If Pep Guardiola is to announce his retirement from football tomorrow morning and appease the mob that just can’t wait for him to accept defeat at the hands of English football, then at least he went out on a high. City’s 5-0 win over West Ham on Friday night was one filled with the verve we saw from Guardiola’s boys in their first ten games of the season, and a sign that despite the doom and gloom articles suggesting otherwise, there is real progress being made on the training ground. This phenomenal performance, so monstrous yet so delicate in form, was exactly what we were all looking forward to when it was announced that Pep would take over in February 2016.
The fact that this Guardiola masterclass came in the FA Cup – football’s oldest competition and one of England’s finest creations – made it all the more sweeter. If the Premier League is renowned for its small teams with big hearts that don’t give two shits about how much money your striker costs, the FA Cup is even more English; a competition in which fish and chip eating, part-time central defenders regularly get the better of flashy foreign imports like David Silva. West Ham are no seaside dwellers playing to the hum of seagulls in front of 200 fans, but a victory over City would have been a real upset. There was no chance of that, though, not with Silva and his teammates in such a mischievous mood.
Here, Silva was nymph-like, floating between Slaven Bilić’s dumbstruck players and caressing the ball into dangerous areas. City would have been 1-0 up within seven minutes had Pablo Zabaleta converted from the Spaniard’s smart pull-back inside the penalty area.
Speaking in an interview with mancity.com, new signing Leroy Sané singled out El Mago for praise. “David Silva has impressed me a lot because if you see how he plays, he always knows what he has to do next”. And after Sergio Agüero had seen an excellent volley tipped over the bar by Adrián, Silva knew that another missed chance for his side would perhaps end in tears.
And so with Zabaleta darting into the box, Silva found the Argentine with a sublimely-executed reverse ball that caught Angelo Ogbonna off guard. The Italian’s challenge on Zabaleta was deemed by referee Michael Oliver to be a penalty and up stepped Yaya Touré to put us, deservedly, ahead. Much has been made of this squad’s average age in the last few weeks and while I will agree that there has been issues with recruitment over the last couple of seasons, it is testament to their respective abilities that Silva, 30, Touré, 33, and Zabaleta, 31, are still so crucial to this team. At the London Stadium on Friday night, all three were absolutely fantastic.
The home side were almost level immediately when Michail Antonio’s shot forced Willy Caballero into a save that fell at the feet of Sofiane Feghouli, but the Algerian sent an effort wide from six yards that will go down as one of the misses of the season. To suggest that this would have been a turning point in the game, with City seemingly so hungry to prove a point, would be to completely ignore just how good City were before Feghouli’s sitter. Guardiola’s team definitely had more goals in them.
Bacary Sagna was the creator of the second goal that ultimately killed the game. His cross was perfect, the type of cross you’d expect to see in a manual written by David Beckham entitled ‘The Art of Crossing’ – the type of cross that was going to find the back of the net regardless of who or what obstructed its path. With Raheem Sterling on his shoulder, Håvard Nordtveit had no option but to make some sort of contact with the ball but unfortunately for his team, his attempt to clear ended up in the back of the net.
The most beautiful goal of the night came before half time, and who better to score than Silva? It came from a move with Guardiola’s name written all over it. A quick one-two between Agüero and Sterling sent the latter skating into heaps of space and his cross left Silva with just one simple job to do, but not before sending Adrián to the ground – broken and humiliated – with a tap of the left foot. The ball was then rolled into the net; City rolling into the next round.
With tough fixtures against Everton and Tottenham approaching there was an expectation that Guardiola might introduce Aleix García at the break. Pablo Zabaleta was selected ahead of the 19-year-old in the starting line-up and, in fairness, performed excellently in the role. City supporters have already had a glimpse of the Spaniard and like what they see, but we had to wait until the 67th minute to see the former Villarreal player in action. Had Guardiola chosen to start García in this game, he may have defended the decision by referencing the player’s links with the Yellow Submarines, a side many journalists seem to believe he rates on the same level as the team he currently manages.
It was four five minutes after the break when an intelligent touch from Agüero directed Touré’s piledriver past Adrián. I imagine Sergio wouldn’t have been too happy if his name wasn’t on the scoresheet by the end of the game and his goal saw him overtake the legendary Colin Bell as the club’s third highest top scorer. If it wasn’t already clear before, Sergio has now been confirmed as a legend.
John Stones’s header from Nolito’s corner, and his first goal for the club, made it five. Pep Guardiola, presumably, lives to fight another day.