It took Manchester City a while to get going at the London Stadium in their 5-0 defeat of West Ham United but the champions did not need to be anywhere near their best to see off the home side, who lacked conviction that they could compete with Pep Guardiola’s team. The biggest cheer of the day from West Ham fans came when VAR ruled out a Gabriel Jesus goal for offside early in the second half.
That probably summed up the ambitions of at least 15 Premier League sides: they will be happy when their matches against City don’t turn into a rout. This turned into a rout anyway.
West Ham should have put more pressure on the visiting side because City started sluggishly before goals from Gabriel Jesus, Sergio Aguero and a Raheem Sterling hat-trick sealed the points. They appeared to be in pre-season mode. Their lack of sharpness was illustrated vividly just after the quarter-hour mark when David Silva attempted to take a quick free-kick deep in the West Ham half. It was an excellent idea because the defence were asleep – but so was Sterling. Ideas and energy were not quite coming together.
We’ll tell you what’s true. You can form your own view.
a day, more exclusives, analysis and extras.
Manuel Pellegrini’s team did not take this dysfunction as an invitation to attack. They were timid on and off the ball. There were two penalty appeals that could have been dismissed without the aid of VAR and Manuel Lanzini and Felipe Anderson had some superficially pretty touches but were characteristically ineffective. Sebastien Haller looked like he could be a handful but he rarely worried the opposition centre backs, although that was more to do with the supply chain.
All it takes is a flash of class for City to take the game away from opponents this callow. Riyad Mahrez looked out of sorts but suddenly slipped a superb ball inside Aaron Cresswell and Kyle Walker, overlapping with turbo-charged pace, pinged in a cross from the byline. It seemed that West Ham had enough defenders in cover but Jesus nipped in ahead of a ponderous Issa Diop to flick the ball into the net.
If you do not take the game to City, they will eventually bring it to you. The second half was six minutes old when Kevin De Bruyne was allowed to run from deep towards the penalty area before setting up Sterling to shoot between Fabianski’s legs.
Within two minutes the ball was in the net again after superb link play from Silva and Sterling set up Jesus in front of an open goal. After consulting VAR Mike Dean, the referee, ruled that Sterling had been offside. The London Stadium rejoiced but the margins were so tight the decision was impossible to make with the naked eye.
VAR revenge came for City when Sterling’s second goal, a delicate chip, was ruled legal. Then City were awarded a penalty after Diop tangled with Mahrez and Dean checked the video. The visiting fans chanted “V-A-R,” Sergio Aguero missed the spot-kick but the referee again made the rectangular screen symbol. He decided that Fabianski had come off his line and ordered the penalty to be retaken. Now the City fans sang “What the f*** is going on?” It was a good question.
Sterling’s hat-trick came in stoppage time – thankfully VAR was not needed. The champions will play much better and score fewer. It might help if teams think about actually challenging City.