Monday, October 30, 2017


Image courtesy of Andy Tricker
Original article published here on ESPN's site: this one is longer, contains more detailed analysis from the match notes of City's win at the Hawthorns plus all the over-excited offcuts that didn't make it past the censor.
Another scintillating start from City gradually lapsed into a bit of a stroll for a side, whose one-goal final advantage did not nearly reflect the huge gulf between the sides. Pep Guardiola’s team produced yet another display of suffocating close passing that brought a clutch of new records:

·         the highest points haul after ten games in Premier League history

·         6th consecutive away league win, equalling a 1903 club record;

·         21 games without defeat since the FA Cup semi-final last April.

·         More completed passes than in any other Premier League game since records started in 2003.

** as well as more empty seats in the home end than United would have had.

Positives: ball recovery from unexpected sources.
Two recoveries - one collective, the other individual – illustrated perfectly what strong health Guardiola’s side is in just now: Firstly, the collective recovery from the early aberration of Albion’s equaliser out of the blue. Within two minutes, City were back in front, as if affronted by the home side’s sudden burst into their own territory. Secondly, the individual recovery of Gabriel Jesus, who, having lost the ball in front of Ben Foster’s goal, was to be seen seconds later, with a supporting pack of Kyle Walker and Fernandinho in close, harrying attendance, winning back possession on the halfway line. This was not the first time that the front man had sacrificed the possible glory awaiting within three metres of Ben Foster’s revolving eyes to forage selflessly in the middle areas instead.

Switching of positions: in the first eight minutes alone, Bernardo appeared on the right, then the left, then deep centre, with left-sided Sane also popping up on the right wing for one attack. With Walker pressed back a little to accommodate the Portuguese, Bernardo's sudden switch allowed the right wing back to surge forward, get to the byline and set up a chance that Sane eventually had blocked. This constant shifting of positions had Albion all over the place during the opening phase. 
Negatives: when you have too much of a good thing.
There is a slight whiff of complacency beginning to set in at times and here two goals were utterly gifted to the opposition when the gulf in class should really have been reflected by a three or four goal margin to do City’s complete stranglehold on affairs proper justice. This was no “scruffy win” as The Guardian called it, but another beautiful passing display. More passes, in fact, than ever seen in an Opta-covered Premier League game (since 2003 thus).

844 of them altogether. Eight hundred and forty-four.

More passes, you might say, than we or anyone else could cope with. More passes than Johnny Evans could cope with. Certainly, on occasions, more passes than we needed to see. With United scoring with two touches from De Gea’s kick-out v Tottenham the same afternoon, there is clearly more than one way to skin a monkey. While this was termed "scruffy" by paul Doyle at the Guardian, the same paper employed somebody to call United's biff-ball slugging of Tottenham as, respectively  "defensively voracious", providers of "rugged beauty" and their coach's ugly gesturing as wielding an "amusingly petulant shushing finger", the amusingly petulant shushing finger of the  "true idealist", apparently. If it was meant ironically, I had the irony tuners turned resolutely off.  

Might all of this come back and bite City on the backside at some point against a side with more about them than West Brom? The test coming up in midweek against Napoli will require much greater levels of concentration, as any lapses are likely to be brutally exposed.

Manager: Giant frothy cakes made of 844 eggs 
8 -- Is it possible to over-egg such a succulent cake? With Bernardo Silva starting alongside his namesake David, plus Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus and Kevin de Bruyne, there was a tendency to over-elaborate. 844 passes is something from a different level of football and, at times, City look like they are playing a different sport to the rest of the Premier League. Guardiola’s mantra is now clearly in full motion but there were one or two occasions where a pass was made instead of a shot. Raheem Sterling’s introduction gave the side more balance and directness and the immediate boost of a third goal, which would later turn out to be crucial.

Player Ratings: Fernandinho the all-action pivot, Silva the passing fulcrum.

Ederson Morais, 7 -- How do you score a goalkeeper, who does not have a single save to make but ends up conceding two goals? Perhaps a little slow to see the danger as the ball floated in for Albion’s first, but no doubt expected Stones to deal with it. Otherwise a standard afternoon using feet well, passing securely and with a variety of height and length. Only real ball fielded from an home attack was an easy catch mid-height from Rondon’s ballooned soft- shot.    

Kyle Walker, 7 -- A little restricted going forward by Bernardo largely sticking to the right wing, meaning he started slightly withdrawn. Lost Grzegorz Krychowiak at the far post on 47 minutes (as did Bernardo), but made amends with a glorious assist for Sterling’s goal. More evidence that he can indeed cross a ball impeccably. Ghosted into more advanced positions later on, drifting inside and wafting a right foot shot just wide of Foster’s near post. Booked right at the end for an unnecessary but understandable bit of frustration after James McClean’s dangerous tackle went unpunished. McClean meanwhile, who had evidently been introduced with the sole intention of fouling everyone, slid straight through and out into touch.

