Premier League
West Ham United 0 Manchester City 5

Saturday, 10th August 2019
by Chris Wilkerson

West Ham United started their 2019/20 Premier League season with a 5-0 home defeat as champions Manchester City cruised through as easy an opener as they could have asked for.

Whilst VAR will take many headlines for its part in the game, West Ham threw away a promising start to completely fall apart in a second half where they conceded four goals.

Manuel Pellegrini handed out only one debut from the start, with Sebastian Haller starting up front, but Michail Antonio playing ahead of Pablo Fornals.

It looked to be the right decision, with the winger doing well to get close to and beyond new boy Haller as the French striker linked smoothly with Lanzini, Wilshere and Anderson.

Encouraging early signs saw the Hammers take control of the middle of the park, the interchange in passing between Wilshere, Lanzini, Anderson and Haller a particular delight.

But it also threatened little, whilst Manchester City were starting to find their way into the game.

Warning shots were fired as the somewhat wasteful Riyad Mahrez was given opportunities to create or shoot cutting in from the City right.

The time being found on that flank was bound to be punished, and after 23 minutes it was, and in simple fashion.

As Antonio lumbered over to support his full back, Mahrez was given time to slide a perfectly weighted pass behind Aaron Cresswell. Cresswell could not match the speed of Walker, who had begun his run much earlier, completely unopposed, and he got to the ball in the box comfortably ahead of the West Ham defender. His driven cross was turned in by Gabriel Jesus, who did well to adjust to the near post flick of a desperate Issa Diop.

It was not really something that City had deserved, but West Ham had done little to lay a glove on them whilst playing pretty passes outside the box.

It was not, however, a half that ended with West Ham fans feeling particularly downtrodden. The passing play had been lovely, and a sign that this side will really hurt some teams. Further to that, Pellegrini set out his side to attack City, without being reckless, and put pressure on them with good intensity, especially from the likes of Lanzini and Haller.

Haller himself had shown good touches, be those clever passes, strong use of his chest or just little layoffs and turns that showed an acute awareness of those around him.

With all that in mind, a 1-0 deficit at half-time was not paired with a feeling of hopelessness. In fact, the only unwelcome shock of the half was continuing to watch referees oblivious to the continued and cynical deliberate fouls by Guardiola's side, the only people in world football who don't see these fouls and want them punished.

And it is that kind of mild optimism that can be crushed out of a person by the 45 minutes that followed.

It took only five minutes for West Ham to punish those who thought a game was on. Tight passing around the halfway line was interrupted by City, who then burst forward with Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian ran by Balbuena with ease, the Paraguayan turning embarrassingly slowly. This drew Fredericks into the middle, and as he came in, Raheem Sterling was left free.

De Bruyne fed the ball into the path of Sterling, who picked up where he left off last season and placed the ball through Fabianski's legs as the goalkeeper came out to meet him.

It was almost the last moment of the game that wasn't hampered by VAR.

Minutes later, City thought it was three, only for a small margin of offside to have their goal disallowed whilst both teams waited in their halves, ready to kick off.

This decision made some sense, although questions really need to be asked of the colour lines they choose to highlight offsides on a big screen with over 60,000 people in attendance.

From here on out, it appeared that Pellegrini's side gave up. Even as Snodgrass replaced Wilshere in midfield, in what one can assume was an effort to tighten things up and add a more disruptive influence, the home side seemed to lose all energy.

The pressing stopped, and Antonio's withdrawal limited any opportunities to go long in behind, whilst losing his more direct approach and that option.

The third goal killed any hint of a contest.

It was a nice goal, from a City perspective, as Mahrez was given acres of space and time by Cresswell 25 yards from goal to chip a ball over the defence for Raheem Sterling to run from deep, control, turn, and then flick over the approaching Fabianski. This time, the tight offside call went in Sterling's favour.

After that, the crumble continued. Mahrez was fouled by Diop in the box for a blatant penalty with around five minutes remaining. Surprisingly, it was saved by Fabianski as Aguero rolled down a rather awful effort. The parried save was cleared away as Rice got to the ball first, but as the ball went off for a throw-in, the regularly awful Mike Dean popped a claw to his ear.

As VAR checked the incident, fans in the stadium were left guessing what was happening. A "goal" was being checked, which then led to a penalty being "given", if the big screens are what we are to follow.

In truth, a retake had been ordered, although no one in the stands really knew why. It was left for fans to guess as Dean spoke to Rice and other West Ham players. A replay did show after the penalty was retaken, but as Aguero smashed the ball into the opposite corner and the back of the net, most were beyond caring. As even the City fans asked, less politely, what was going on, the game was left with a high profile VAR incident that may well be used to overshadow a terrible West Ham second half.

Encroachment was the cause, and as Rice got there first, he was deemed the offender, although one can question whether this is the case of a bad rule rather than a bad system. That itself could be a story to follow this year as VAR highlights poor rules that have been left unexposed by referees for a long time. Either way, players are going to have to learn these rules, and learn that rules they have basically ignored are now likely to come into play. It was a harsh lesson, but maybe one to take during a drubbing rather than in a tense or tight moment.

With the stadium emptying, a game continued, although not really a contest. With 91 minutes on the clock, Ilkay Gundogan wiped out Sebastian Haller 40 yards from the West Ham goal. This was deemed beneath Mike Dean to call and City burst into the area.

