Manchester City delivered the performance of the season as they dispatched West Ham with ease for the second time in three weeks. Here, Anis waxes lyrical about the performance in today’s 4-0 win over West Ham.
City deliver the performance of the season
I said after the 5-0 drubbing of West Ham in the FA Cup three weeks ago that it was our best performance of the season. Tonight’s game then was the best performance of any team in the league this season.
It was blitz football at times, with City’s triumvirate of Leroy Sané, Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling combining to wreak havoc on a West Ham defence who probably wished they’d called in sick. It was death by a thousand knifes. Or maybe a thousand passes. Or probably a combination of the two.
It wasn’t that West Ham were particularly bad, it was just that City were so superior in virtually every single department. Much like our previous encounter, City were all too much to deal with. Pep’s 4-3-3 with David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne roaming from midfield has proved to be our most successful formation this season and it is right that Pep sought to perfect it rather than play a different system. The duo both scored and supplied the front three with the rest of their ammunition. The fluidity of the attack – which looks like we’re playing five forwards sometimes – is a consequence of the solid base City have had in recent weeks. Our back four looks much settled recently – whether it be Stones or Kolarov playing and the screening job the now dynamic Yaya Touré offers is sufficient enough that we are picking up clean sheets regularly now.
City’s dynamite front three
The real stars of the show though was that youthful trident of Sterling, Sané and Jesus. Guardiola was keen to point out that what we were viewing was unprecedented in European football, that to see so many young fellas leading the line for a top club was indeed a rare sight. And with an average age of 20.6 years according to my calculator I think he’s got a point.
At 19 years of age, it was Gabriel Jesus who produced the best performance of the game, setting up De Bruyne to open the scoring before slotting home from a square pass off Sterling. But it was his movement and the mature decisions he was making on the pitch which really caught the eye. He knew exactly where he should be, dropping deep to interchange before ghosting past lines to take a threatening position. His build-up play is superb and he instantly made a connection with the rest of his team-mates on his first league start for the club. Sané’s lung-bursting off-the-ball runs and the directness of Raheem Sterling were capitalised on with devastating effect.
Alas, a safe pair of hands
For the first time this season, Pep Guardiola decided to drop Claudio Bravo. The Chilean has been a regular in the league with Willy Caballero on domestic cup duty, as he has been throughout his Manchester City career. Bravo hasn’t done anything particularly bad of late but it appears Pep has finally lost confidence in his £18m summer buy. Pep might have noticed the real stigma surrounding Bravo, that when he plays, everyone believes that City are susceptible to conceding virtually every shot on target, and that Bravo is incapable of making a save. And while that may not be completely true, Guardiola has maybe felt the nerves surrounding his defenders and decided that a change of hands in net would be a good idea.
And it proved to be so. While the fans have always had more faith in Willy than Bravo, the players seem to be following suit too. The defenders look calmer, more composed and the havoc of defending counter-attacks appears to have disappeared. Caballero hasn’t conceded in three games either, keeping three clean sheets across 270 minutes of football. When you consider the frailty of Bravo and his own appalling numbers, it is a stark, stark difference.
Where does this leave Aguero?
“The writing might just be on the wall for Sergio Aguero” said Phil Neville after the game. A massive overstatement maybe, especially when you consider Guardiola has repeatedly placed his faith in Sergio Aguero, but I think, when you consider all of Aguero’s issues this season, Pep really could pull the trigger this summer.
Aguero hasn’t been great in big games this season, his goal record will always be good but we know that isn’t enough for Guardiola. He wants a striker who is up and down the field, who is good at interchanging deep and who has an eye for a pass. In many ways, he wants a Gabriel Jesus.
Now this isn’t me writing Aguero off because that would incredibly naïve but seeing him benched and watching Jesus do things better than Aguero filled me with doubt. We know Guardiola isn’t afraid of letting go of his supposed superstars and we know he rarely adapts to anyone. He has already quietly cast aside Kelechi Iheanacho who hasn’t played 90 minutes since Celtic back in December and last played against Everton for only 28 minutes. Kelechi doesn’t have what Jesus has in his locker and that should be a warning sign for Sergio Aguero. Or the coaxing he needs to up his game.