It was back to the capital for the Manchester City Title Roadshow today and once again City were afforded the “guard of honour” by West Ham United in the hope that generosity would prevail enabling West Ham to collect the three points they need to secure Premier League football next season.
Guardiola made a few changes bringing back Walker and Otamendi in defence, Fernandinho to his customary position while resting the 2 Silvas in favour of Gundogan and Sane.
The early generosity, however, came from the hosts. Playing a strange 5-3-2 formation which was clearly leaving them light in midfield, the Blues simply over-ran them in the early exchanges, but by the same token, Walker looked a bit out of sorts with his first half a dozen passes finding the opposition and bringing City’s attacking prowess to a halt.
Further forward, City were having one of those days when the chances that arrived were inches away from being convertible until with a dozen minutes on the clock and with Sane and Sterling on their opposite wings, Sane struck a fairly routine shot goalwards. Adrian, standing in for Hart looked to have it covered until the ex-Stretford Evra nodded it into the opposite corner.
The London Stadium appeared to be awaiting a City landslide and it certainly looked to be heading that way after misses by Sane, Sterling, and Fernandinho. The after 27 minutes City were active again with movement around the Irons penalty box and the pace of Sterling creating panic.
It started with the inevitable de Bruyne, who released Sterling in behind the Hammers backline. Raheem returned it to de Bruyne who drove it across the six-yard line. On its way, it touched Adrian, hit Rice and finally went in of the backside of one Pablo Zabaleta. So City were easily 2-0 to the good with both of West Ham’s fullbacks on the scoresheet, one ex-Stretford, the other ex-City.
The ease with which it was able to get through the Irons effectively caused a bit of a switch-off and the Hammers began to claw themselves back into the match. Laporte had already sold Ederson a short one before doing so again. This time the Brazilian netminder tried to trick Arnautovic, lost it and the big forward slotted it home. The assistant referee flagged for a foul on Ederson and the chance went away. But this put West Ham on the front foot. They were sensing City’s intensity had been less than it should have been and pushed ahead. A poor clearance by Laporte almost cost City a penalty, but the resultant foul by Gundogan was given outside the box.
Up stepped Cresswell to curl a beauty into the bottom corner, to reduce the arrears and put renewed hope into the minds of the hosts.
The Blues managed to get themselves to the break still ahead, but having given Moyesout encouragement, in that City’s backline looked far from secure and with their front line looking profligate rather than deadly.
But City came out in the second half in a totally different frame of mind. The second half was not to be a silent stroll towards the World Cup, it was to be business as usual, Etihad style. Having said that Sterling, who should by now have been taking the ball home failed again. In the next attack, de Jesus collected the ball a few yards inside the West Ham half. Sterling was in acres of space on the right, cut back and slid a peach of a pass back into the path of the onrushing de Jesus who made no mistake.
This pretty much removed the head of steam the Hammers had generated towards the close of the first half and City moved from first to second gear. Sterling again scorned the type of chance that Mo Salah would have laughed at.
Just past the hour, Fernandinho won the ball in typical style on halfway and sent Sterling away down the right with the West Ham defence once again in absentia. As he looked left there were all manner of Blues in the queue for the cross and Sterling played a pinpoint pass back to Fernandinho who drove it straight into the bottom corner. It was becoming shooting practise for City.
Almost immediately Guardiola replaced Walker with Danilo. It had not been one of Walker’s more outstanding displays. Then with the crowd singing Yaya Toure songs, it was time to pull Gundogan, uninspiring today and send on the big man.
City were still driving forward at every opportunity, and there were plenty of them. With the goalkeeper out of place, de Jesus poked the ball towards the line from in the middle of three defenders but it was ex-City stalwart Zabaleta who cleared it away to give rise to a string of Zaba songs from the travelling City fans. Sterling should have had a nailed-on penalty when chopped down in the box, but the assistant who missed one for West Ham in the first half must have been wearing a blindfold to miss this one. A shocking performance by a poor assistant referee.
With ten minutes left de Jesus was given his ovation, having performed tirelessly for most of the afternoon and claiming a goal. But it was not Foden who was sent on. We expected him to get the final match he needs to become the youngest ever player to win a Premier League Champions medal, but maybe next week.
Instead, Pep replaced de Jesus with Nmecha who would make his Premier League debut. City were now once again cruise control. There still chances arriving, but it looked less important to take them. West Ham, having sent on three replacements that did not include a disgruntled Carroll, were basically strolling about devoid of ideas and devoid of the ball. They didn’t really have a clue what to do with it if they did get it back, so once again the possession stats were piled high in favour of City.
At one point Gary Neville said “We’ll have to be careful or City will have made more passes than there are West Ham fans left in the stadium”, as the route to Stratford tube station was reaching overload.
City were quite easily seeing out the match. Not even another ex-Stretford, the dreaded Chicharito, could affect the match as the half approached its close with West Ham not having offered a shot of any kind in the second half, despite how well the ended the first half. They were unable to carry on that momentum as City were in no mood to allow it in the second half.
Raheem Sterling might have missed two hatfuls of chances, but it was his outstanding contribution in the early stages of the second half when he tore the Hammers to shreds and set up the two goals that swayed the broadcasters to allow him man-of-the-match. It would have made it so much better for him had he converted at least one of his chances.
But City move on. They have now equalled the highest number of goals scored in a Premier League season and will almost certainly establish another new record next week against strugglers Huddersfield at the Etihad when the match will be followed by the presentation ceremony.
On Monday 14 May, the streets of Central Manchester will be a sea of blue and white as Guardiola’s men emulate those of Manuel Pellegrini in parading two trophies throughout the City Centre.