- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
The unstoppable force, determined to end the Premier League title race before Easter, are now on a run of 20 consecutive wins and, with a flourish worthy of the great adaptability of Pep Guardiola’s teams, Manchester City’s goals were supplied by his two centre-halves.
The control of the league leaders can seem overwhelming at times and, behind the closed doors of the English game, there feels even less likelihood of error with no one to distract them from their task. They were remorseless in breaking down David Moyes’s upwardly mobile side, patiently loosening the screws and removing the supports of the opposition’s defensive structure before breaking through with two classic goals of this City era.
The first of the two was assisted by Kevin De Bruyne, swept in from the right with his left foot, and the second after half-time arrowed back by Riyad Mahrez after he had infiltrated the right side of the opposition’s area.
All that was unusual were the goalscorers themselves, Ruben Dias with his first for the club and then John Stones with the winner. In the 16 games they have partnered one another in the team, the pair have scored more goals between them than they have conceded.
That is the kind of stability that has eluded Liverpool, their erstwhile title rivals, who are now just another challenger trailing much further back down the road. At full time, City’s 14th straight league win had them 13 points clear of Manchester United in second place and 22 ahead of the club who were champions last season.
With positions reversed, it was the same gulf – 22 points – between Liverpool and City at this stage last season when both had played 26 games. That swing of 44 points is one of the great mysteries of the Covid-19 era.
Guardiola says that his team have never been off the pace, they were simply not at the level of Liverpool last season. “I know that Liverpool had less points,” he said. “I don’t know how many more points we have than last season but this is a good example of what we have done today.
“Nothing counts in three days [when City play] against Wolves. I am not saying about season after season. In the past four seasons we were so consistent, last season as well, we finished second, we had enough points to be champions in other seasons but we faced a team that was exceptional, like we were in the previous two seasons.
“We didn’t drop much, even last season. We won the Carabao Cup, [got to the] FA Cup semis. We didn’t finish fifth, sixth, seventh. Every season is a new chapter. Nothing counts what you have done in the past. It is a good lesson for all of us.”
The unbeaten run in all competitions now extends to 27 games for City and the confidence is clear to see. Not least when Guardiola selected a side that had seven changes to the one that triumphed over Borussia Monchengladbach on Wednesday.
By the end he did not even have to summon Raheem Sterling or Joao Cancelo from the bench, as City absorbed the late pressure and survived a header from Issa Diop in what was the last major action of the game.
It was by no means a bad afternoon for West Ham, whose equaliser from Michail Antonio before half-time was the culmination of a crisp passing sequence that moved the ball quickly out right and forward.
Moyes picked a formation that aligned five in defence when they were out of possession – which was most of the game – and if they could have measured their passes better, perhaps there would have been more chances. But that is what City do to you.
Guardiola did bring on Gabriel Jesus and Phil Foden before the winner, with the Brazilian replacing Sergio Aguero. The Argentine had started his first league game since the equivalent fixture in east London in October and looked slow and untidy with his touch. His wayward attempt to bring the ball under control with his chest had ceded possession for West Ham’s goal.
It was worked right by West Ham and Vladimir Coufal’s cross was turned goalward by Jesse Lingard and prodded in by Antonio.
It has come to the stage where not getting blitzed by City can be considered a good outcome for the opposition, certainly when in comparison with the fate that has befallen some. Moyes was philosophical about the defeat and he could afford to be with his side menacing the top-four places. “Performance-wise, if we play like that until the end of the season it will give us every chance of staying at the top,” the West Ham manager said.
He lamented the chances that had passed his team by at times, the slender margins between a good performance and securing the draw that he felt his team were capable of earning. “We are not getting carried away because we lost today,” Moyes said. “But I want to praise the players for how well they have done against the best team in Europe.”
For City, now there is the visit of Wolves on Tuesday before the Manchester derby on Sunday. This never-ending set of challenges is what Guardiola describes as so exhausting mentally and physically for his players. In the creative roles, De Bruyne and Mahrez were a threat that West Ham contained when they were at their best by trying to close the gaps between their defenders as best they could.
One burst by De Bruyne down the left in the second half took him all the way to the byline and then, in the centre, Aguero made the wrong choice of run to meet a ball that was sent across the face of goal.
De Bruyne’s delivery from the right created the first goal for Dias, recycled after a corner. Stones’s run between the two West Ham centre-halves was enough distraction and the Portuguese came in behind the three of them to make the connection. Moyes pointed out that the ball had been allowed to travel too far. The second made by Mahrez was much harder to stop, especially with the quality of finish provided by Stones.
