LONDON, United Kingdom, Jan 2-Manchester City gave the perfect response to Pep Guardiola’s ruthless team selection as they demolished West Ham with a swaggering 4-0 victory on Wednesday.
Guardiola underlined to his spluttering side that nobody is safe from the axe as he surprisingly left star striker Sergio Aguero and goalkeeper Claudio Bravo on the bench at the London Stadium.
Aguero was unable to regain his place after missing the previous game due to injury, while Willy Caballero replaced the error-prone Bravo, who has fallen from grace since arriving from Barcelona in August as Guardiola’s hand-picked replacement for Joe Hart.
It was a significant statement from Guardiola, who has endured some chastening moments in his first season at City, and his players seemed to take the warning to heart in a scintillating display.
Kevin De Bruyne put City ahead and David Silva added the second.
Gabriel Jesus, the young Brazilian selected ahead of Aguero, bagged his first Premier League goal before the break and Yaya Toure got City’s fourth after half-time
City remain fifth, 10 points behind leaders Chelsea, but their first win in three league games moved them level on points with fourth placed Liverpool in the race to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
“The first chance we had we scored and the second chance as well. So many times that didn’t happen this season,” Guardiola said.
“We were strong in both penalty areas. In terms of the intensity and high pressing it was good. From 2-0 we controlled the game.”
Guardiola admitted this week he may have been too quick to assume his players fully understood his football philosophy.
But City had taken advantage of the wide-open spaces of the London Stadium to run West Ham ragged in their 5-0 FA Cup victory last month.
They picked up where they left off with a devastating counter-attack to open the scoring in the 17th minute after Caballero repaid Guardiola’s faith by keeping out Michail Antonio’s stinging strike.
De Bruyne pounced on Aaron Cresswell’s wayward pass on the halfway line, accelerated clear and slipped the ball to Jesus on the right side of the penalty area.
Carrying on his run without being checked by the negligent Hammers rearguard, De Bruyne looked up to see Jesus guiding a pass back towards him and the Belgian side-footed beyond Darren Randolph with a cool low finish.
– Sumptuous –
It was a sumptuous move that underlined the gulf in class between the teams and City weren’t finished yet.
Just four minutes later, Leroy Sane produced an impudent piece of skill, leaving Sam Byram trailing in his wake with a nimble nutmeg before racing away from Jose Fonte.
Sane made sure not to squander the opening, clipping a cross to the far post, where Silva had been left unmarked to slot into the empty net from close-range.
Hammers boss Slaven Bilic insists his squad are more formidable without Dimitri Payet because they have been united by a determination to prove they can win without the France playmaker, who this week got his wish to rejoin Marseille after effectively downing tools to force the move.
But this wasn’t the kind of performance to make that sale look a shrewd deal.
Cresswell should have reduced the deficit when Andy Carroll sent him through on goal, but the defender’s woeful miscue encapsulated West Ham’s deepening gloom.
Any doubts City would coast to victory were erased in the 39th minute when another rapier thrust cut West Ham apart.
Sane, in sublime form, crossed to Sterling and he unselfishly teed up Jesus for a simple tap-in as West Ham’s bewildered defenders looked in vain for an offside flag.
City made it four in the 67th minute after Fonte, enduring a debut to forget, responded to Sterling’s incisive raid with a clear trip.
Toure converted the penalty to seal City’s biggest league win since October and send West Ham’s fans scurrying to the exits.