Football Features

De Bruyne makes late Player of the Year push: Five things learned as Man City ease past West Ham

By Harry Edwards

Published: 21:44, 19 February 2020

Manchester City further secured their top-four spot with a 2-0 win over West Ham United.

The final match of Gameweek 26 was rearranged after the initial fixture had been postponed due to Storm Ciara, giving both sides a splintered mid-season break.

Rodri gave the hosts after half an hour and Kevin De Bruyne completed the win in the second half as West Ham offered very little resistance. But what did we learn?

1. Kevin De Bruyne still pushing for PFA award

Despite Liverpool running away with the Premier League and Man City underwhelming at times this season, Kevin De Bruyne is among the top five favourites to be named PFA Player of the Year. And it’s easy to see why.

The Belgian was superb on Wednesday night albeit against a disastrous West Ham side and looked a class above his teammates. From the off, De Bruyne was intent on chasing every West Ham defender on the ball as if he smelt the fear of a side facing relegation, pushing high to win the ball back.

He was constantly testing West Ham’s defence with attempted passes and it was his excellent corner to the front post that glanced off Rodri’s head and into the far corner of the net to give Man City the lead – with his 16th assist of the season.

It looked as though the assist would be taken away from him with Aymeric Laporte arriving at the far post trying to tap in, but the defender appeared to miss his connection.

As the game went on, De Bruyne frequently looked like adding to Man City’s lead, whether it was through another assist or a goal and it did come via the latter, as the Belgian rifled in at the near post, beating Lukasz Fabianski with the sheer power of his low shot. De Bruyne had the opportunity to add to his assists tally – and on another day he might have – but the midfielder was let down by his teammates before coming off late on.

2. Man City fans have their minds elsewhere

Although there was Premier League action on Wednesday night, most of football’s attention was on the Champions League – including a section of Manchester City fans.

While most others would have been watching either Tottenham v RB Leipzig or Atalanta against Valencia, for Man City supporters, UEFA was the main focus. On Friday it was announced that Man City have been banned from European club competitions for the following two seasons for committing “serious breaches” of licensing and Financial Fair Play regulations.

Man City almost immediately announced their intentions to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and have released a subsequent statement via their chairman. (link)

And it’s clear the Premier League is secondary in the minds of Man City fans right now as there were frequent anti-UEFA chants and signs at a less-than full Etihad.

3. West Ham edge closer to Championship

The odds were always going to be against West Ham, facing Man City, but the Hammers offered absolutely nothing to even try and test Pep Guardiola’s defence. It was a defence that has looked vulnerable over the season and, even with four recognised defenders starting, some West Ham fans may have hoped they would have a few chances.

But David Moyes opted for a very defensive 5-3-2 formation with Robert Snodgrass and Michail Antonio the only attacking players in the starting XI. Even with the changes, Jarrod Bowen came on with around 10 minutes to go, when the game looked done and Felipe Anderson, Manuel Lanzini and Sebastien Haller were left on the bench.

The result leaves West Ham in the relegation zone, a point behind Aston Villa, a slim gap but not one they look like overcoming on current form. West Ham are six without a win in the Premier League and have managed just two victories in 11 across all competitions. They have a tricky fixture list coming up too, with a trip to Anfield to face Liverpool up next before games against Arsenal, Wolves, Spurs, Chelsea and Man Utd before the season is over.

Could this be the end of West Ham’s Premier League journey?

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4. Aguero x Jesus just doesn’t work

The Premier League has seen some excellent strike partnerships over the years but Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus just doesn’t seem to be one.

Alone, the South American pair are excellent. Sergio Aguero has scored 16 league goals this season, second only to Jamie Vardy, while Gabriel Jesus has chipped in with nine. But together, there’s just something that doesn’t work.

Against West Ham on Wednesday night, Man City lined up with a 4-3-3 formation but played more like a 4-2-2-2 at times, with Bernardo Silva and De Bruyne providing the width. But despite the pair’s creativity, neither could help Aguero or Jesus find the net.

Jesus provided an early sign of things to come as he was played through on goal by David Silva, but the Brazilian wanted one too many touches and a messed up his attempt to round Fabianski. The Brazilian was guilty of wasting chances against shortly after, this time messing about in front of goal, allowing Aaron Cresswell to recover. Between them, they had 10 shots but hit the target just three times.

5. Pep loves West Ham

Every manager has the team they love to face, and for Pep Guardiola it’s West Ham. The Spaniard has now faced the Hammers on nine occasions as a manager and has beaten them nine times.

Those nine matches have seen Guardiola’s Man City score 30 goals and concede just three times, and despite the slender win, Wednesday night might have been his easiest victory of the lot.

West Ham appeared to arrive without a gameplan and allowed Man City far too much time on the ball. Rodri, in particular, thrived as a result. He had 196 touches in total at the Etihad, the most by any player in a Premier League since the data started being collected in 2003. He also attempted 188 passes and completed 178, again Premier League records since 2003. By comparison, West Ham completed just 169 passes.

Whether it be in the Premier League or League Two – as some opposition fans appear to be hoping – Guardiola will always love playing West Ham.

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