Defending champions Manchester City emerged victorious against a lacklustre West Ham side on Saturday afternoon, with Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling the stand out performers in the first game of the season for both sides.
After a (relatively) sluggish start, Manchester City were finally able to crank up the accuracy and speed of their build-up in the 25th minute, when a Kyle Walker cross was turned in by Gabriel Jesus to open the scoring.
The Citizens didn’t stop there though and shortly after half time, Raheem Sterling made it two as he converted a Kevin De Bruyne pass for the first of his three. Riyad Mahrez then took over the show and guided Pep’s side to an easy first-day win, the Algerians tricks and skills enabled him to assist all of City’s final three goals to complete the rout of the Hammers.
VAR looked to have spoilt the party for City initially, but it did eventually even things out after Raheem Sterling’s second was allowed as he was adjudicated to have been marginally onside. Sergio Aguero then got a second chance from 12 yards, after his initial penalty was asked to be re-taken due to the encroachment of Declan Rice.
The win lifts City to where they finished last season and ahead of Liverpool who beat Norwich City 4-1 on Friday. A visit from Tottenham Hotspur awaits the champions in what promises to be their first big test of the season.
Riyad Mahrez: the ‘forgotten’ man who could be key for the Citizens
It seemed that Riyad Mahrez was burdened by the price tag he carried last season, for he kept trying to overdo it when on the ball, unable to get his teammates involved and eventually being dispossessed. With the arrival of Rodri this season, and a further summer of training under his belt, Mahrez was arguably the star of the City show on Saturday. Cutting inside, faking shots, dropping deep and assisting others, Mahrez did everything and more of what you expect a £60m City winger to do.
West Ham need time after a sluggish first day
West Ham United’s midfielders and attackers were outpaced and physically outmatched by their Manchester City counterparts at the London Stadium on Saturday. They lacked the intensity and the match sharpness needed which combined made for a dismal outing for Felipe Anderson and Jack Wilshere, both of whom came off injured.
Further, the defeat continued the pattern of West Ham’s slow starts to their seasons. However, if they are to actively try to break into the top six – and there is unlikely to be a better chance – slowness is not an option.
Fernandinho’s replacement finally found?
Rodrigo looked a tad off the pace in the first 20 minutes on Saturday but as the game progressed, he grew into it. Breaking up West Ham’s passing, shielding the ball and then spreading it to City attackers going up the pitch, Rodri shone in his first taste of the Premier League.
Having over-relied on Fernandinho for the majority of last season, City fans finally have the rightful heir to the Brazilian DM’s throne. Additionally, Rodri retaining the DM spot also frees up Ilkay Gundogan to play a little further up the pitch, and trouble the opposition with his movement and passing range.
VAR: impeccable decision making, but at what cost?
The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) was called into action multiple times at the London Stadium. Initially disallowing a breathtaking Gabriel Jesus goal, the technology then swung the other way when it (astutely) gave the green light to a seemingly offside Raheem Sterling goal.
It further bestowed a second attempt from the penalty spot for Sergio Aguero due to the encroachment of West Ham’s Declan Rice. The decisions were all correct, but it left the fans and the players unsure of whether they could even celebrate, effectively wiping out the intensity and the ‘real time’ feelings of everyone involved. Is it a reasonable price to pay?
The Return of Kevin De Bruyne
Kevin De Bruyne returned to the Manchester City starting XI for the match on Saturday and displayed signs of what we know he’s capable of. A brilliant assist for City’s second was a glimpse of what he could do if he stays fit for the duration of the season.
After three major injuries last season, he was unable to truly impact Manchester City’s quest for the elusive quadruple. If we extrapolate Guardiola’s substitutions today as glimpses of what’s to come, it would seem City will be aiming to kill games off early and rotate their key men. With Leroy Sane out with a long term injury, rest and rotation of key men may become even more pivotal than it was last season.
Manchester City welcome Tottenham Hotspur to the Etihad in their first major test of the season whilst West Ham United travel to Brighton, looking to get their first points of the season.