After a sluggish midweek win over Fulham in the Carling Cup, Manchester City welcomed West Ham United to the City of Manchester Stadium hoping to bounce back to the entertaining, attacking form which had seen four wins to start the league campaign. City were no doubt expected to attack against the Hammers, given that two forwards in the City lineup, Carlos Tevez and Craig Bellamy, were formerly West Ham stars and looking to impress against their former employer.
And attack City did, stringing passes together for an early corner and a 5th minute Carlos Tevez goal after a great buildup and pass from Martin Petrov. Petrov’s first touch into the box looked a bit poor but he made no mistake about his pass just in front of Robert Green and right onto the boot of Tevez who made no mistake about putting it away.
After the goal, City took the game by the scruff of the neck and fluid attacks with input from De Jong, Bridge, Petrov, and most impressively Bellamy led to several glorious chances Tevez nearly converted. Indeed, as the ESPN commentators indicated in a broadcast available nationwide in the United States, Tevez could have had a hat trick easily within the first 15 minutes. The key to it all was the interplay between the forwards who picked apart West Ham’s defense like they were children, which was made possible by City’s long spells of possession due to the incessant work of rising defensive midfielder Nigel De Jong. He was box to box tonight, but not in an attacking way. Eager to track up as it were he tackled and won the ball all over the pitch and insured no rest for Robert Green and the beleaguered West Ham defense.
Despite this dominance, City were poor on set pieces defensively again this week, which cost them in the 24th minute as they conceded an ugly penalty box ricochet goal for Carlton Cole thanks to bad marking. Having conceded against the run of play midweek City fans could have been forgiven for a typical ‘typical City’ reaction and the expectation of maybe conceding points to a bad but lucky West Ham side. However, calling the West Ham goal ‘against the run of play’ is like calling a mule-drawn wagon travelling the wrong way on the Autobahn ‘against the flow of traffic.’ This is no typical City side, and Hughes’ men were soon back to work assaulting Green’s goal and a brilliantly converted Juninho-esque free kick from Petrov put City ahead in the 31st.
The North West Galacticos never looked back and indeed Shay Given was not asked to make too many saves, though Bridge and Lescott were at fault for some sloppy play. Bellamy, Petrov, and Tevez continued to do to West Ham’s defense what Michel Platini has done to common sense, and in the 61st Tevez got his brace with a header placed past Green into the corner of the net to make it 3-1 city.
While City and West Ham continued playing, after Tevez got his second and City their third the match was a foregone conclusion. Poorly constructed West Ham midfield play was eaten alive, instantaneously, by De Jong and defensively eager wingers Wright-Phillips and Bellamy, who, though worthy of all the Sky Blues of a goal, tried to replicate his goal from distance from the derby to no avail.
Hughes was happy with his lineup and made two late subs, Roque Santa Cruz in his debut appearance for City coming on for a mildly disappointing Wright-Phillips, and Michael Johnson, appearing for the first time in as long as anyone can remember, replacing Barry. Santa brought no gifts (it is September still) as his lengthy absence from football showed bungling an opportunity in the box, but this was quickly forgotten in the wake of an even more egregious bungle from Petrov who would have slotted home had he any kind of right foot.
All in all, it was a solid, professional performance from a dominant City side playing aesthetically pleasing football. Mark Hughes will take pride in 21 shots, 10 on target, controlling possession, few serious threats from West Ham, and three points putting City third with a game in hand and even in the loss column with Chelsea and some team I have never heard of from Trafford. Had Carlos Tevez had a bit of luck, it would have been four from him today, but what is important here is not the margin of victory. City have a conventional attack, which led to their goals, but they also have a riotous, Brazilian-style counter attack and when that clicks, we will soon see even better scoring form from Manchester City. The shirt color is a bit different, but I tell you today, there wasn’t much difference between Petrov, Tevez, and Bellamy today and Kaka, Robinho, and Luis Fabiano a few weeks ago.
Shay Given 7
Pablo Zabaleta 7
Did what was asked of him.
Joleon Lescott 6
Poor tackling at times.
Wayne Bridge 6
Decent going forward but uninspiring defensively.
Kolo Toure 7
Captain held the line.
Gareth Barry 6
Good but not spectacular as he can be.
Nigel de Jong 8
He’s on fire.
Carlos Tevez 8
Two goals but should have had more.
Craig Bellamy 8
When fit Hughes’ first selection after Given.
Shaun Wright-Phillips 6
Lots of activity, little result.
Martin Petrov 8.5
Fighting for his place, performances like today give Hughes food for thought.
Roque Santa Cruz 5
Came in, missed one opportunity.