West Ham 0-5 Man City: Three Things We Learnt

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West Ham 0-5 Man City – mirror.co.uk

After an even first half hour, Manchester City took control at the Olympic Stadium and produced a fine performance, as problems mount up for West Ham. Beyond the obvious, what have we learnt from the game?

Playing out and flexible positioning worked

We saw City’s most naturally gifted attacking players drop into their own half. Yaya Toure played in the sitting role while Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva each had around 30 touches beneath the halfway line. Sergio Aguero, one of the most prolific top flight goalscorers of all time, was sometimes 30-yards behind Raheem Sterling, who is generally a winger or inside forward. Then there was Pablo Zabaleta, a full-back by trade, in midfield while the two who played full-back on paper – Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy – were often acting as wingers on the grass.

This blog has often been critical of Pep Guardiola’s tendency to field players away from their natural positions, likewise his team’s bravery in playing out from the back – and retains doubts over the merits of that approach. However, it is only fair to recognize when playing out pays off for City and it did on Friday. The advantage of having technical players in deep positions is that, when they are pressed, they have the presence of mind shift the ball forward into space.

The second goal came at a time when West Ham were applying some pressure, yet Silva got things moving by playing a tidy give and go with Sagna in City’s half, before the latter was again released by Aguero and the right-back put a great cross in for Sterling. Because Manchester City played through the press, they were attacking while the opposing team were backpedalling and they therefore found it harder to find their bearings, evidenced by Nordtveit’s eventual own goal.

Carroll needed better service

The 5-0 scoreline does not represent the even nature of the first 30 minutes. It was an open start with both teams looking capable of scoring when they went forward. Winston Reid looked strong at the back, Pedro Obiang battled well in midfield alongside the more composed Edmilson Fernandes. Michail Antonio posed a threat with his pace for West Ham while Sofiane Feghouli looked lively when cutting in from the right. The reason they did not score at that stage was not so much a lack of intent in the middle third, but more a lack of quality in the more advanced areas.

Feghouli’s final ball was poor, as was that of Aaron Cresswell, who before his injury had built his career partly on the quality of crossing. Target man Andy Carroll’s lack of pace means he requires precise, pinpoint deliveries to have an impact and he was not given the service he needs. Better crossing during West Ham’s brighter spells early on could have gone a long way to changing the eventual dynamics of the contest.

West Ham’s heads dropped

Once Toure dispatched the 33rd minute penalty, then Feghouli missed with the goal gaping moments later, West Ham capitulated. The problem was not just the end product, it was bigger. Too many players shirked their responsibilities, in and out of possession. There was no drive, no urgency or desire to press and get back into the game. Seconds before the third goal, the Hammers outnumbered City eight players to four in roughly a 30-yard square zone with the ball in their own half. Aguero played some quality through balls on the night but when he slipped through Sterling, most of the West Ham players near the ball were jogging back to the penalty area.

It was a simple finish for Silva who returned to his majestic best, yet those players jogging back, with the tie just about retrievable at 2-0, should be ashamed of themselves. West Ham have reached one FA Cup final since they last won it in 1980 and given the political issues at the club, it has never been more important for them to show some passion in this competition and go on a run. Following the alarming manner in which the team crumbled after the first goal, the process of re-building bridges with increasingly disillusioned supporters will not be an easy one.

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