Pep Guardiola heaped praise on Raheem Sterling for taking his pre-season form into the opening Premier League victory of Manchester City’s season as they thrashed West Ham United 5-0, with the England forward opening his account with a hat-trick.
Sterling scored five goals in as many games for City in pre-season including the opener in last weekend’s Community Shield triumph, and he was at his clinical best to score three second-half goals as City sent out a loud statement to go top of the Premier League – above expected title rivals Liverpool following their 4-1 win over Norwich City on Friday night.
City manager Guardiola was keen to highlight how much of an impact his wide players provide, given the goalscoring threat of Sterling, Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez adds to the strike-force of Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero that last season made them the top goalscorers in the Premier League.
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“He (Sterling) is a guy that, you know when you have a team and a striker who scores a goal, but the people who play outside him as a winger can score goals, your team is going to score a lot of goals,” Guardiola said.
“Today Raheem scored and Bernardo’s going to score and it was an incredible performance today from Riyad Mahrez, an incredible level. So it’s good. I think in all of the pre-season games (Sterling) scored goals from the beginning, so every single game he scored a goal. But in the first half, he can do better.”
Guardiola wasn’t satisfied with the landslide victory given that City were only 1-0 up at the break.
“In terms of five goals, it is the perfect start yes,” he explained. “But the performance of the first half was far away from where we want to be. But the other (half) is normal.
“We knew it was difficult away from home, 12:30pm kick-off, hot. We are still not in the top condition and I knew that we missed and lost a lot of simple balls, so it’s so difficult to have a good tempo of our game.
“It was important to get three points, a clean sheet. At 2-0, they have a chance. Overall for the first game it is an incredible result. The second half was much better. More calm, but still we have many things to improve.”
City also involved themselves in a moment of Premier League history as they became the team responsible for the first VAR-overturned decision, with Gabriel Jesus having a second goal ruled out after Sterling was judged to have been offside.
Replays showed that Sterling was the offside by the smallest of margins, with referee Mike Dean relaying that it was his armpit that was judged to have been the body part behind the last defender, while City also endured two other nervous VAR reviews when Sterling’s second was reviewed for a possible offside and Sergio Aguero’s saved penalty was ordered to be retaken as West Ham goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski had come off his line.
It left fans chanting in opposition of VAR, singing “What the f*** is going on?”, but Guardiola stressed that it will take some getting used to – not just for the players and managers but for fans as well.
“You have to be mentally strong when VAR is not on your side,” the Spaniard added. “You think at 0-3 the game is almost over but at 0-2, then you have to make an incredible save to prevent it going 1-2 and the game is completely different.
“In that period where you are celebrating, you have to be calm and be strong, it is going to change the dynamic not just for the team but for the spectators. The spectators were quiet, and after 0-3, 0-2, they were looking and thinking ‘oh we can celebrate’. It will be a good lesson for our future but it is what it is.”
Guardiola also gave his verdict on new signing Rodri’s first Premier League appearance, with the Spain midfielder starting alongside Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva.
“The same as the team,” Guardiola noted, “so he started like this, like that (shaky) but after he grew up with the rhythm of the team.
“It’s important with even losing some balls that he always had the personality to ask again and ask again and play. He never dismissed that or got sad with what was going on, and again he gave a good performance.”