Sterling hat-trick helps City to comfortable win - but VAR has last word
West Ham United 0
Manchester City 5
A Raheem Sterling hat-trick helped Manchester City to a thumping 5-0 opening day win over West Ham at the London Stadium this afternoon.
There was a sense of whatever you can do, we can do better, as City replied to Liverpool’s 4-1 dispatching of Norwich with an even better performance – and result.
In the final months of last season City and Liverpool went toe-to-toe, each replying to the other’s win with three points of their own.
And, on the evidence so far, there is nothing to suggest any different is in the offing this year.
West Ham, and their big summer signing Sebastian Hallar, began sharply without creating any real chances.
Manuel Lanzini nicked the ball away from John Stones on the edge of the penalty area, and VAR was called into action for first time to check whether Stones’ challenge on Lanzini was fair – it was.
City soaked up the early pressure and, midway through the first half, took control of the game – and never lost it thereafter.
Kevin De Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez and David Silva began to create openings, particularly down the West Ham left, where Aaron Cresswell was given the run-around.
Mahrez had a couple of good chances, first drawing a fine save from Lukasz Fabianski before firing into the side netting when he should have done better.
And the champions duly took the lead on 25 minutes when Kyle Walker got down the West Ham left, crossed and Issa Diop’s attempted clearance was turned in by Gabriel Jesus.
It should have been two on the stroke of half-time when Rodri’s ball forward was only half cleared by Diop. Jesus picked up the loose ball but couldn’t life the ball over the stranded Fabianski.
City started the second half where they had left off in the first, and on 52 minutes Sterling made it 2-0, De Bruyne setting the England man free down the middle to calmly tap past Fabianski.
City thought they had the game wrapped up on 53 minutes when Jesus tapped in Sterling’s cross, but after a VAR check which seemed to take an age, the boffins in the Heathrow bunker spotted an offside in the lead-up to the goal and it was back to only 2-0.
The home side appeared temporarily lifted by the disallowed goal, and Diop headed the Hammers’ best chance of the game just over from Robert Snodgrass’ free-kick from the left.
Ederson then made a great double save for City, before they broke away and did make it 3-0 – Sterling beating the offside trap and lifting the ball over the onrushing Fabianski.
Again there was the anti-climax of awaiting the VAR decision – which showed that Sterling was onside.
By now City were rampant. They won a penalty on 82 minutes after a foul by Diop. Aguero’s kick was poor and low to Fabianski’s left, allowing the Pole to grab the ball.
But VAR was to have the final word – yet again – spotting an encroaching Hammers defender and allowing the Argentine another go – this time he smashed it straight down the middle for 4-0.
There was still enough time for Sterling to complete his hat-trick, again beating the offside trap and slotting past Fabianski for 5-0.
There’s no doubting that VAR is a good thing in that it gives us the correct decisions, but if it takes the passion and spontaneity out of the beautiful game, it may be too high a price to pay.
West Ham: Fabianski, Cresswell, Balbuena (y), Anderson (Chicharito, 65), Lanzini, Wilshere (Snodgrass 53), Haler, Diop, Fredericks, Antonio Fornals, 46), Rice
Subs: Roberto, Zabaleta, Chicharito, Snodgrass, Sanchez, Fornals, Ogbonna
Man City: Ederson, Walker, Stones, Sterling (y), Jesus (Aguero, 68), Zinchenko, Laporte, Rodrigo, De Bruyne (Gundogan 79), Silva (Foden, 79), Mahrez
Subs: Bravo, Gundogan, Aguero, Foden, Cancelo, Otamendi, Foden
Ref: Mike Dean