Manchester City stretch further ahead in ruthless fashion
Kevin De Bruyne gives another masterclass as Aymeric Laporte makes debut in defence
Manchester City midfielder Fernandinho scores under pressure from West Brom defender Gareth McAuley during the Premier League game at the Etihad Stadium. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images
Manchester City 3 West Brom 0
Manchester City took care of business on a night when their radar was somewhat awry though not enough to prevent a 22nd league win of their ever-more dazzling campaign. Once more Pep Guardiola’s side dominated, making West Bromwich Albion appear the Championship side they may become, as they returned home still the division’s bottom’s team.
On a frantic day in which City ended their interest in Riyad Mahrez due to Leicester’s £95 million valuation, Aymeric Laporte – who became, on Tuesday, City’s club record signing – started in central defence partnering Nicolás Otamendi.
The Frenchman was one of two changes from City’s last league outing 11 days ago, along with Bernardo Silva, who came in for the injured Leroy Sané. While Laporte’s selection may have been due to John Stones’s illness, West Brom’s bench featured Daniel Sturridge, who joined on loan from Liverpool on Tuesday. Alan Pardew made five changes from the previous league fixture, with James McClean given a start on the left wing.
Almost immediately the visitors were breached in classic Guardiola-City style. Raheem Sterling, operating on the left in Sané’s absence, raced clear behind, pinged the ball in and Pardew’s men were lucky Ben Foster could gather.
Next Oleksandr Zinchenko combined with David Silva along the same corridor and a corner was claimed. This amounted to nothing yet City were already the blue blur that opponents find hard to hold off. Robert Madley was given a decision to make when David Silva burst into the area and Craig Dawson appeared to fell him – the referee waved it away, much to Guardiola’s chagrin.
Laporte’s first attacking blow was to slide a ball through that released Silva, though it was overhit. City were just quicker and sharper in all departments. Kevin De Bruyne illustrated the point by turning what appeared a crossing position down the right into a vicious curved shot that tested Foster.
West Brom were pinned in the wrong part of their half and conceding felt inevitable. So it occurred via Fernandinho, who made a schemer’s run behind Gareth McAuley, before finishing a supreme De Bruyne ball.
Part of De Bruyne’s class is how he sees a killer decision early. The Belgian did so when firing a pass along the turf to Sterling. Suddenly, from a throw-in near their corner flag, City were near West Brom’s box as Sterling fed Silva and his pass came close to creating a tap-in for Sergio Agüero.
If there is a criticism of De Bruyne it is his finishing. The Belgian has 10 goals this season and might have had one more when clear on Foster but all he managed was a roll of the ball to the grateful goalkeeper.
As the interval neared this had become something akin to a shooting practice session for De Bruyne. One chance featured him fashioning a one-two with Agüero then causing Foster to fling himself high to keep the deficit at one. The half ended with Silva having to be replaced by Ilkay Gündogan due to what looked like a back problem.
Guardiola’s instructions to his men for the second half may have been to keep on probing and more goals would surely follow. From the kick-off City were again in Baggies territory, making life uncomfortable for them.
Gündogan immediately displayed his ability. A shimmy was followed by a pass to Sterling and, now, City seemed certain to double their lead. Yet after the forward did the hard part – executing a drag-back that removed a defender from the equation – his dipping effort missed wide to Foster’s left-hand post.
Now came some of Guardiola’s man-management. After Claudio Yacob felled Gündogan, Sterling was frantically waved over by his manager. When the No 7 reached Guardiola he was rewarded with a warm embrace that included a smacker on his cheek, presumably to console him for the miss.
Agüero was the next to threaten with a backheel that was easy for Foster to collect. De Bruyne did, finally, score in a move he also started, finishing from Sterling’s pass. McClean’s challenge brought boos and he was booked. Agüero made it 3-0, moments after a horror challenge from Matt Phillips on Brahim Díaz, for which he received only a yellow card.
By the close City had coasted to their latest emphatic victory. If anything, they are becoming better as this term ages. – Guardian service