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Howard Hockin: City are in fine fettle going into the international break

Under Pep Guardiola, it’s been a time for redemption. The horror show of Stoke away last season put to bed with an emphatic 4-1 victory, and the frustration of last season’s 2-1 home defeat to West Ham United, the game that ended City’s electric start to the season, has also been tucked up with a cup of cocoa and a nice story about elves and princesses, before the light was turned off. Being City though, there were still a few nerves along the way.

Few surprises in the line-up, one on the bench however. The attacking quintet was as you’d expect, Otamendi got the nod alongside Stones, Clicjy thus relegated Kolarov to the bench and Zab got the right-back berth. More surprising was the inclusion of Samir “Eminem” Nasri on the bench. A hint it seems that the future could be his after all.

No place at all however in the squad for the svelte Yaya Toure. His future remains uncertain, but it’s surely too late in the window for him to leave now. One possible surprise was the omission of Bravo – well not really, as it had been confirmed earlier, but I had speculated in the week that he may go straight into the side. Not so, and it was probably a sensible call. However, a debut at Old Trafford presents its own separate challenges.

West Ham had their own troubles of course. No Payet, a slew of injuries, but Noble was back.

Pep retained the suit/jumper combo. Sensible on a day of changing weather.

A good crowd, and 45 minutes of sublime football. It was quite simply breath-taking at times, even if it remains a work in progress. On at least two occasions a City player broke into the area and I thought that if this move ended in a goal then it would be goal of the season. It wasn’t to be, but the time will come.

It was a joy to watch. Sterling was electric once more, Nolito buzzing around on the opposite wing, Silva and De Bruyne probing, Fernandinho being Fernandinho whilst Stones stroked it around the back without a care in the world. It was no surprise that City built up a two goal lead. The first was the sort of goal we almost expect nowadays. Silva expertly slipped Nolito in, he cut it back (slightly) for the advancing Sterling to sweep it in. Boooooooo!

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Liquid football. Masuaka got his first and only booking as De Bruyne poked the ball past him, and he was extremely lucky to stay on the pitch as the game progressed. Having said that, the actual booking he received was harsh to say the least. There was little contact and nowhere for him to go.

Eighteen minutes in and City doubled their lead. I think it was Sterling once more who own a free kick, and for the second time this season De Bruyne whipped in a great cross for a headed goal – and it was Fernandinho who was left all alone to score. At this point the only question was how many goals City could accumulate. However, West Ham were occasionally dangerous themselves on the break, and a superb block tackle from Otamendi to deny England new boy Antonio, and Fletcher glanced wide also.

City were still creating though. De Bruyne fired a free kick just over the ball, Aguero glanced wide (though was offside), and then as we waited expectedly for the net to bulge he fired wide after another superb cut back, the referee bizarrely seeing a deflection on the way. That should have been game over.

Still, a two-goal lead at half-time (the referee annoyingly calling time as City broke), and all seemed well. Byram on for West Ham, and City repeated the theme we saw at Stoke, conceded then got nervy.

First a disallowed goal, as Nolito chested in, but he and Aguero were offside, so no controversy there. Nolito then went close as he shot just wide of Adrian’s near post.

But then appeared City’s soft underbelly. Masuaka was certainly well involved in this match, and he twisted Zabaleta’s blood on the left, the Argentinean more preoccupied with claiming an offside (he wasn’t) before a deep cross found Antonio to head in. Disappointing to let the visitors back into the game. Clichy once more failing to cover the back post or even attempt jumping (try it Gael, it’s fun!), and Caballero in no man’s land.

Hey, these things happened. But City went into their shell somewhat, Stones went off with a wonky eye, Lanzini came on, and suddenly the visitors sniffed blood. They had a purpose about them, were finding pockets of space, and looking to attack.

