This was not a perfect performance by Manchester City but it was accomplished enough to confirm that they are serious challengers for this season's Premier League title. Without Carlos Tevez, their top scorer and talisman who no longer wants to be part of the family, they swatted aside a West Ham team who were full of commitment but bereft of the sort of class that City intermittently showed. While Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United must endure a month of clashes between each other, City's next four matches are against teams of modest ambitions. By the new year they could be clear at the top. They would take some catching.
The intrigue before the visit to the Boleyn Ground centred on how City would cope without Tevez, and Roberto Mancini devised a novel solution. The Italian manager has often been criticised for his conservatism this season but here he deployed a liberating system that confounded conventional description: the four defenders kept to familiar roles, and Nigel de Jong and Gareth Barry served as screens in front of them but City's other four outfield players flitted freely all over the pitch. For long periods their movement left West Ham bemused.
City's assistant manager, Brian Kidd, said the success of the system proved Mancini's astuteness and served as a powerful rebuke to his detractors. "The work the manager has put in on the training pitch is absolutely fantastic," Kidd said. "His passion, his will to win and his attention to technical and tactical details are unbelievable. [Success] doesn't come overnight but the fruits of his work are beginning to show. The club are very lucky to have him as a manager."
Against West Ham David Silva emerged as City's chief orchestrator, his artfulness matching his ubiquity, but early on it was the much-maligned Jô who threatened most. The Brazilian was popping up everywhere and could have scored after two minutes, when Yaya Touré threaded a pass to him 15 yards from goal. His low shot was well saved by Robert Green. Two minutes later Jô turned creator, scampering down the left wing before delivering a low cross to Mario Balotelli. Matthew Upson had left the Italian unattended at the near post but Balotelli failed to punish the defender's slackness, side-footing wide from close range.
West Ham were accused of lacking resolve during their defeat at Sunderland last week; here they did not want for endeavour, only quality. After 10 minutes, however, they did muster a shot. Scott Parker's volley from 30 yards was powerfully struck but flew wide.
Junior Stanislas and Pablo Barrera also tried their luck from distance before City, on the half-hour mark, asserted their supremacy in emphatic fashion, aided, it must be said, by the sort of laxity that has cost West Ham on so many occasions already this season. Gareth Barry meandered down the left wing and then pulled a low ball to the edge of the area, where Jonathan Spector watched as Yaya Touré slammed a rising shot into the net.
Balotelli, the one member of City's forward quartet who did not exude enterprise, should have doubled the visitors' lead moments later but, after he was allowed to meet Silva's corner unchallenged, his header from eight yards was booted off the line by Barrera.
West Ham got more into the game in the second half – though, to the visible annoyance of City players and staff, that was partially because they tackled with increased recklessness. City became ruffled and for a while it looked like West Ham might draw level, even if they struggled to create any clear chances. They would have had an ideal opportunity to score in the 66th minute, however, if the referee had awarded a spot-kick after Yaya Touré handled in the box but, to Avram Grant's chagrin, Phil Dowd waved play on. "It was a penalty and it could have changed the game," insisted Grant.
Seven minutes after that incident Yaya Touré made the hosts suffer some more. James Tomkins allowed the Ivorian to lope past him wide on the left and Touré drove into the area before firing past Green. The ball ricocheted off the post, on to Green's back and into the net. City's third goal was borne directly of their canny movement. The substitute Adam Johnson made a darting run across the home defence and was cleverly picked out by Silva. The winger easily rounded Green and scored.
James Tomkins exploited shoddy City marking to nod a late goal for West Ham, via a deflection off Kolo Touré, but that was little consolation to the Londoners, who are now four points adrift at the bottom of the table. Grant insisted his team will get out of trouble. City, meanwhile, are refusing to get ahead of themselves. "You don't win anything in December," Kidd said. "If we're still in the shake-up around April we'll start to think about winning the league."
THE FANS' PLAYER RATINGS AND VERDICT
ROGER HART, Observer reader It wasn't quite men against boys but City were clearly the better side. They were very slick early on and controlled midfield, with Spector and Parker struggling to keep up and Silva and Barry just looking too good. But we'd just begun to settle when Yaya Touré scored. In the second half we were better, and condensed the play, but the second goal was crucial – from where I was it looked a bit harsh to award it as an own goal against Green. It was a smart move for the third, though. We tried hard and the crowd didn't boo, but City were too good. It's going to be a long hard winter.
The fan's player ratings Green 6; Faubert 5, Tomkins 7, Upson 6, Ben Haim 6; Barrera 6 (Cole 71 5), Parker 6, Spector 5, Stanislas 6 (Dyer 65 6); Obinna 6, Piquionne 5 (Hines 80 n/a)
LLOYD SCRAGG, Man-City-issues.blogspot.com What an important win. This easily could have been an opportunity missed without the talismanic Tevez and against a West Ham side fighting for their lives. Yaya Touré was brilliant; he has most certainly banished those defensive midfielder claims with that performance. He flourished in an advanced role, linking with the superb Silva and causing a whole host of problems with his bulldozing surges up field. Overall, it was a clinical performance that sees us move level on points with the league leaders and, with the big four all playing each other this weekend, who knows what could happen.
The fan's player ratings Hart 6; Boateng 7, K Touré 6, Kompany 7, Zabaleta 6; De Jong 7, Barry 6; Silva 8 (Milner 86 6), Y Touré 8; Jô 6, Balotelli 5 (Johnson 61 7)
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