Title-chasing hopefuls Manchester City hosted West Ham at the Etihad Stadium. Two ex-City players Pablo Zabaleta and Samir Nasri would be returning to their old stomping ground as well as ex-manager Manuel Pellegrini. The full three points on offer for the Premier League would be needed to keep close tabs on Liverpool who beat Watford the same evening. The game was tipped to be a ‘goal fest’ for City and it was clear from the very start, West Ham would come to the Etihad Stadium playing for the draw.
In this Premier League match analysis we will see how West Ham frustrated Manchester City to scrape a 1-0 result on home turf.
City lined up in their familiar 4-3-3. Guardiola was forced to rotate the squad from Sunday’s Carabao Cup win over Chelsea due to injuries. Stones, Laporte and Ferdandinho all out injured which made short of options defensively. Gundogan took up Fernandinho’s role whilst Kompany started at centre back.
West Ham switched from a 4-1-4-1, used the previous week against Fulham to a more defensive 4-2-3-1. The young Ben Johnson made a surprising start and a senior team debut at left-back. Ryan Fredericks replaced Zabaleta to start at right back.
Manchester City going forward
Manchester City liked to form their typical attack formation when going forward. Although, playing a 4-3-3 we see the two midfielders David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne move up into the half spaces to create a five-prong attack. The half spaces are usually found within the gap of the centre backs and full backs of the defending team. As you can see below exploiting these gaps enables overlaps for the wingers to run onto.
West Ham play “90s football”
West Ham never looked like having a real game plan going forward. They were not going to risk playing from the back in case a high pressing City attack could catch them out. Instead, West Ham preferred a Graham Taylor favourite. Route one football, aka ‘lumping it up front’, a tactic that is rarely seen these days in the Premier League. The target man would be Andy Carroll with him being 6″4. This was done In order to control the ball and keep possession in midfield and as far away from the West Ham goal as possible.
Coping with the long ball
Manchester City counteracted this by pressing hard and shutting West Ham’s options down. Below we can see what happened directly after the picture above.
West Ham’s right-back, Fredricks has received the ball. Sane and David Silva instantly shut him down. This pressure leaves him no time to look up and assess that Felipe Anderson, who is free on the wing and ready for a ‘switch ball’. A West Ham player should have been in the black box, in order to take the pressure off Fredericks and keep possession. The red dotted line is potential pass routes but they countered by De Bruyne moving into the passing lane involving Anderson. Aguero is positioned to challenge either Declan Rice or Diop should an attempted pass be made to them. Under these circumstances, the only option is to play the ball back to the keeper to keep possession. From there, City regains the chance to press high, the ball is kicked long and the cycle continues.
West Ham’s deep defence
Second half game changing subs
With City dominating possession but wasting chances, it was clear the team were struggling to find that little extra something to win this battle. Frederick’s hard tackling and good positioning stopped Sane from performing at his very best. Mahrez, on the other hand, continued to be caught Offside, made poor passes and got dispossessed too many times for Guardiola’s liking. With the two wingers misfiring it was time to make changes early into the second half.
In the 54th minute, Raheem Sterling replaced Mahrez and was then switched to the left wing. Sane would quickly follow with B.Silva taking up position on the right. These substitutions would prove match winning. City gained a penalty in the 58th minute from a fresh Silva dribbling into the box and fouled. Aguero converted.
City attempt to ‘coax out the hammers’
West Ham started to defend deep into their own half. The ‘Citizens’ recognised West Ham’s plan and acted to counter this. City would attempt to draw West Ham deep into their half by passing back to Ederson.
With the ball so far back into City’s half West Ham then counter pressed high.
With a combination of many, ‘nothing passes’, City managed to coax West ham into the far corner of the pitch.
Kompany spotted Aguero in a half space and plays the ball to him. With a couple more quick passes, De Bruyne switches play and kicks a through ball for Sterling to run onto. West Ham, caught in a panic, attempt to rush back into position. Sterling, cuts back in and manages a shot on target. It was clear Guardiola didn’t want to settle for 1-0.
Playing off the blind spots
City starting to use the skills they do so well. Playing off the blind spot or rear shoulder of a defender is one of them. Below we can see Fredericks is keeping tabs on Sterling and showing him the outside line. Diop concentrates on Sterling too much which makes D.Silva available to run in behind him. Sterling can see Silva about to make the run and shifts his weight onto his right foot, feigning intention. Silva then exploits Diop’s positioning and runs onto a ball played into the box. Diop does recover and manages to block Silva’s cross. Unfortunate again this time but City work this routine so well which more often than not leads to a ‘big chance’.
As we can see from the attack momentum and statistics, City well and truly dominated the game. 15 shots in the box and five big chances West Ham were extremely fortunate to only come away with a 1-0 loss.
Manchester City always seems to struggle without Fernandinho in the team. He remains an integral part of City’s transition from defence to attack and Gundogan did not play up to Fernandinho’s standard. Manchester City will have to start being a lot more clinical by finishing these big chances and putting games ‘to bed’ earlier. Furthermore, Liverpool put five past Watford to close the gap in goal difference.
West Ham almost came away with a draw from deep defending and great goalkeeping which would have put a massive dent into Manchester City’s title hopes. However, with a fortunate penalty city survived the scare and the battle for the Premier League title rages on.