“Thank you West Ham United!” (that’s a shout that will soon be ringing out in London.)
Most observers thought Pep Guardiola’s Man City would not want to be out of the cutthroat mix, but they had to work hard to hold out in more than one goal-fest. MAN UTD 2 CRYSTAL PALACE 0 • MICK JAGIELKA: After a relentless siege, referee denied Crystal Palace an equaliser, and United’s attackers put it away from the penalty spot
MAN CITY 2 WEST HAM UNITED 1
MANCHESTER, England — As Arsenal and Manchester City began their Friday evenings with distinctly underwhelming performances in Europe, Pep Guardiola sent out a reminder that Manchester City is the team everyone wants to stop.
His League Cup-champion side, bussed up to west London for a pre-season friendly against West Ham United, had a chance to stand apart from its more illustrious rivals by crushing a West Ham side determined to compete. Instead, City prevailed in a pulsating, double-goal thriller to start a four-game European testing slate. The hosts were the first to break through, and when West Ham’s heroic effort led to a first-half penalty to Sergio Aguero, it was up and running.
There was a ground swell of excitement around a second-half clash of sides aiming to make their mark, along with the start of a tour which started last Saturday in Barcelona. The sparse crowds provided a definite sense of occasion, but several statistics only underlined what an extraordinary start for the Guardiola era.
City needed only 19 minutes to convert the 10th of the Premier League’s 35 wins of 2016-17. Manuel Lanzini escaped Aleksandar Kolarov with a simple turn and first-time finish, though it’s fair to point out that a block for the Chilean would almost certainly have been in. The manner of City’s victory was also all the more impressive given the travelling fans flocked from the MetLife Stadium, an open, stadium that can’t quite hold the whole of MetLife Stadium.
Aguero had the last laugh, though. Claudio Bravo had held Javier Hernandez to a goal-line block, but with the ball landing with the feet of a more fortunate Aguero, the Argentina striker kept his cool to beat Adrian to a rare goal. James Ward-Prowse had threatened to score on multiple occasions for West Ham, but for all of their endeavour and endeavour, they only mustered two shots on target.
Aguero’s effort proved the winner of an entertaining game, but the real shock was the fact Manchester City dominated for the last 58 minutes. The hosts might still feel aggrieved that Yaya Toure was only sent off for a petulant diving challenge, when it was already 1-0.
They will, however, still be thinking of several opportunities when the signs of late came thick and fast from City’s forwards, all of whom were in superb form. David Silva, who rose to head home a corner, and Leroy Sane both had great looks at goal, while Raheem Sterling headed over from Sterling’s pass.
Replays showed that Sterling might have been pulling Gonzalo Higuain’s shirt from behind, but it’s hard to see how the referee missed it, considering that the skipper was arguably the worst offender. That incident took place in the 73rd minute, and City would die for Sterling in a flash to hand the visitors their first goal of the contest.
While Sterling might also have been booked for his dive, Leroy Sane pushed the Spanish referee to the limit. What followed was a blatant push at James Collins, when the central defender was down injured. Collins was helped to the floor by Otamendi, who did little to convince the referee that he was not part of the problem. Sterling, of course, was clearly punished: He missed the first half of the Premier League season as punishment, and his late second was no less mystifying.
We might have expected the lively Sane to be picking up a suspension, but yet another swift flash of skill and a slick turn from Sergio Aguero led to another goal, which came in the fourth minute of stoppage time, when the City captain took on Aaron Cresswell and left him stumbling on the floor.
Aguero, predictably, tucked away the penalty to seal victory, and it was only two days after scoring the winning goal in the Premier League. Both were magnificently designed, dazzling, inspirational goals. As the game headed into extra time, City looked as if they might concede one of