MANCHESTER, England – When Rodri took his place in the stands during recess, a Manchester City representative asked him about Pep Guardiola’s half-time team interview. The fact that the Spanish midfielder reacted with big eyes and puffy cheeks said everything about Guardiola’s mood and the course of the first 45 minutes against West Ham United.
But as it always seems these days, Guardiola was left behind to talk about another win. It ended 2-1 and City now has 20 wins in a row.
Even on a relatively non-working day for Guardiola’s team, West Ham, the other Premier League team in shape, couldn’t find a way to end the run. You know things go well when your strikers can’t score but both center-backs score.
It was almost as if Ruben Dias and John Stones, the two goalscorers, took it personally when Mikhail Antonio became the first opponent to score at the Etihad Stadium since Mohamed Salah in November. City has defended so well this season that Dias and Stones have scored more goals (5) than they conceded (3) in games they started together.
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Even more important for Guardiola is that City are now 13 points ahead and there are 12 games to play.
“It was really difficult, after 45 minutes today we realize that we are not going to paint anything beautiful,” said Guardiola. “We were much better in the second half than in the first half. When you play a lot of games, in the league and then in the Champions League, that’s normal.
“We were lucky enough to get all three points. The math is important at the end of the season.”
It’s been a while since Guardiola had to rip off his players during a winning run that started in December, but he wasn’t happy with a first-half performance in which West Ham scored six shots against the City’s two . The score was 1-1 at halftime, but West Ham could easily have been ahead. Antonio scored a goal after being put on a plate by Jesse Lingard but should have had a different one as he widely skewed a good chance.
City haven’t had to hold on to results lately, but David Moyes was still rushing to get the ball back into play in added time as his team looked for an equalizer. They almost got one too, but Issa Diop couldn’t get his late header from Lingard’s precise cross in.
Lingard, who was on loan from Manchester United in January, was West Ham’s spark at the center of all the positive activities they undertook going forward. He played in the hole next to the striker and got an assist for Antonio’s goal, but would have had a few more if the finish had been better.
The 28-year-old could have stayed on the sidelines at Old Trafford but forced a move and his confidence in his own abilities is paying off. He’s back on Gareth Southgate’s radar after a spell from the English squad, and with that evidence it’s easy to see why.
With one year of contract remaining, Manchester United will have to make a decision this summer: either offer a new one or sell. The downside for West Ham is that its price tag goes up and up with every game. Lingard was later checked by name by Guardiola as the reason City was struggling so much.
Moyes continues to hope West Ham can get an unlikely spot in next season’s Champions League.
“I’m really disappointed that we didn’t get a point,” he said. “It was a great performance by the players. We tried to keep up with a top team and we have done that for a long time. I don’t want to promise what I can’t deliver if someone had said at the beginning of the season that we would would do it. ” In the upper half we would have been happy.
“We came to the best team in Europe and we gave them a really good game. If we play like this until the end of the season, we’ll be at the top. We’ve had a good season, but we have a chance.” to make it a great season. “
Guardiola’s side are also dreaming of a great season that could end with an unprecedented quadruple. Already in the Carabao Cup final, in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and on the way to another Premier League title, it is difficult to see who can prevent them from winning a second international game in three years.
For some time now, they seem destined to stroll to the title with ease, but against West Ham they also had an answer to a tougher test. Beauty and muscle are a good mix for a team that is still fighting on four fronts, and City has both.