John Stones, 7 -- First surge by Rondon beautifully cut out with minimum of fuss. Slow to follow the flight of Gareth Barry’s lofted pass through the centre, which Jay Rodriguez profited from. At that point his error had negated City’s early dominance in the first 12 minutes of the game, leaving bewildering stats of 84% possession to the away side but a score of 1-1. Lost the ball under his foot on another occasion and was a little too casual at times. One great chase back on Robson-Kanu after 75mins, tracking him to the byline then whipping the ball away cleanly.

Nicolas Otamendi, 8 -- Commanding in the air. His control of Salomon Rondon had been exemplary, until a soft chest back to Ederson fell perfectly for Matt Phillips to give the score-line an unbalanced look right at the end. Also booked for slicing through Jake Livermore, but was the better of the centre backs today.

Fabian Delph, 7 -- Beginning to use his right foot, so high has his confidence soared, although he didn't use it to great effect when wafting a clearance straight up in the air, giving Rondon a headed chance. Two of City's first three shots of the match were his and he was a constant irritant down the left, linking fluidly with Sane and David Silva. For the second time in recent games, however, overhit a short pass out of defence (as against Napoli), which bounced away from Fernandinho (as against Napoli) and resulted in a near miss at the near post for the airborne Rondon.

Man of the Match Fernandinho: enabler and pivot
Fernandinho, 9 -- An assist and a goal for the Brazilian in an all action performance. Beautiful diagonal ball for Sane to open the scoring, a pass he repeated later to Silva. Right foot shot that nicked off Barry’s instep for City’s second. Majestic nutmeg on Allan Nyom and a charging presence in midfield right to the end.

Leroy Sane, 7 -- Appeared to be little danger when he attempted an early shot, having been found expertly on the left edge of the box by Fernandinho. With no backlift the ball pinged past a rooted Foster like a piece of wet soap from under a weight-lifter’s foot. Remained a good outlet for City's controlled possession on the left, exquisite exchange with De Bruyne in the build-up to goal number three, but final ball was a disappointment on too many occasions. As Guardiola later said, there's "room for improvement". 

Bernardo Silva, 6 -- Started wide right, but was soon wide left and deep centre. Tended to block Kyle Walker’s passage up the right a little with his drifting. Increasing amount of loss of possession through over-elaboration ensued and he was replaced by the more effective Sterling after 60 minutes.

David Silva, 8 -- Key to everything positive, Silva is the fulcrum for the bewildering non-stop City circulation of the ball. Headed over from De Bruyne's pinpoint cross after 26 minutes and was denied by the outstretched boot of Foster right at the end. Illustrated perfectly by integral part played in the mesmerising third goal. Eight yard pass straight into touch proved he is human after all, as did the fact that Barry dispossessed him to deliver the ball for the equaliser after 12 minutes. Full of invention though and some delightful touches in City's maelstrom of passing.

Kevin de Bruyne, 8 -- Deceptive, strolling performance from the Belgian. Some neat early passes (his first proper pass was actually a nutmeg) and two other wonderfully weighted passes, one down the flank that sent Walker away, another that traversed the pitch from right back to left wing to find Sane. Glorious cross for Silva to head over. Generally restricted himself to simple ball circulation for most of the game, as Tony Pulis’s plan appeared to be to pay him extremely close attention. Evans upended him to earn a yellow card, as he constantly dropped deep to offer an out-ball for Stones and Otamendi. Five separate touches of the ball in the sumptuous move that led to goal number three. 

Gabriel Jesus, 6 -- First touch of the ball was to stand on it by mistake and spent most of the afternoon chasing around looking for good positions. This was yet another selfless showing from the Brazilian, illustrated by him on the halfway line fighting for possession after being robbed higher up the pitch. Nutmegged Johnny Evans but called back for a foul that did not exist and was booked for protesting it. That’s a whole year unbeaten for Jesus.

Raheem Sterling, 8 -- Arrived as a 60th minute replacement for Bernardo Silva and immediately found himself on the end of the move of the game, tapping in Walker’s precise cross. Provided a more direct threat than Bernardo had done.

Ilkay Gundogan NR – On for Jesus after 82 minutes and found himself in plenty of space to charge forward as Albion tired.

Postscript: Alan Shearer gives his opinion on Match of the Day:

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