Raheem Sterling thrives, Samir Nasri arrives as Manchester City maintain perfect start
Manchester City 3 West Ham United 1
Club away: Sterling (7’, 90’+2), Fernandinho (18’)
Club home: Antonio (58’)
Man of the match: Raheem Sterling
The angle was narrowing. The situation called for composure, for nerveless accuracy. Raheem Sterling has not always been a byword for ice-cool finishing but he weighed up the situation, judged his shot impeccably and rolled it across the line.
His second goal of both the game and the season doubled his tally for 2016. Everything has come quickly for Sterling; it is a sign of his precocity that he can seem reborn when he is still only 21.
A beneficiary of Pep Guardiola’s appointment displayed how he is imbued with confidence. His contributions sandwiched a 3-1 win against West Ham United. Sterling scored early and late. Fernandinho, too, was on target. Two early goals ensured that, while West Ham ended Manchester City’s perfect start to the Premier League last season, history did not repeat itself.
Victory was both emphatic — City recorded 22 shots and looked a class above their visitors — and yet in doubt for a spell after Michail Antonio pulled a goal back.
More from the Premier League:
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There can be hints of frailty in their defence and they have conceded in every league game so far, but they possess the armoury to outscore opponents and the quality to excel.
“You can’t say City didn’t deserve to win,” West Ham manager Slaven Bilic said. “Of course they did.”
Perfectionist that he is, Guardiola merely said: “The performance was good.” He found room for improvement, too, in Sterling, whose seventh-minute strike showcased much of what is good about his City. David Silva embarked upon a winding run in the midfield, Nolito provided the overlapping run and supplied a cutback and Sterling gave the move an appropriate conclusion.
But Guardiola argued: “In the games before, he was more brilliant. In the first half, he scored a goal but didn’t win too many defensive duels. Second half, he was better but we are so pleased. He can play on the right and left and in the centre. He is so dynamic.”
So, too, is Fernandinho, who doubled City’s lead with a forceful header from Kevin de Bruyne’s free kick. The usual finisher, meanwhile, made an impact in another, and unwanted, way. The concern for City came in the form of an apparent elbow by Sergio Aguero on Winston Reid. Referee Andre Mariner did not see it. Should the FA examine the footage and charge the striker, he will miss games against Bournemouth, Swansea and, most crucially, Manchester United. This may prove a pyrrhic victory.
“Hopefully nothing happens,” said Guardiola, who is now at the mercy of the disciplinary panels. “If it happens, we accept and adapt. If we lose him, we lose him.”
It was a philosophical response. Even as he may lose one player, he seemed to gain another.
Samir Nasri’s presence on the bench was a surprise in itself. The midfielder then made his first appearance under Guardiola. But for a goal-line clearance from Sam Byram, he would have garnished it with a goal.
“His quality is on another level,” said Guardiola, suggesting the future of a man who he barred from featuring in pre-season because of his condition and who had appeared on the brink of a move to Besiktas could yet lie at City.
“Samir arrived overweight but after a week or 10 days, it was fantastic how he trained,” he said. “If he wants to help us, wants to stay, wants to be part of something, it depends on him, not me.”
Nasri’s cameo was required as Willy Caballero could not mark his fourth and last game as first choice before Claudio Bravo replaces him with a clean sheet.
He was left clawing at thin air as Antonio headed in Arthur Massuaka’s far-post cross. “We put them under pressure,” Bilic said. Sterling alleviated it with his late goal.
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Published: August 28, 2016 04:00 AM