Manchester City vs. West Ham: Score and Reaction from 2016 Premier League Match
City once again left Joe Hart out of goal, while the visitors handed a first start to summer import Ashley Fletcher to help cover injuries up front.BBC Sport confirmed both lineups:
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Manchester City went top of the Premier League by virtue of goal differential after surviving to beat West Ham United 3-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
Raheem Sterling and Fernandinho both scored for the Citizens during an irresistible first-half display. However, the Hammers battled back in the second half after a keen tactical switch.
Michail Antonio headed in just before the hour mark to ensure a tight finish, before Sterling added his second deep into stoppage time.
City once again left Joe Hart out of goal, while the visitors handed a first start to summer import Ashley Fletcher to help cover injuries up front.
BBC Sport confirmed both lineups:
Right, will Man City v West Ham bring us any goals?
Kick-off is 16:00 BST. Live text https://t.co/f8EQtg79Pe pic.twitter.com/E117ltYbvw
City appeared in a bullish mood from the off, passing the ball with pace and imagination. The touch and technique of Pep Guardiola's players were exceptional.
In particular, roving playmakers David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne were combining wonderfully. It was the former who slipped an exquisite ball into the inside left channel that new signing Nolito played into the path of Sterling.
The ex-Liverpool man finished with aplomb to end his scoring drought, as Sky Sports Statto showed:
Raheem Sterling ends a run of 11 apps with scoring. All 7 of his Man City PL goals have been at home pic.twitter.com/TJgQeQv1MW— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) August 28, 2016
Sterling's goal continued his swift revival on Guardiola's watch. The jet-heeled winger has always boasted the pace and intelligent off-the-ball running to terrorise any defence. Only finishing lets the 21-year-old down. More goals like this will make Sterling a consistent match-winner.
Extra goals are likely for every member of the forward line in a City team this slick and fluid. The hosts were owning the ball, a fact illustrated by this graphic from BBC Match of the Day:
A telling graphic...
The majority of the football being played in West Ham's half so far https://t.co/We1qA2rl1G pic.twitter.com/XDqWEbNLWk
City's commitment to bossing possession is a product of Guardiola's strict adherence to passing football. After one particular passage of play, James Robson of the Manchester Evening News noted just how seriously the new manager takes his philosophy:
Audible slap of Guardiola's thighs as Sterling loses possession. Seems to take it as a personal affront every time City are without the ball— James Robson (@JamesRobsonMEN) August 28, 2016
Guardiola needn't have worried, though, because City were soon two up. After all the neat passing, it was a set piece that breached the Hammers defence again when De Bruyne guided a pinpoint free-kick onto the head of Fernandinho.
De Bruyne was proving his growing creative impact, per WhoScored.com:
Kevin de Bruyne: Has registered an assist in each of his last 3 appearances for Manchester City #MCIWHU— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) August 28, 2016
It almost defied belief when City were unable to add to their lead during the rest of the near 40 minutes of the half. Even so, the suave passing combinations remained a joy to watch.
If City needed a warning against complacency, they got it less than 15 minutes after the restart when Antonio converted from close range to halve the deficit:
Another headed goal for West Ham's @Michailantonio, his 8th in his last 23 PL appearances pic.twitter.com/x71FfE7mku— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) August 28, 2016
City had been disturbed when centre-back John Stones suffered an eye problem. Aleksandar Kolarov soon replaced him.
The Hammers were buoyant after manager Slaven Bilic switched from three at the back to a classic 4-4-2 formation. It freed Antonio from defensive chores and let him focus on raiding the flanks.
The introduction of Sam Byram was key to the new shape, and the full-back proved crucial when he cleared an effort from City substitute Samir Nasri from in front of goal as the match entered the final 10 minutes.
Perhaps mindful of the danger of being caught on the break, Guardiola introduced midfield destroyer Fernando for main striker Sergio Aguero.
Yet, City still had the firepower to try to add a third, and Sterling should have got it when he brushed the side netting after being played in by Silva. The Spaniard then put Nasri through, but the former Arsenal man blazed over.
OLI SCARFF/Getty Images Silva was exceptional.
Those roles were reversed when Nasri teed up Silva, only for the pocket-edition playmaker to smash a terrific shot off the inside of the post. He was relieved when Sterling rolled in the third from a tight angle seconds later.
City were flat and disjointed in the second half but still produced a host of chances. Their free-scoring style will never be dull, and it is already giving them the edge in the title race.
Reaction to follow.