After a sunny afternoon of football, Manchester City thrashed West Ham 0-5 at The London Stadium.
City took an early lead and dominated the game, they found VAR a trickier obstacle than West Ham but powered through late on to secure a massive win and go top of the league. Who were the winners and losers?
Winner: Raheem Sterling
There was so much expectation for Manchester City this season, every attacking player had a lot placed on their shoulders but Raheem Sterling perhaps more than most. Not only was he expected to step up and continue his year-on-year improvement, but with Leroy Sané out injured he then had to be even more dominant to replace the German’s output.
Sterling’s response? Typically sensational. He played well in the first half but absolute ran the second period at The London Stadium. With West Ham pushing forward, Sterling found more space to break into. He cooly slotted home just six minutes into the half, bagged a gorgeous chip that eventually found its way by VAR, and then finished things off with a slotted finish in stoppage time.
Raheem Sterling is the first player to score a hat-trick on the opening weekend of the Premier League since Didier Drogba in 2010-11 (vs. West Brom).
He didn't even need that penalty. 🙃 pic.twitter.com/MkwY0kw1HD
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 10, 2019
An opening day hat-trick. Sterling has already set the tone for a season which he was expected to dominate. His strikes put City to the top of the league on goal difference and put him top of the golden boot charts already. This is going to be Raheem Sterling’s season.
Loser: Michail Antonio
With West Ham’s brilliant new attacking players, the potential to unleash them all at the same time to kick-off the new season must have been tempting. But Manuel Pellegrini opted to bench Pablo Fornals and start Michail Antonio with the Englishman playing on the left-wing.
The idea here seemed to be that Antonio could offer a direct threat on the break whilst also defending Aaron Cresswell, but the reality was that Antonio was anonymous when West Ham had possession and did almost nothing to help Aaron Cresswell. City were constantly raiding down that flank and that’s where their goal came from too. Antonio was so ineffective that he was withdrawn for Fornals at half-time. Not the best way to start a season!
Winner: Kyle Walker
With Man City spending €60m on Joao Cancelo in the summer, a fire has been lit under Kyle Walker. Yes Cancelo can play left-back, but primarily he is a right-back and a very, very good one (he completed more dribbles than any other defender in Serie A last season). So Walker knew that he had to start playing at the top of his game to justify his place.
And that’s what he did at The London Stadium. Walker put in a powerhouse performance against West Ham. Not only was he a rock solid defender, rebuffing any and all West Ham attempts to penetrate down his flank, but he was great in attack too. Walker was a constant outlet on the right and really used his pace to punish West Ham. He created the opening goal with a staggering sprint clear of Aaron Cresswell, it was unreal, Walker made his compatriot look like he was running in slow motion. A spectacular assist and a statement made.
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With City leading 0-2, West Ham had made some changes and a goal could have turned the game. Ederson was having none of it. He saved well from a point blank Chicharito header, but when Manuel Lanzini got to the ball first and turned it back low into the corner the Brazilian really showed his skill by launching himself across his goal to claw the ball away to safety.
It was a massive double save, the highlight of his afternoon. A clean sheet on the opening day of the season, away from home, is exactly what Ederson needed to start the season. Excellent passing, excellent saves, he commanded his box too. And with Alisson out injured this could be Ederson’s chance to edge ahead in the arms race to be Brazil’s no. 1 goalkeeper.
VAR is potentially a fantastic tool in football, it can really see better decisions being made at every level of the game when it’s active. But the problem with it is that it can be used for precision decisions that whilst correct, aren’t right. Gabriel Jesus scored a goal after a delightfully flowing attack but the goal was disallowed because of a shoulder, a shoulder just millimetres offside.
Was it offside? Sure, strictly speaking it was. But the rule exists to prevent attacking teams from gaining an unfair advantage. A player having on shoulder a millimetre ahead of a defender, something he isn’t even conscious of, isn’t gaining an unfair advantage. It was ridiculous to rule that goal out, and even though later on Raheem Sterling’s goal was eventually allowed by VAR and they correctly clamped down on encroachment into the area during a penalty kick, one cannot help but fear for an entire season of precision offside decisions changing games. Being correct isn’t always the same as being right.
Winner: Pep Guardiola
Last night Liverpool opened the season with a 4-1 home win. Today defending Champions Manchester City had a trickier away game and won 0-5. No one would have been surprised if City had just won and gone level with Liverpool on points, but no, they powered past the Hammers and went top on goal difference.
It was 25th time under Pep Guardiola that City have scored four or more goals. That is absolutely ridiculous, but speaks to their almost impossible quality. Today they grew into the game and ended up wiping the floor with what began as a competitive West Ham side. Rodri began the game looking ropey but by the end was imperious. The sheer quality Guardiola has imbued his side with puts them in pole position to retain their title. Obviously it’s very early, but would you doubt the Catalan and his men?