Nervy, but like Stoke, much of the apprehension was in the head – West Ham did not actually create much, the concern was for typicalcityitis rearing its head and City throwing away a game from a point of such utter domination. Fernando was introduced (Kolarov had replaced Stones), and before that we saw Samir Nasri enter stage left (if you’re in the south stand). And he was excellent – the Nasri that makes us all want him to stay, which may be the case of Guardiola’s post-match comments are to be believed. Excellent all retention as expected, lively, compact, and a focus for attacks. It was great to see.

However, we have far too many players, and some have to go before Thursday. Take your pick.

And despite the nerves, City were creating – Aguero wasted a chance by firing wide and also had a deflected shot saved by Adrian. Gradually City increased their ball retention and shut the game down, but as the visitors edged forward, City wasted numerous chances. De Bruyne blazed over, Silva thumped the post, Byram deflected a ball from near the line from Nasri, Sterling shot into the side netting and at times City seemed to have almost too many options when going forward. In the end the nerves were settled by Sterling, slipped through by Silva, he evaded the advancing Adrian, and superbly stroked the ball in from the tightest of angles. Panic over.

So the 100% record continues, and City go into the international break in fine fettle. Now we wait to see what happens in the last three days of the transfer window.

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Man of the Match? Sterling once more has an excellent shout, but for me Silva was the star of the show – he still seems unwilling to put the ball in the net, but he ran the midfield and was a focal point for so many of our attacks. It was a concern that the Pep revolution could see him flounder, but the early signs could not be more encouraging. I am really loving the work of Nolito too, and Fern does what Fern does.

De Bruyne is the assist king, but hasn’t quite fully sparkled yet. The full backs underwhelmed, Clichy having a slight off-day, but the crazy thing is that this is still essentially a Pellegrini team with 2 additions – the transformation in style of play and intensity is startling.

And then you think who still has to come. A new goalkeeper, our captain, Gundogan, Sane and Jesus upfront. Blimey.

But we must talk about elbowgate. What happens elsewhere is not really relevant to what happens on this occasion – we all know others get away with murder, and it certainly helps if you captain England, but Aguero does occasionally react like this, and won’t always get away with it like he did when going after Luiz. We all know that a media campaign will now be carried out by Talksport and Sky Sports incessantly to try and get Aguero charged. We must accept that higher profile players get more attention – hey you probably don’t even realise that last week after Aguero headed in City’s 2nd goal against Stoke, Glenn Whelan threw a punch at him as he wheeled away in celebration. No Sky campaign, no charge, no mention. We must accept that’s the way the world works, but it would be nice if all players received the same treatment.

As for the incident itself, it looks bad from one angle, and not too bad from another – contact is irrelevant, if he swings, then intent is enough. It’s touch and go on the charge, but the crucial factor here is that a charge is reliant on Andres Marriner lying. There is no doubt – none whatsoever – that the referee saw the incident as he was stood 5 yards away looking at it. So he now has a choice – try and save his reputation by pretending he didn’t see it, leaving Aguero open for a charge, or be honest and say he saw it but thought nothing of it at the time. We wait and see.

What is clear is that whether Aguero elbowed him, bit his hand off or attacked him with a machete, he should not be charged as the rules state the incident has been dealt with because the referee saw it at the time. I’m not hopeful though.

Still, we are better placed than ever to cope without Aguero, who was not at his best against West Ham (but hey, he’s still Sergio Aguero!). He would miss the Swansea cup game and Bournemouth too if found guilty, so there’s one important game in there. It could be worse.

Ah West Ham fans – I have such respect for you. Kindred spirits in a way, good fans, always had time for them. But like Sunderland fans, now falling into the trap of crappy songs about where we were when s**t, then a song about Sterling letting his country down to cap it off. Sod off.

Still, I’m sure at away games we sing some antagonistic stuff too, so no moral high ground here…

And now for a break – a couple of players out perhaps, an anxious pre-Derby wait to see who gets injured on international duty, and the week-long PR campaign prior to the next league game. Yippee.

Still, it could not have gone much better so far – the Pep revolution is under way. A team transformed, so enjoy the ride.

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