Manchester City have had to struggle for wins recently, but when West Ham arrived at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, bringing with them the league’s joint-worst defensive record, the expectation would have been that City would have a return to the norm, racking up goals for fun.
Instead they were faced with a well-organised West Ham defence that did a good job of blunting City’s attack. Fortunately, City have a man for that sort of thing in David Silva, and he delivered his usual blend of vision, passing, movement, along with the winning goal.
Here’s an in-depth look at Silva’s instrumental performance.
Goals – 1
Assists – 0
Shots – 4
Shots on target – 2
Pass Accuracy – 86%
Key Passes – 5
Touches – 109
Dribbles – 0
Silva conducted City’s attack from midfield as he always does, pulling the strings with his sharp passing and movement. It was the latter trait that won the game for City, after long spells where it seemed West Ham would be too tough to unlock even for a man of his play-making ability. But his darting run into the box – the first time he’d done that all game – got the defence to panic, and he took advantage with a cool finish to win the game.
25th min, SHOT: Nearly a cracking goal as Silva let fly from outside the box. His left-footed strike took a deflection, making Adrian’s job even tougher, but the West Ham keeper pulled out a fine save.
77th min, SHOT: Another chance for Silva, this time to put City in the lead. A clever turn earned him the space to shoot, but it was blocked thanks to some excellent defending.
83rd min, GOAL: A superb finish. Kevin de Bruyne sent in a delightful ball, and Silva took advantage of some slack West Ham defending to ghost in. But what made the finish so good was that Silva got a tug on his shirt that left him off-balance, yet he still managed to contort himself to get his foot on the ball and score the winner.
VERDICT – 8/10
It looked like this would be a frustrating night for Silva and City. But like in the two previous games, they found a way to break a stubborn team’s resistance and collect all three points. That they did was largely down to their diminutive Spanish veteran, who was his usual visionary self in midfield.
His telling impact came from his celebrated ability to spot a gap in the defence. Where he usually does that to find the perfect pass for a teammate, this time he ghosted into that space himself to score a superb winner and ensure City maintained their eight-point gap atop the Premier League table.
The visitors took the lead through Angelo Ogbonna in the 44th minute before Nicolas Otamendi grabbed the equaliser 12 minutes after the restart. David Silva then clinched all three points with a strike in the 83rd minute.
However, David Moyes’ side did run City close, rather surprisingly.
Here’s what we learned from the encounter.
UNITED GIVEN DERBY HOPE
Manchester United would’ve cast a keen eye on the game at the Etihad. What Jose Mourinho would’ve found particularly interesting is West Ham’s success at restricting City for the most part while still threatening to score against the run of play.
The first half was a dream scenario for the Hammers and Mourinho will believe that if they could do it for 56 minutes, before City finally managed to equalise, his side will be able to do it for 90.
West Ham set up in a 5-4-1 formation and frustrated City for long periods of the game. United enjoyed far more success with a similar system against Arsenal, albeit posing more of an attacking threat on the counter.
Despite Paul Pogba’s suspension, United have plenty of quality to hurt City on the break away and West Ham exposed their frailties on the few occasions they were allowed to counter.
Never mind the 46 goals they’ve scored this season or their 13 consecutive league wins, it’s a narrow, nail-biting victory like the one against West Ham which justifies City’s claim to the title.
Champions keep going until the final whistle and on Sunday, every person in the Etihad, City players and West Ham’s included, knew that the home side would score even with less than 10 minutes to play with the scores level.
There was an air of inevitability to Silva’s winner, the only surprise being that it wasn’t Raheem Sterling who claimed the goal and the plaudits that go with it.
They did it even later against Huddersfield and Southampton and having done it again, they will have every confidence in themselves next time as well. If this isn’t title-winning form, then no such thing exists.
PEP’S ROTATION WORKS WONDERS
With the games coming thick and fast, plenty of managers have had to shuffle their pack. Pep Guardiola, it must be said, is definitely one that seems to be getting it right.
While Fantasy Premier League managers are often left pulling their hair out due to the Spaniard’s personnel changes, he’s managed to keep his side fit and firing.
Silva was rested for the first time in the league in midweek and he was instrumental in the win at the Etihad, even scoring the decisive winner. His utilisation of Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus cannot be faulted either with the Brazilian coming off the bench on this occasion to provide the assist for the equaliser.
Some days, a striker will have a game where he only gets once chance, and he takes it to score a crucial goal. And then there are days like Saturday, where Alexandre Lacazette had chance after chance, and even got his goal, but still lost his personal duel with Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea.
Lacazette will wonder how he didn’t score more, and indeed, slightly more clinical finishing would have helped Arsenal avoid the 3-1 loss they suffered to United. But it’s hard to fault the striker’s performance, given De Gea’s inspired form in goal on the night.
Here’s an in-depth analysis of how Lacazette fared against United.
Goals – 1
Assists – 0
Shots – 7
Shots on target – 4
Pass Accuracy – 62%
Key Passes – 2
Touches – 63
Dribbles – 4
The only thing missing from Lacazette’s performance on Saturday was more goals. He led the line well, making the perfect runs for his talented teammates to find him, and was too much to handle for the United defence. However, when he beat them, he had to face the last obstacle of an inspired De Gea in the United goal, and the keeper came out on top more often than not.
19th min, CHANCE: The first of many times it took a miracle to stop Arsenal from scoring. Granit Xhaka flicked on a corner and the ball fell to the stretching Lacazette, who got enough contact to divert the ball towards the goal at a decent pace. De Gea got into a good position but didn’t know much about the save he made, as the ball deflected off his knee, back onto Lacazette, then wide of the post.
33rd min, SHOT: Yet again, the question was, how did he not score? Lacazette found himself with the ball just yards out. De Gea came out to smother his shot, and the Arsenal striker tried to dribble past him or at least create some space to shoot. Instead, it ended up being brilliant keeping from the Spaniard, as he stopped Lacazette’s shot, which then bounced onto the woodwork.
49th min, GOAL: Finally. Alexis Sanchez‘s clipped ball found Aaron Ramsey clean through on goal, but the Welshman decided to cushion it back to Lacazette. You’d say it was a chance he couldn’t miss, but given what had transpired in his duel with De Gea up to that point, credit to the Frenchman for putting this one away.
56th min, SHOT: And then, normal service resumed. Lacazette created space for himself to shoot and fizzed a strike low towards the bottom corner, only to see De Gea pull off another stunning save. For good measure, the keeper then kept out Sanchez on the rebound with another brilliant stop.
VERDICT – 8/10
On another day, Lacazette will play worse and score a hat-trick. It was his misfortune that he came up against the best goalkeeper in the world in top form. David de Gea looked like he wasn’t going to be beaten at all, and although it’s fair to say Lacazette could have been more clinical with his finishing, in truth there wasn’t much more he could’ve done.
The Arsenal striker was a nightmare for the rest of the United defence, and it was his goal that gave the hosts a chance at a comeback, although it was not to be.