Sterling sold Fabianski the easiest of dummies, the goalkeeper anticipating a pass across the box to Aguero, which allowed Sterling to roll the ball into the net for a hat trick, an emphatic 5-0 win and an easy opening day of the season for the champions. VAR too was uninterested in the foul before the goal, for reasons no one will care to explain, and a horrible reminder of reality was brought to a close.

It had been a horrible 45 minutes, devoid of any of the skill and work that had gone into the first half.

It also leaves West Ham bottom of the table come the end of Saturday's games, and likely the end of the first Premier League weekend.

Familiar weaknesses were exposed, especially with both full backs. Cresswell struggled defensively, and although Fredericks had the pace to recover often, and sometimes crucially, his use of the ball going forward was atrocious.

Sebastian Haller may come away with some credit, possibly Jack Wilshere and Michail Antonio too, but it was a day to forget for the rest, including the manager.

Realistically, the motivation had gone as City took hold of the game, and we looked tired. It is harder to rouse a group of players to push that extra energy, that extra few percent when the other team is that good and in that much control. Those late goals, the Diop tackle and the Sterling hat trick, were evidence of that.

It's good to be back.

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Player Ratings

Lukasz Fabianski
A touch harsh, especially when you have a penalty save chalked off, but he was beaten five times.

Ryan Fredericks
Recovery pace helps the team, especially centre backs scared of Sterling, but he has a season to prove his pace going forward isn't wasted by his own attacking output. His crossing was amateur.

Aaron Cresswell
His lack of pace in areas like the first goal, that's not new. The wingers cannot leave him exposed, the midfield and the centre backs must surely know too. Some of his other play, unable to pressure Mahrez, was really poor. Waiting for Masuaku to take his place.

Issa Diop
Part of a pairing that let in multiple goals through the middle, whilst the penalty was clumsy. All that said, he made an amazing tackle on Sterling at one point that has to been seen to be believed.

Fabian Balbuena
Maybe his worst game for West Ham. Not helped that the enduring image will be the averagely paced De Bruyne burning away from him like a Ferreri against mobility scooter.

Declan Rice
There were some tackles in there that were excellent. But this was also a game where he made sloppy mistakes on the ball, the kind of passes and errors that a top side would look down upon. That these were notable, in a game where he still managed 91% pass accuracy, either suggests they were aberrations or the standards he's set have him then judged harshly.

Jack Wilshere
Criticism of his suitability in a midfield two is already around, but he got up and down the pitch well, seemed to be leading the effort to press, moved with the ball well.

Felipe Anderson
Felipe Anderson does not want to run. His desire to stand about 40 yards from goal and saunter forward, followed by a layoff to someone moving or an ambitious pass, is a very frustrating habit. If he is made to run by the passing of his teammates, he is much more effective, but he needs someone to take control of his game. His heatmap showed a spot on the right where he spends far too much time.

Manuel Lanzini
Appeared disrupted by Fornals' substitute appearance, but that may just be that City stepped up their game. In the first half, he seemed key to every attack. His own heatmap shows an influence in nearly every area of midfield. Most touches, most passes, most dribbles - for West Ham - but faded dramatically. Did nearly score, in the only glimpse of West Ham playing football in the second half.

Michail Antonio
Whilst his low pass accuracy (60%) is always going to contrast with what Pellegrini demands, he is absolutely different to every other option and his running in behind does seem to allow for Haller to drop in and play football with the midfield. He is also an option to attack crosses with the big forward, which may not be aesthetically what Pellegrini wants, but is clearly threatening. Wrongly replaced.

Sebastien Haller
Comparisons to Kanoute and Ashton have been there, but he reminds me of Teddy Sheringham, but not with the legs of the one we got. Ended with 91% pass accuracy after 100% in the first half. As a striker, dropping deep against the team in the league who are the best at winning it back with quick tackles and interceptions. His chest control was phenomenal. Quiet second half, not really his fault, is enough to give him a middle of the road rating. Promising.


Pablo Fornals
(Replaced Antonio) Looked a bit lost, certainly not adapted to the pace of the Premier League, and he came on against a charged up City. As rude an awakening as you can get, he'll need time to get used to it. Quite anonymous.

Robert Snodgrass
(Replaced Wilshere) For what he was brought on to do, he didn't do it. No tackles or interceptions, his five rating basically boosted because he put in the cross that gave Diop a great headed chance.

Javier Hernandez
(Replaced Anderson) Even at 2-0, it seemed like a "why not?" sub from Pellegrini. His presence and movement in the box got West Ham as close to scoring as they had all game, forcing a good save from Ederson. Had nothing to get into, really.

Roberto Jimenez Gago
Did not play.

Pablo Zabaleta
Did not play.

Angelo Ogbonna
Did not play.

Carlos Sanchez
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Lukasz Fabianski, Ryan Fredericks, Aaron Cresswell, Issa Diop, Fabian Balbuena, Declan Rice, Jack Wilshere, Felipe Anderson, Manuel Lanzini, Michail Antonio, Sebastien Haller.

Goals: None.

Booked: Fabian Balbuena 61 Felipe Anderson 62        .

Sent off: None.

Manchester City: Ederson, Walker, Stones, Laporte, Zinchenko, Rodrigo, Silva (Foden 80), De Bruyne (Gundogan 79), Mahrez, Sterling, Jesus (Aguero 69).

Subs not used: Bravo, Cancelo, Otamendi, Bernardo Silva.

Goals: Jesus (25), Sterling (51, 76, 90+1), Aguero (86).

Booked: Walker (87), Sterling (90+3).

Sent off: None.

Referee: Mike Dean.

Attendance: 59,870.

Man of the Match: Sebastien Haller.