MANCHESTER, United Kingdom, Aug 28- Pep Guardiola was recruited to rewrite the record books at Manchester City, and on Sunday he made his initial entry.
He is the first Manchester City manager to win his opening five games straight. It’s not the Champions League trophy; but it’s a start.
Of course, there are greater challenges than Sunderland, Steaua Bucharest and West Ham at home, and Stoke and Steaua Bucharest away, but City are playing good football and going into the international break sit top of the league on goals scored.
Only three games in, mind, but he would have settled for that the day the campaign began.
This match was more comfortable than the scoreline suggests – City two goals clear after 18 minutes, West Ham only back in it because Willy Cabellero is weak at crosses. Guardiola is hoping to fix that bug with the arrival of Claudio Bravo, although advocates of Joe Hart will be permitted a wry smile, too.
The Guardiola effect may be felt in other ways, too, judging by the images of Sergio Aguero throwing a blatant elbow at Winston Reid in the 77th minute.
The West Ham defender left the field but referee Andre Marriner clearly decided that a member of lovely Pep’s team couldn’t possibly be up to anything nefarious and took no action.
If the Football Association are doing their job, however, the matter won’t end there and Aguero could end up with a three-match ban. At the very least, he is likely to miss the Manchester derby.
It was an unnecessary and foolish act, considering City were largely in control. Aguero is too good to be dragged into costly vendettas. City’s third goal, scored in the second minute of injury time, was close to inevitable.
Samir Nasri found David Silva who played in Raheem Sterling.
Adrian chased out from goal rashly, Sterling rounded him and found the tightest gap at the near post to score. Quite why, in these circumstances, Aguero got himself as good as banned for the first cup final of the season is a mystery.
West Ham actually lasted six minutes and 45 seconds before conceding which, to be fair, was one minute and 45 seconds longer than most thought they would last.
Injuries have ravaged their forward line but, even with five defenders utilised, it was Manchester City’s attacking options that were thought too overwhelming. So it proved.
City were too fast into them, pressing high and ferociously, in the style Pep Guardiola has refined.
West Ham’s attempt to counter attack were instantly smothered by football’s equivalent of a fire blanket. The game was almost exclusively played in their half.
In the third minute, an attempt to hit City on the break was quickly extinguished when Raheem Sterling won the ball off Michail Antonio, feeding Sergio Aguero with equivalent urgency. Aguero ran crossfield, cutting inside before striking a low shot that travelled just wide.
Rattled again two minutes later, Mark Noble served the ball up to Fernandinho, finding David Silva through the middle, curling his shot just wide.
It was a matter of time before Manchester City found a way through and in the seventh minute it came. It was started by another strong run from Silva, breezing through West Ham’s midfield before laying the ball wide to Nolito on the left.
He cut it back perfectly for Sterling, who shot first time for his first goal of the Guardiola era. He has deserved it, too.
Just as City deserved this. Arthur Masuaku was living dangerously, struggling with Sterling and booked for a foul on Kevin De Bruyne – delivering his most impressive turn since Guardiola’s arrival – and ultimately it was a free-kick that gave City a calming lead.
De Bruyne whipped it in quite magnificently, a perfect delivery, and Fernandinho’s desire outstripped the awareness of West Ham’s back line.
He was never on their radar and quite alone when he powered his header past goalkeeper Adrian with the force of a shot. He had no chance and, from that point, it seemed neither did West Ham.
City’s assault on goal continued. In the 26th minute, another De Bruyne free-kick dipped just over, and in the 33rd minute a De Bruyne shot from Silva’s cross was deflected just wide.
The second-half began the same way, West Ham under pressure, Nolito coming close with a shot from a headed clearance.
Yet, as ever, chances squandered are punished, and against the expectations of all, West Ham narrowed the lead to a single goal with 32 minutes remaining.
Until that point they had managed a single chance of note, a header by Ashley Fletcher from a Gokhan Tore cross.
With nothing to lose, however, they grew stronger in the second half.
Fletcher was unfortunate to be penalised for a tackle on City goalkeeper Willy Caballero – certainly when one considers what Diego Costa got away with against West Ham in the first game of the season – but Guardiola’s pick ahead of Joe Hart is never wholly convincing, and looked very ineffectual as West Ham somehow found a way back into the game.
The cross came from Masuaku on the left and Caballero’s attempt to deal with it was poor, colliding with his own men and failing to get airborne. Antonio headed in at the far post – just as he did against Bournemouth last week. Slaven Bilic immediately introduced Manuel Lanzini, one of the players much missed by West Ham at the end of the season.
Within minutes, West Ham had unsettled City enough for Caballero to be booting the ball into touch. That’s not in the handbook at all.