David Hautzig's Match Report
You know, when you put those two words together you have a lot of options. A sports car, perhaps? How about a new molecular gastronomy restaurant? You know, with lots of foams and strange sounding fish. Or maybe a new German techno band? If you told anyone that doesn’t follow football any of those possibilities I’m pretty sure they’d buy it hook, line, and sinker.
The loss to Astra on Thursday was one of the most disappointing defeats I’ve experienced in many years. And for me that was significant. Other than last years FA Cup run I’ve always looked at everything outside of the league as a distraction. But I believed the priority in these first few games was qualifying for the group stages in Europa League. And falling short in that task felt like an epic failure.
Saturday night, getting a DM confirming the Zaza deal from my Twitter mate RJTHEGAME while at dinner with some customers felt like a tonic. A hand on the shoulder saying, “sorry about Thursday, hope this helps”. And it did. The fact he wouldn’t be available today didn’t bother me much because even with him I wouldn’t expect anything other than a pummeling. In fact, I was happy to be looking at a likely loss after the Astra debacle as opposed to a match with expectations. So by that standard, today wasn’t as bad as I had feared.
The opening minutes were, as expected, all Manchester City. Two corners that West Ham defended well, then Aguero was able to go around Reid near the top of the box and fire a low shot that went wide. Moments later Antonio lost the ball allowing Silva to march in and try a curling attempt that simply didn’t curl enough and went wide. The seemingly inevitable goal came in the 7th minute when Silva sent Nolito behind Collins, who then fed Sterling inside the eighteen yard box for an easy shot past Adrian.
Manchester City 1, West Ham 0.
You know things are threadbare when your only choices up top are a kid from Manchester United making his first ever EPL start, a loanee from Argentina, and a guy most supporters won’t be upset to see the back of. To his credit, Fletcher tried to get the Irons going but fired his first shot over the bar. A few minutes later Valencia won a corner with a cross that almost found Fletcher in the box. Not exactly thrilling stuff, but it was at least signs of a pulse.
In the 18th minute Manchester City doubled their lead when De Bruyne stepped up to take a free kick thirty yards from goal. The announcers accused the West Ham defense of poor play. With three central defenders how did Fernandinho get so open in the box? Well, call me an apologist but the quality of the delivery was so good we could have put up Trump’s wall and I suspect Fernandinho would have gotten on the end of it.
Manchester City 2, West Ham 0.
In the 26th minute, Antonio was called for high boot on Nolito just outside the box. Up stepped De Bruyne, as did my hands to my eyes. Peeking through the fingers I saw Adrian dive to his right as the ball sailed just wide.
In the 30th minute, West Ham actually came reasonably close to an opening goal of their own when Noble sent a long ball into the box that Antonio got on the end of. Otamendi defended well but then Tore recovered and sent a cross into the box. If Fletcher had let it go it might have found Valencia streaking in all alone on the left. But the striker instinct took over and he headed over the bar. A minute later Noble sent a lovely cross-field pass that Antonio ran onto. If Otamendi missed the tackle, it’s a penalty. If he let Antonio go he’s in on goal alone. What he did was time his tackle perfectly and clear for a corner.
Manchester City stormed right back down and came within a whisker of a third goal. Silva made is way into the West Ham area and found the onrushing De Bruyne with a lovely cut back but the Belgian’s shot was just deflected out for a corner by the only man in the stadium with more red hair than him, Collins.
Manchester City 2, West Ham 0.
Bilic made one change, putting Byram in at right back and removing Tore. On the face of it, taking out an attacker player when down two goals seemed odd. But it was an admission that a back three wasn’t working, and it allowed Antonio to play in a more forward role.
If you ask any supporter of any club in any league in the world what they want from the referee, they will likely say consistency. Give them that and all will be ok. So when Fletcher was shown yellow by Andre Mariner in the 49th minute for a challenge on Caballero, every Claret and Blue mind across the globe thought back to Costa’s challenge on Adrian. As I said then, I wasn’t fussed by the Costa challenge. Nor do I think Fletcher should have been booked.
In the 52nd minute, Manchester City were awarded a free kick for a Masuaku challenge on Sterling. De Bruyne whipped in another ball that Reid headed out but straight at Nolito. The new Citeh boy from Espana took a look up and tried an audacious low right-footed shot that didn’t miss by much. Moments later Aguero found himself in the box after a lightning quick break but his effort sailed well wide.
Sometimes, a signing that gets very little attention can make the most impact. Masuaku has been solid for the majority of his minutes since arriving from Olympiacos. In the 59th minute, he got the ball on the left flank. He kept his composure despite the pressure he was under from all sides, and a second before he sent the cross into the box I made a note that he could end up being the unsung hero of the season. The cross came in, Antonio did his normal impersonation of Spider Man climbing over everyone and headed it in the back of the net.
Manchester City 2, West Ham United 1.
The goal certainly looked to ignite some belief in the visitors, who won a corner a minute later. City looked to have lost their focus and West Ham tried to capitalize. Yet in the 66th minute, De Bruyne launched a counter and sent Aguero into the box. He looked to have beaten Reid but his shot hit the outside netting. Minutes later another attack found Aguero in the box, but his attempted cross deflected off Byram and into the arms of Adrian.
In the 76th minute, Manchester City were very lucky to keep eleven men when Aguero became annoyed that Reid had the temerity to defend him. He showed his indignation by elbowing Reid in the neck. Mariner didn’t see it, but we did. And the FA might as well, and if they do Aguero will be looking at some time away from work. Reid came out of the game for Calleri in what was probably Slaven’s last stand at an equalizer.
Calleri made an early opportunity for West Ham by winning a corner, but the effort was wasted by his fellow countryman Lanzini whose delivery couldn’t beat the first man.
I don’t like to see my guys try to fool the referee. It isn’t really a morality play on my part. I just don’t want anything to detract from the performance on the pitch. In the 86th Lanzini fooled Mariner into thinking he was fouled by Otamendi to win free kick. As he stood over the ball, I obviously wanted him to curl one in and tie the game. But if that had happened, all the attention would have been on Lanzini’s play-acting. Collins was offside, making the conversation moot.
Manchester City pressed forward, knowing the best way to defend their one goal lead was by trying to make it a two-goal lead. Silva rolled a pass to Sterling in the box that should have been converted, then Nasri was sent in by Silva but shot high over the bar. A minute later a hard shot by Nasri slammed against the post. Finally, in the second minute of stoppage time, Sterling got on the end of a pass from Nasri in the box. Adrian tried to get in the way, but Sterling calmly danced around him and from a truly brutal angle nudged the ball over the line.
Manchester City 3, West Ham 1.
If I were a Manchester City supporter with an equal level of football induced anxiety that I have supporting our Happy Hammers, I would have been sweating for much of the final thirty minutes of the match. West Ham closed down much of the home side’s passing lanes and with a little luck might have found second goal. Considering that I expected a cricket score today I wasn’t that fussed when the final whistle rang out. With our absurd number of injuries, and the start Manchester City has had, this game should have been done and dusted with the morning coffee. But we hung tough. And that impressed me.
As far as I’m concerned, the season begins in actuality in two weeks.