More Pep required at City
Superstars can't fade away in Manchester derby
MAN CITY 3
(Raheem Sterling 7, 90+2, Fernandinho 18)
WEST HAM 1
(Michail Antonio 58)
For almost an hour, Manchester City laid down a marker to their neighbours.
Catch us if you can in the upcoming derby. Bring out the biggest guns, Jose Mourinho. They won't be enough.
For almost an hour, Pep Guardiola's men were princes of a city rapidly being painted blue. They played like champions. They looked like champions.
They were geniuses at work, close to untouchable at the Etihad. West Ham were in for a dishonourable hammering.
But somehow, unfathomably, inexplicably, the final score was only 3-1.
When City raced into an early two-goal lead, a rugby score appeared certain. But the masterclass turned into a bit of a messy muddle, which must give Mourinho hope ahead of the Manchester derby this weekend.
Guardiola's men ran out of steam. The revolution continues, but they still need more Pep.
They cannot fade away against Manchester United.
At the Etihad, they faced a truly abject side unable to compete with such a swashbuckling display.
West Ham manager Slaven Bilic inevitably stressed the undoubted injury crisis that ruled out half a dozen regulars, including Dimitri Payet, but his tactical line-up read like a suicide note.
City's revolutionary approach, which deployed Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy as wingers, with John Stones often ahead of Fernandinho on the halfway line, required an equally robust response.
But the Hammers' 4-5-1 - the one being 20-year-old debutant Ashley Fletcher - waved a white flag within seconds of kick-off, allowing City to pepper West Ham's penalty box.
It's easy to get carried away, but City have hired an artist and an anarchist. Guardiola is ripping up the English Premier League handbook and jotting down his own musings.
City needed just seven minutes to make sense of his scribbling.
David Silva swopped flanks and released Nolito. The Spaniard dashed to the byeline and found Raheem Sterling with a precise cutback. The young Englishman gleefully accepted the gift.
Sterling looked a different player. City looked a different team; quick, penetrative and utterly captivating.
The lead was deservedly doubled on 18 minutes, when Fernandinho rose highest in the six-yard box to nod Kevin de Bruyne's whipped free-kick high into the net.
From front to back, the Hammers displayed the solidity of jelly and ice cream.
But then, City really were something else. David Silva roamed where he pleased, Sergio Aguero and de Bruyne floated and Sterling partied like it was 2014.
For Guardiola sceptics, the obvious counter-argument is if his tactical tweaks are so obvious, why doesn't every other coach follow suit?
But the Spaniard's success lies not merely in the idea, but its execution.
Aguero and Sterling tracked back. Fernandinho tucked in with Stones when the fullbacks swept forward.
Possession was won, occasionally lost and always retrieved with remarkable speed and agility.
From beneath the depths of their relentless despair, the hapless Hammers somehow salvaged a goal in the 58th minute, which was as unexpected as it was undeserved.
For a moment, Zabaleta looked like the old Zabaleta, losing Arthur Masuaku long enough to allow the Hammers fullback to clip a sumptuous cross into the box.
Michail Antonio took off with the wings of a dove. Clichy took off like a dump truck. Antonio's header flew past the AWOL Willy Cabellero.
Claudio Bravo can't come in quickly enough.
And suddenly, City's invincibility was replaced with uncertainty. Flamboyance succumbed to fatigue and frustration and Aguero was lucky to stay on the pitch after elbowing Winston Reid in the throat, off the ball.
Sterling added a late gloss to an increasingly ragged team display, sliding home City's third from an acute angle in the 92nd minute.
At least, they finished how they'd started.
If they sustain the performance for an entire 90 minutes, Mourinho's men are in for a hiding.