A strong response
Lewis Rutledge picks out the main talking points from Manchester City's 2-1 victory over West Ham at the Etihad Stadium
Last Updated: 27/04/13 5:56pm
Manchester City may have relinquished their Premier League title but they were still too strong for West Ham United at the Etihad Stadium as they ran out deserved 2-1 winners.
Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure scored wonderful goals to delight the home fans on an occasion when it would have been easy to lose a little focus.
This was the sort of response Roberto Mancini would have demanded after losing to Tottenham Hotspur and then seeing Manchester United confirmed as champions, although the scoreline could have been more convincing if a series of good chances had not been spurned.
A greater margin of victory would also have been harsh on West Ham, who acquitted themselves well in the second half.
David Silva returned from a three-match absence with a hamstring injury to make his 100th league appearance for Manchester City in their clash with West Ham. Sergio Aguero was also available for the Blues, who had Joleon Lescott in defence in place of Matija Nastasic, meaning Roberto Mancini selected for the first time this season the same starting XI that took to the field against Queens Park Rangers on the final day of last term.
West Ham were unchanged from the team that beat Wigan last weekend, with manager Sam Allardyce resisting the temptation to bring Joe Cole or Mark Noble into his starting XI, and Carlton Cole also having to settle for a place on the bench as in-form Andy Carroll led the line.
Both teams set up with similar 4-2-3-1 formations but it was City who bossed proceedings early on and pinned West Ham back inside their own half. Toure and Barry provided the midfield steel and allowed the four advanced players the freedom to interchange positions. There were some classy passing moves as Silva, Aguero, Carlos Tevez and Nasri combined, none more so than the attack which saw Aguero sweep home City's opening goal.
West Ham's main problem was not so much their tactics but their wastefulness in possession in the first half, and when this was remedied after the interval they were able to cause problems of their own. Mohamed Diame started to get to grips with City's central midfielders and they were able to bombard Joe Hart's area with a succession of crosses, allowing Andy Carroll to use his aerial prowess and make life awkward for his opponents.
Mancini did not use a substitution until the 78th minute and all three of his changes served the same purpose, to protect City's lead in the closing stages. Silva was the first to make way on his return from injury and Tevez and Nasri soon followed, with James Milner, Javi Garcia and Kolo Toure coming on to shore things up. They were all sensible moves from Mancini but, bizarrely, the play became increasingly stretched, and West Ham enjoyed some of their better spells towards the end.
Jack Collison's introduction in place of Ricardo Vaz Te midway through the second half helped West Ham gain more of a foothold and he was certainly more effective with his passing. Matthew Taylor and Carlton Cole were also late substitutes, for Kevin Nolan and Joey O'Brien respectively, and they produced lively cameo performances.
Howard Webb was his usual commanding presence in the middle but he and his assistants faced a couple of tricky decisions. On two occasions West Ham had penalty appeals for handball against Pablo Zabaleta turned down, with one looking a particularly strong shout as the Argentine appeared to lean into blocking a shot, although his hands remained down by his sides. Webb also had to contend with a mistimed challenge by O'Brien on Zabaleta which angered the City players, but he deemed it worthy of a yellow and replays suggested that was a fair call.
There was plenty to admire about City's attacking play at times but they were also thankful to a strong display from captain Vincent Kompany, who marshalled his defence superbly throughout with a series of crucial tackles and interceptions. He dealt well with the threat of Carroll and his distribution from the back was also good.
West Ham's star man was probably Matt Jarvis, who grew into the game after a quiet first half. He delivered several testing crosses and, unlike many Premier League wingers over the past couple of years, was able to trouble City's full-backs.
The result strengthened City's position in second place and they should have few alarms in cementing a runners-up berth behind Manchester United, but Mancini will be targeting maximum points from their four remaining games. A trip to Swansea next weekend is followed by a home game against West Bromwich Albion, when players will be eager to earn starting spots for the FA Cup final on 11th May.
West Ham manager Allardyce, like rival manager Mancini, already has one eye on what will happen in the transfer window at the end of the season and has made it clear he wants to strengthen his squad. The Hammers will still be hoping to finish in the top half and their final three games are against Newcastle United, Everton and Reading.