West Ham United held on for a hard-fought point to deny Manchester City in a 1-1 draw on Saturday.
Michail Antonio opened the scoring with a brilliant overhead kick after a cross from the right. City enjoyed lots of possession in deep areas, but the Hammers’ solid defensive efforts prevented any real moments of danger.
Phil Foden replaced Sergio Aguero at the break and made a quick impact, firing home at the near post just six minutes after the restart.
Raheem Sterling had the best chance to win the game late on for City, who have now won one of their last four in the Premier League.
Here are five things we learned from the game at London Stadium.
New signings, same issues?
Manchester City went big this summer on improving the defence, both in terms of starting quality and depth.
Nathan Ake and Ruben Dias cost in excess of £100 million combined, plus they kept hold of Eric Garcia, as Pep Guardiola sought to improve on last season when the team conceded more goals than he’d like, and more important goals than he’d like in tight games.
The early evidence of this season suggests there’s still work to do, with five conceded against Leicester and West Ham here targeting all the old soft spots: counter-attacks and crosses.
Dias, it must be said, was absolutely bullied by Antonio in the first half. He couldn’t cope with his acceleration or power, was far too easily held off for the opener and more than once failed to boss the forward in the air.
On the counter, Kyle Walker’s pace proved important, but so often in the first 45 minutes one direct pass from the Hammers into the channel was enough to keep opening up Pep’s side.
The fear of playing Man City these days doesn’t really stem from incredible speed and individual on-the-ball quality in the penalty box, but in their relentlessness.
It’s in the constant need to shift across the pitch, maintain concentration, watch the clever runs between the lines and behind the defence and also remember to push up, have spells of possession, relieve the pressure.
Inevitably, eventually, it grinds teams down – most defences can’t cope, as long as the movement is there. It wasn’t in the first half and Pep responded by removing the not-yet-fit Sergio Aguero at the break.
But there still wasn’t enough from the Cityzens in this game, not enough intensity in their play, not enough runners into the box. A five-man defence kept them out comfortably for long stretches and with good fortune at others – but there was never the sense that City would run away with the game.
He only lasted 51 minutes in this game, but again Antonio showed why he’s so important to West Ham and a very good striker in the Premier League.
No longer a utility player, a wing-back-turned-winger-former-full-back, he’s a full-on, effective centre-forward who can trouble the best back lines and, vitally for his team, score on a regular basis.
His goal was fantastic: strength, anticipation and the technique to pull off the overhead kick.
His consistency is better: three in six in the league this term, plus eight in his final seven games of last term.
The sight of him leaving the pitch injured would be a worry for David Moyes and the Hammers need him back quickly.
Hammers and rocks
Two big performers for the Hammers came in the shape of goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski and holding midfielder Declan Rice.
The Polish stopper was excellent with his handling, took crosses high and low with authority – and made a big late block on Sterling to preserve the draw, then another onto the post from Riyad Mahrez at the death.
Further upfield, Rice was superb both in winning back possession and in distributing it to the on-running attackers, seeking out space and keeping the Hammers on the front foot when possible.
Another step forward for the England international, showing why he is coveted by several teams higher up the table.
The Premier League is still in its infancy, but such is the small margin for error for teams wanting to win the title that every dropped point feels as though it could end up being pivotal.
That shouldn’t be the case quite as much this year – circumstance, timing, a packed fixture list and the the fractured nature of pre-season will naturally mean teams drop unexpected points far more regularly than usual, including City and Liverpool.
But City have now dropped points in more games than they have won, meaning they risk having to play catch-up to the title hopefuls as we quickly approach the first quarter of the campaign.
A Saturday night win for the Reds would put them five points ahead of Pep’s side, and even if neither club are the early table-toppers they will remain the clubs which, for now, are the measuring stick for a title tilt.
This weekend get a £10 free bet with Betfair, when you bet £10 on a Same Game Multi on the Premier League. Terms: Min £10 Same Game Multi bet on any EPL match this Fri – Sun. Free bet valid for 72 hours, awarded at bet settlement. Excludes cashed out bets. T&Cs apply.
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