Manchester City’s slow start to the Premier League season continued with a 1-1 draw against West Ham.
Manchester City came back from a goal down to grab a point, but left very disappointed as they dropped more points against inferior opposition. West Ham defended well and took their only real chance of the match, but City offered little more than half-chances of their own. After the first half, the introductions of Phil Foden and Kevin De Bruyne gave City enough of a spark to equalize, but they could not rescue the result.
1. Questions Out Wide
Pep Guardiola has been fairly consistent this season in selecting both Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling, both of whom have underperformed. As for Mahrez, he is a bit of a one-trick pony: he does step overs, cuts in on his left on the edge of the box, then bends it into the far corner. In this way, he is extremely similar to Arjen Robben, but the problem for the Algerian at the moment is that he has not found a way to make an impact in games where there is not a ton of space.
Consistency is the only thing stopping Mahrez from reaching the heights of Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mané. Those two are rarely taken totally out of games; they have their preferred way to play, but can find a way to make an impact if it isn’t going their way. Mahrez hasn’t found that during his time at City, as when opposition teams crowd the box, cut down the space, and don’t allow Mahrez to find success with his trick, he can be completely neutralized.
As for Sterling, his one-on-one finishing was a huge part in City’s dropped points today. He has never been an elite finisher, but after having been shut out of another game, questions should be asked. Guardiola should try something, whether it would be going back to Sterling on the right and playing one of Ferran Torres, Bernardo Silva, or Phil Foden on the left, or benching Sterling outright and giving him real competition.
2. More of the Same
City once again looked slow, content to pass horizontally and keep everything in front of West Ham’s low block rather than show real intent. For a team that scored over 100 goals even during the doldrums of 2019/20, it has been a shocking start to the season. City have less goals scored than Brighton, who sit 16th.
Pep Guardiola seems to be in a damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t situation. If he plays with two holding midfielders, as he’s done all year long, it has been proven time and time again that the team struggles to score at all. If he plays with just one defensive midfielder, Rodri can be absolutely exposed. He’s consistently opted for the first option, for better or worse, and the results are the same.
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3. Perception vs. Reality
If this team did not have the label “Manchester City”, how would they be viewed by the media? The glamor of the past has this side firmly among the title favorites, but the eye test this season tells a completely different story. The players don’t look hungry, the manager seems desperate for anything to stick, and the results are not coming. City have just eight of a possible 15 points, and have won just two league games. That’s a 61 point pace, and while they will surely surpass that low bar, the warning signs are real.
Fans and media have chalked it up to nothing more than injuries and a short preseason, but City have fielded a very strong team in every match. A game against West Ham in years’ prior was usually a straightforward result by three or more goals, but it was a laborious effort today. It was a commendable performance from the Hammers, but the game was there for City and they couldn’t take all three points. Would Everton and Liverpool have dropped two points in that situation? I personally don’t think so.
Through five games, City have the same number of points as the much-maligned Chelsea and could be passed by rivals Manchester United, who have been criticized at every turn. And yet, due to the reputation of this City team and their manager, they have seen little to no pushback on a terrible start to the year. If you want to believe City are title favorites solely because they have good players and a top manager, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, teams with good players and good managers have fallen well short before, and this City team has more in common with those clubs than with those that go on to lift the Premier League trophy.