
It’s all about the game
Many City fans will have had their weekends ruined last Friday when UEFA unexpectedly announced the verdict of their investigation into the club for breaking FFP regulations. The fallout that has ensued is something our fans shouldn’t have to go through.
For a long time now, criticism of the owners and their running of our club has segued into condemnation of our support. By replacing words like ‘tribalism’, which can be attributed to a fan of any club, with ‘sports washed’; we’ve been singled-out. Our support is somehow different, less-than, and our loyalty to the club we love portrayed as a negative.
It’s expected for rival fans to do this. ‘Empty seats’ and ‘plastic fans’ have been used as a stick to beat City with for some time, but recently this has been picked up by the national media, giving legitimacy to criticisms that shouldn’t go beyond pub banter or an argument between Twitter bots.
After the news broke about the severity of City’s Champions League ban, it was open season and no stone went unturned as media outlets from sports journalists to TV comedy accounts and American musicians weighed in with their hot-takes.
So, it was a massive relief to have an actual football match to watch. Although the stadium wasn’t full, it was a great atmosphere, with the usual chanting and gallows-humour you’d expect from City fans. It was a reminder of what we’re actually in this for; to support our club over 90 minutes of football.
There’s nothing we can do about the accusations of ‘cheating’. That’s for the club, UEFA, and the courts to settle. All we can do is what we should be doing; showing support for our club. If anyone wants to criticise us for that, they’ve lost the point of what all this is about.
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