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Manchester City went top of the Premier League on goal difference after beating West Ham United at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday. The 3-1 win showcased the best of manager Pep Guardiola's expansive footballing philosophy, along with City's considerable talent in forward areas.
It's a combination that has taken the Citizens above Chelsea and Manchester United on goal difference.
Earlier, West Bromwich Albion were held to a 0-0 draw at home by Middlesbrough. The stalemate earned each a valuable point, but the game was short of incident and attacking intent.
Here's what the table looks like with three weeks of the new season now in the books:
EPL Table: Week 3 Standings Position Club Played Won Drawn Lost Goal Difference Points 1 Manchester City 3 3 0 0 6 9 2 Chelsea 3 3 0 0 5 9 3 Manchester United 3 3 0 0 5 9 4 Everton 3 2 1 0 2 7 5 Hull City 3 2 0 1 2 6 6 Middlesbrough 3 1 2 0 1 5 7 Tottenham Hotspur 3 1 2 0 1 5 8 Arsenal 3 1 1 1 1 4 9 Leicester City 3 1 1 1 0 4 10 West Bromwich Albion 3 1 1 1 0 4 11 Liverpool 3 1 1 1 -1 4 12 West Ham United 3 1 0 2 -2 3 13 Burnley 3 1 0 2 -2 3 14 Swansea City 3 1 0 2 -2 3 15 Southampton 3 0 2 1 -2 2 16 Sunderland 3 0 1 2 -2 1 17 Crystal Palace 3 0 1 2 -2 1 18 Watford 3 0 1 2 -3 1 19 Bournemouth 3 0 1 2 -3 1 20 Stoke City 3 0 1 2 -4 1
City were made to work for all three points, despite absolutely bossing the first half. Some of the football from the hosts was awe-inspiring.
City merited particular credit for how quickly and intelligently they passed the ball. Exchanges were always of the one- and two-touch variety, housed in neat triangles that constantly rotated across the final third.
It didn't take long for the Citizens to make the breakthrough, with Raheem Sterling slotting in the first inside the opening 10 minutes. Sterling has been much-improved so far this season, but it was the goal provider who caught the eye of James Robson of the Manchester Evening News:
Plenty of talk about Sterling this season - but how good has Nolito been? Added a new dimension to City— James Robson (@JamesRobsonMEN) August 28, 2016
The home side looked to be coasting when Fernandinho's header made it 2-0 with barely 18 minutes gone. However, the expected torrent of goals never came from City.
Their sluggish finish was caused by West Ham's resilience. Manager Slaven Bilic switched to a 4-4-2 formation for the second half and stretched the game in the flanks.
It was robust winger Michail Antonio who headed Hammers back into it. WhoScored.com confirmed how dominant the 26-year-old is in the air:
Michail Antonio: Has now scored more headed goals (7) than any other player in the Premier League in 2016; Sergio Agüero second (5) #MCIWHU— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) August 28, 2016
City weren't exactly holding on after that, but their passing never regained the vigour of the first half. It was only in the final minutes that the hosts came alive in forward areas again, with Sterling sealing the points in stoppage time.
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One worry moving forward will be the availability of star striker Sergio Aguero after the international break. He appeared to catch West Ham centre-back Winston Reid with a deliberate elbow in the second half, something that may see him retrospectively banned for the upcoming Manchester derby.
However, Stuart Brennan of the Manchester Evening News thinks there's a chance Aguero will avoid any punishment:
Going off past incidents, Aguero just might get away with his elbow ... ref must have been looking at it, surely? If he saw it, FA won't act— Stuart Brennan (@StuBrennanMEN) August 28, 2016
The day began with newly promoted Middlesbrough earning a point at West Brom. It was perhaps no surprise to see such a cagey affair, considering respective managers Aitor Karanka and Tony Pulis pride themselves on organisation and solidity.
The goalless draw maintained Middlesbrough's excellent recent record under Karanka, according to Squawka:
Middlesbrough are now unbeaten in their last 13 league games (W7, D6). pic.twitter.com/KGM1t5Y4vq— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 28, 2016
However, the same source also noted how the Baggies maintained their own solid run against this opposition:
West Brom have not lost in any of their last 7 games against Middlesbrough across all competitions. pic.twitter.com/5GFar2F5uj— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 28, 2016
West Brom don't win many style points on Pulis' watch, but they've mastered a miserly streak at the back. A rugged midfield underpinned by Argentine destroyer Claudio Yacob protects a defence expertly led by Jonny Evans and Jonas Olsson.
The Baggies' defensive mettle is proved by this impressive number courtesy of BBC's Match of the Day:
Most Premier League clean sheets since Jan 2015:
Man Utd: 25
West Brom: 23https://t.co/rWK8rPpDSu pic.twitter.com/KHbRwek2NA
Yet, few teams have been as impressive as City to start the new season. The Guardiola impact has been immediate, with his fidelity to attractive, possession-based football getting the best out of a classy contingent of attacking talent.
Not even the prospect of a looming Manchester derby against Jose Mourinho's United may be enough to slow City's early charge in this title race.