“To be able to do what we have done is amazing, but of course we don’t have titles,” Guardiola said later. That remains the case for now, although it is hard to see it staying that way come the end of the season.
FULL TIME - Manchester City 2 West Ham 1
City make it 20 wins in a row. Stones with the crucial second half goal. They are now 13 points clear in the Premier League. They were not at their best but still got the job done which is a sign of champions.
90+4 mins - Manchester City 2 West Ham 1
What a chance. Lingard crosses in and Diop is free in the box but heads wide.
90+2 mins - Manchester City 2 West Ham 1
City showing good game management to keep West Ham at bay. Fernandinho is booked for a foul on Bowen.
90 mins - Manchester City 2 West Ham 1
Four minutes of stoppage time to come.
89 mins - Manchester City 2 West Ham 1
Rodri comes on for Gundogan in City's final change of the match.
85 mins - Manchester City 2 West Ham 1
Fernandinho brings down Lingard. Free-kick in a dangerous position.
Cresswell delivers but City get the ball clear.
84 mins - Manchester City 2 West Ham 1
Johnson and Antonio off. Bowen and Benrahma on.
82 mins - Manchester City 2 West Ham 1
80 mins - Manchester City 2 West Ham 1
Into the final 10 minutes. Two changes coming from the away side.
77 mins - Manchester City 2 West Ham 1
Can't fault the effort of the West Ham players. They have been fully engaged in this match and still present a danger to City.
72 mins - Manchester City 2 West Ham 1
Brave catch in the air by Ederson with Dawson flying into him. The Brazilian is down and holding his ribs.
68 mins - Manchester City 2 West Ham 1 GOAL Stones
City have been on the front foot and the ball finds Mahrez wide. He gets one-on-one with Johnson and plays the pass to Stones who sweeps the ball home. That's his fourth goal of the season.
City's centre-backs coming to the rescue.
65 mins - Manchester City 1 West Ham 1
The game is opening up now which should favour City. City make their second change, Torres off Foden on.
Foden scored when the two sides met earlier in the season.
60 mins - Manchester City 1 West Ham 1
The No 10 is up on the board and Aguero comes off with Jesus taking his place.
58 mins - Manchester City 1 West Ham 1
KdB skips away from Diop and races into the box. His cut back is missed by everyone and West Ham clear.
Jesus is ready to come on. Presumably for Aguero.
57 mins - Manchester City 1 West Ham 1
It is his first start in a while but Aguero has largely been anonymous today. No shots on goal yet. West Ham have marked him very well.
53 mins - Manchester City 1 West Ham 1
West Ham are playing with confidence and posing a real problem for City. Sterling, Silva and Foden are all warming up on the touchline.
49 mins - Manchester City 1 West Ham 1
Some concern for Randolph, who is talking to the West Ham physio. They are already without Fabianski.
Dave Martin has been sent out to warm up.
45 mins - Manchester City 1 West Ham 1
Second half underway. No changes by either side.
HALF TIME - Manchester City 1 West Ham 1
A dramatic end to the half. City dropped their level after Dias opened the scoring and the away side upped their intensity to equalise.
Stand by for the second half.
45 mins - Manchester City 1 West Ham 1
One minute of stoppage time.
42 mins - Manchester City 1 West Ham 1 GOAL Antonio
West Ham win the ball high. Coufal gets it on the right and he pulls it back to Lingard, who's shot is heading wide but Antonio taps in at the far post.
The away side deserve it for their reaction to conceding. It is the first time Man City have conceded at home since December 15.
39 mins - Manchester City 1 West Ham 0
Big chance for West Ham. Lingard gets down the right. He crosses into the box and the ball finds Antonio, who shoots and his effort hits the post. Should have done better.
38 mins - Manchester City 1 West Ham 0
33 mins - Manchester City 1 West Ham 0
City have got the reward their dominance has deserved but West Ham haven't dropped their heads.
29 mins - Manchester City 1 West Ham 0 GOAL Dias
Another cross into the box from De Bruyne and Dias is there to head in past Randolph. Fantastic assist from KdB.
That's Dias' first Premier League goal. He's been an outstanding signing for City.
27 mins - Manchester City 0 West Ham 0
First booking of the match as Mahrez skips past Johnson and the defender brings the Algerian down.
De Bruyne crosses in but it is cleared by Dawson. Another cross comes in and Cresswell heads it away for a corner.
25 mins - Manchester City 0 West Ham 0
First quarter of the match has gone and Randolph is yet to make a save. West Ham will be pleased with that.
