Man City vs West Ham: Five things we learned as Ilkay Gundogan hits winner in Premier League

·6-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Manchester City overcame heavy snow to defeat West Ham in the Premier League on Sunday and move six points clear of the fourth-placed Hammers in the table.

West Ham, who knocked City out of the Carabao Cup on penalties last month, made a bright start but the hosts took the lead in the 33rd minute when Riyad Mahrez squared to Ilkay Gundogan for a simple tap-in the back post.

West Ham defender Ben Johnson then made a brilliant goal-line clearance to stop City from doubling their lead as the snowfall became heavier at the Etihad Stadium, before Mahrez struck the post shortly before the break.

The ground staff needed an additional five minutes at half-time to clear the pitch but City were comfortable holding onto their lead once play resumed. Substitute Fernandinho then added a second late on to wrap up the win, before Manuel Lanzini pulled one back for West Ham with the last kick of the game.

Here are five things we learned:

City getting through injury concerns

With Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and Kevin De Bruyne all out, Pep Guardiola fielded an interchangeable front-line against West Ham with Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus leading the attack.

Mahrez originally started through the middle of City’s front three and it wasn’t until Guardiola moved him out to his favoured right-hand side and played Jesus through the middle that City started to gain some control, with the hosts playing some lovely passing football in the spell before half-time.

But with those three attacking players missing, City still needed to be helped out by goals coming from elsewhere. Here, it was Ilkay Gundogan who stepped up to the mark with his third Premier League goal of the campaign, continuing this goalscoring form for Germany in the recent international break.

The combination of Mahrez drifting wide, exploiting the space left by Arthur Masuaku, Joao Cancelo’s switch of play from left to right, and Gundogan’s late run into the box were all key factors in the opener - and was reminiscent of the key goals that the midfielder scored last winter to fuel City’s run to the title.

City fell a little flat after the hour, just at the time where attacking reinforcements would usually arrive from the bench but with De Bruyne, Grealish and Foden set to return within the coming days, Guardiola’s side will be happy to move on with three points after a comfortable afternoon.

West Ham change backfires

David Moyes has made the fewest changes to his team of all Premier League managers so far this season, and the West Ham boss was true to form in making only one alteration to the side that started last weekend’s defeat at Wolves.

It was a significant one, however, with Arthur Masuaku replacing the influential Jarrod Bowen, triggering a slight change in system for the Hammers away at the Premier League champions. Masuaku was positioned ahead of Aaron Cresswell as West Ham lined up with two banks of four, with Said Benrahma playing off Michail Antonio in a forward pair.

It certainly wasn’t a defensive switch as West Ham still carried a hint threat on the break, at least to begin with, with Antonio in particular causing problems down the channels, twice pulling Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte out of position in the first half.

But it was frustrating for Moyes that West Ham fell behind just as they were starting to find some joy - and with Masuaku at fault too, as he left Mahrez in space wide on the right.

Bowen was eventually introduced in the 74th minute, with Masuaku making way as Moyes reversed his original change. It was too late, however, and the fact that West Ham carried little threat for the rest of the match must make Moyes regret his decision to drop Bowen in the first place.

Lanzini pulled one back with the last kick of the game but this was not the response West Ham wanted following last weekend’s 1-0 defeat at Wolves.

City overcome the elements

The final 10 minutes of the first half at the Etihad Stadium were more akin to a scene from Game of Thrones than a Premier League match, as the pitch was covered by an inch of snow following a heavy flurry in Manchester.

The lines were completely covered by snow and it was hard to make out the ball at times but despite all of that, City were still able to keep control of the ball and actually had their most commanding spell of the match during the peak of the adverse conditions.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Both teams had experienced difficulty in passing the ball early in the match when there was a faint covering of snow on the pitch, as players got used to the conditions, but City were able to enjoy over 90 percent of possession in the spell of the game which followed Gundogan’s opener.

The ground staff at the Etihad needed an extra five minutes following half time to clear the worst of the snow and they did an excellent job in making the pitch playable for the second half.

City in commanding defensive form

Although Lanzini’s late goal ended City’s run of seven clean sheets from eight matches, Guardiola’s side very solid once again defensively and the Spaniard is enjoying being able to select a settled back four, who are playing a big part in their play this season.

Cancelo had another excellent game at left back and was involved in playing clever passes inside, or switching play to the opposite flank. Kyle Walker, on his 200th City appearance, was tucked in at right back, allowing Mahrez to stay wide in the tactical adjustment that proved decisive in the match.

Although both Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte were caught out on occasions by Michael Antonio - Laporte was booked for a late challenge on the forward while Dias was fortunate to escape the same punishment - they were generally able to recover and limit West Ham to few chances in the second half.

The booking Laporte picked up when he took down Antonio means that he will miss Wednesday’s trip to Aston Villa - but with the form City are in when in possession and the settled nature of their back four, John Stones should be able to seamlessly slot into the defence.

Manchester City players celebrate Fernandinho’s goal (Getty Images)
Manchester City players celebrate Fernandinho’s goal (Getty Images)

West Ham need to rediscover their momentum

What a difference two matches can make. Before the international break, a 3-2 win over Liverpool saw West Ham move about Jurgen Klopp’s side and into third, level on points with City,

Now, after back-to-back defeats, coupled with consectutive wins for both City and Liverpool, and West Ham find themselves six points behind Pep Guardiola’s team.

The chasing pack have closed the gap, too, and Arsenal’s win over Newcastle on Saturday means that those sides are now level on points, although West Ham remain ahead on goal difference.

The Hammers, who face Brighton on Wednesday and have London derbies against Chelsea and Arsenal to come in their next five matches in all competitions, desperately need to rediscover the spark that fuelled their good run before the international window.

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