Pep Guardiola marvels at 'amazing' Manchester City after 20th straight win

John Stones seals 2-1 victory against West Ham that sends club 13 points clear at the top

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And then there were 20. Manchester City’s extraordinary winning run has even taken their manager aback. “Twenty in this period, in this era, with this situation around the world, to be able to do 20 is maybe one of the greatest achievements we have done together in our careers,” said Pep Guardiola.

“I am surprised, in the toughest year for all society. What we have done is amazing.”

But those sequences require different types of wins, the emphatic and the ground-out and this was one of the hardest, necessitating some improbable match winners.

City have built from the back this season, becoming bywords for frugality. Ruben Dias and John Stones have fashioned the most redoubtable rearguard in English football, to the extent that Michail Antonio’s goal was only the fifth City have conceded in 18 Premier League games and the first in all competitions at the Etihad Stadium this season with the English defender on the pitch.

But as West Ham defended superbly against City’s more feted attacking talents, specialist stoppers turned scorers.

Perhaps that is Guardiola’s total football ethos: everyone has to be comfortable on the ball and two defenders finished like forwards. Even then, West Ham almost procured a point in the 94th minute, Issa Diop heading Jesse Lingard’s cross just wide, but City ended 13 clear.

“We were lucky to get all three points,” said Guardiola, but a third Premier League title in four years is starting to feel a formality.

The more intriguing question may be if West Ham can retain a top-four spot. They departed defeated, for only the second time in the top flight in 2021, but with reputation enhanced.

“I am really disappointed we didn't get a point,” said manager David Moyes. “It was a terrific performance.” City used to eviscerate West Ham regularly, but Moyes’ men are no pushovers.

West Ham were without the injured Lukasz Fabianski but were so resolute that his replacement, Darren Randolph, was a spectator as City did not muster a shot of any variety until Dias’ 29th-minute opener.

“After 45 minutes we realised we are not going to paint anything beautiful,” said Guardiola, lyrically.

City were not at their most fluent, with Guardiola resting some of the architects of their winter surge, in Joao Cancelo, Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling and Rodri, and the side suffering as a result.

Two of the benched were supplanted by superstars. Remarkably, this was the first time in over a year that Sergio Aguero and Kevin de Bruyne started a league game together but the Argentinian lacked sharpness – his replacement, Gabriel Jesus, was brighter – and the Belgian looked distinctly rusty in the opening exchanges.

Then he unveiled a majestic, magnificent cross, delivered from deep, on his less-favoured left foot. Dias met it at the far post with a thumping header that brought his first City goal.

Even when out of sorts, De Bruyne can do things few others can even envisage. “The ability to put the ball on a sixpence is very, very good,” said Moyes. His side nevertheless impressed. “I want to praise the players for how well they have done against probably the best team in Europe.”

The game’s finest forward levelled for him. Michail Antonio applied the finishing touch after a storming run from Vladimir Coufal, which felt reminiscent of Pablo Zabaleta, and a low cutback to Lingard, whose shot was touched in by the striker. Elusive and impressive, Antonio merited his goal. He had threatened with an early header and clipped the outside of the post with a shot on the turn after the excellent Lingard found him.

“Big compliment to West Ham,” said Guardiola. There were big celebrations from City when Stones finished with unerring accuracy, after Riyad Mahrez tormented youngster Ben Johnson to cross. Defenders were the best form of attack. “A draw and defeats, that is the normality in football,” added Guardiola. And this is abnormal.