22 mins - Manchester City 0 West Ham 0
Fornals tries to find Antonio, who is bursting through middle but Stones heads clear. He's been very impressive in recent months.
18 mins - Manchester City 0 West Ham 0
Plenty of encouragement from the touchline from Moyes and it is justified as his players create a decent chance.
Lingard's shot is deflected into the air, Soucek heads the ball back into space and Antonio challenges Ederson. The whistle is blown with Ederson on the ground but the City keeper can continue.
14 mins - Manchester City 0 West Ham 0
Good work from Lingard to intercept a pass from De Bruyne. He gets away from the chasing City players and buys some time on the ball for his team.
11 mins - Manchester City 0 West Ham 0
Johnson fouls Mahrez around 35 yards out. De Bruyne whips the ball in but it is cleared.
City have had 70 per cent of possession in the opening 10 mins.
9 mins - Manchester City 0 West Ham 0
I don't think West Ham have put five consecutive passes together yet. That will have to improve if they want to establish themselves in the match.
6 mins - Manchester City 0 West Ham 0
City as expected are dominating the ball with West Ham sitting back and soaking up the pressure.
2 mins - Manchester City 0 West Ham 0
West Ham get the match underway...
The teams are out
A nice hug between West Ham captain Declan Rice and substitute Raheem Sterling as the two teams walk out at the Etihad.
Moyes on Fabiański absence
"Obviously, I wasn’t expecting to play that day, but in football these kind of things happen and I got told probably ten minutes before kick-off," he explained.
"There was not much time to think, so I just put my boots and gloves on and went out to play. "I have had other moments where I’ve had to come in at the last-minute and play. I’ve obviously played a lot of games at a lot of different levels, so being told I was playing even ten minutes before wasn’t a massive shock. My belly didn’t start to rumble or do somersaults or anything like that!
"If you know you’re not going to get much playing time as the No2, you also know you need to always be ready because today could be the day. "I always try to prepare like I could play, just in case, and then that happened the other day."
Pep Guardiola speaks
"After three quarters of the league they are in Champions League position, it’s not because of a good month that’s many games doing really well.
"We have had two days of recovery which is not much, we have a fantastic squad and everyone deserves to play, all of them are doing incredibly well."
Sergio Aguero speaks
"I’m happy to be back, I’m back with good feelings and I hope to have a good game.
I think we’re good, the team. For me, we have to play the same way. I enjoy [watching], but I prefer to play!"
Bad news for Fantasy League fans
There are seven changes to the Manchester City team from midweek. Among them, Sergio Aguero, Kevin de Bruyne and John Stones all start. Joao Cancelo, Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden drop to the bench.
A blow for West Ham with Łukasz Fabiański ruled out through injury and it means Darren Randolph starts in goal.
Declan Rice makes his 64th consecutive league start.
West Ham starting XI
Manchester City starting XI
Hello and welcome to live coverage of the first Premier League match of the weekend as leaders Manchester City face West Ham at the Etihad.
City are in outstanding form, winning their last 19 matches in all competitions and are unbeaten in 26 matches stretching back to November.
But manager Pep Guardiola says he is not interested in records, only winning.
"The challenge is not to win 20 or 21, the challenge is to beat West Ham," Guardiola said at his pre-match press conference.
"This is the only challenge that we have. The results are a consequence of what we do day by day."
Kevin De Bruyne could start for City after being an unused substitute in the win over
He said: "He's fully fit. He was fully fit against Gladbach as well. I'm not going to say any different as to how key and important a player he is for us. In the last part of the season he will be so important."
West Ham are right in the hunt for a top-four finish after an impressive season and manager David Moyes says he has no intention of leaving, amid links with the vacant position at Celtic.
The 57-year-old said: "I've got no intentions of going anywhere. I've already spoken to David Sullivan, we're up to date and things are quietly ticking along.
"I don't want anything to get in the way of what we're doing just now. I'm not going to come out and say I'm signing a big contract or doing anything else that in any way might change things around. I just really want to go about the job and try and be professional.
"I am really happy here, I enjoy the people I work with and there has been great improvement on and off the field here at West Ham.
"I'm hoping to continue making them better and hopefully we can start to sustain the level of league position that we're in at the moment.
"The truth is that I've got something that if we finish, I think it's above 13th, where automatically it kicks in anyway if I choose - it's still my choosing.
"As I said, there's no big panic, and I don't feel under any pressure with it. I don't want anybody at the club or anybody else to feel under pressure by it because we'll get it sorted."