Against West Ham, Manchester City were superior in almost all measures: possession, chance creation, control – everything but the scoreboard.
Despite an overwhelming and undeniable superiority, Manuel Pellegrini’s men were unable to come back after a poor first 30 minutes and wound up losing 2-1 against the East-London outfit this Saturday at the City of Manchester Stadium.
The Citizens are not the first to fall at home to West Ham this season. In fact, Slaven Bilic’s men have been in ridiculous form away from home so far, imposing themselves by 2-0 against Arsenal and 3-0 against Liverpool in their other two away matches.
West Ham are certainly not an easy team to play. They have shown that they don’t need possession in order to win games, and that they possess important resources in their front-line that can allow them to score against the league’s most proficient defenses. However, for Manchester City, the problems began even before the referee blew the first whistle.
Minutes before kickoff, Manchester City were forced to make a dreadful announcement: David Silva had gotten injured during the warm-up, and he wouldn’t be able to play. Jesus Navas had to take his place in the starting XI – a change that had all the potential to alter the balance of the team.
With the last-minute injury, Pellegrini was forced to move Kevin De Bruyne to the number 10 role behind Agüero, in order to leave space for Navas in the right flank. But soon, that proved to be problematic. Despite his skill, the German’s style of play is completely different from that of Silva – more vertical and resourceful near goal, less horizontal and organizational – and West Ham quickly smelled an opportunity.
It soon became clear that Manchester City was not at its best form when it came to keeping the possession they so desperately need for dominion, and The Hammers were quick to capitalize in the counter attack. After only six minutes, a long ball led to a quick combination that ended up with a good finish by Victor Moses from outside the box.
The game was the complete opposite of what Pellegrini and The Citizens wanted. Rather than a slow positional game they could control, it was an even back-and-forth between two teams quickly running at each other. And after 31 minutes, West Ham was able to push for a corner kick that led to the second goal of the match.
Manchester City were able to come up with an efficient solution: they moved Yaya Toure upwards, from central midfield to the number 10 position that Silva would’ve occupied. There, the Ivorian served many various purposes: he injected some more sense into the flow of play in that area, helped steal the ball high-up the pitch and, most importantly, created holes for himself and for others through his sheer power.
But it was too late. Even though the tactical move gave Manchester City absolute superiority on the pitch during the rest of the match, they were unable to take advantage of it. They had a ridiculous number of clean-cut chances, but they were only able to score a single goal – a solid long-range drive off De Bruyne’s boot that wasn’t enough.
After the match, Pellegrini recognized that the team hadn’t been good enough in the first half, and that, despite the improvement in the second-half, he was not happy with the display.
“We played very well in the second half, though not in the first. We were not the aggressive team we need to be at home,” he told the BBC.
“We corrected those things, played very well, created a lot of chances but didn’t score. We were under pressure, falling two goals behind. It is always difficult to play against any Premier League team – everyone has very good players,” he added.
Despite the loss, Manchester City remain in first place in the Premier League, having won five games out of six this season.