WEST HAM beating Manchester City by a 7-2 score-line would inevitably make the front pages should it happen at the London Stadium on Sunday, but in a roundabout manner that result has already been achieved.
Beginning their pre-season schedule on July 2nd in Geneva, David Moyes’ squad have since undertaken six further work-outs, and even if the Hammers have hardly impressed in these games, they still go into the opening day of the season relatively sharp, fit and ready.
City, by comparison, look decidedly under-cooked, having once again committed to the bare minimum of friendlies after returning from their summer hiatus. Last year, just three outings led to an underwhelming display in the Community Shield with their opponents much the brighter. An opening day loss at Spurs soon followed, the title-holders looking off the pace throughout.
Returning to the present and history is repeating itself. Just two friendlies in the US afforded Pep Guardiola little opportunity to get semi-competitive minutes into his player’s legs and last weekend we saw the consequence of that as they again appeared a shadow of their usual selves in a Community Shield. And now, for the second year running, the Blues kick-off a long and arduous campaign in the capital, against a team that will likely have a greater intensity and a greater capacity to execute it.
This slow-build from City is by design and the aim is to have Kevin De Bruyne and company peaking come the autumn. That doesn’t bode well for Sunday, however.
Nor does the initial struggles in assimilating Erling Haaland, an uber number nine, into a harmonious, interwoven system that has thrived for two years now minus a specialist centre-forward. Against Liverpool at the King Power the imposing Norwegian had a full debut to forget but let’s ignore the spurned chances that has jerked plenty of knees across social media. Amounting to a cumulative xG of 1.09 they will be converted on another day by a striker whose sustained track-record is phenomenal, proven, and prolific. In that regard, with the goal in his sights, it really doesn’t matter what colour the shirt is he’s wearing.
What did concern were the over-looked arced runs and that on too many occasions Haaland was isolated. There was a surprising lack of overlaps from the full-backs with Cancelo’s regular inversions making City narrow down the left. Keeping with the theme of this preview, Walker on the other flank is clearly not yet firing on all cylinders and any endeavours to reach the touchline had him matched for pace, a rare sight indeed.
Most pertinent of all, there were regular misunderstandings between Haaland and De Bruyne, an absence of synergy that resulted in the Belgian throwing up his arms in exasperation.
These glitches could yet prove problematic in the long-term, but it is infinitely more probable that such issues will be resolved in due course. Indeed, it’s highly conceivable that a new version of Manchester City’s machine will be purring dominantly come the autumn. Again though, that doesn’t bode well for Sunday.
17 – Only Harry Kane (26) has scored more goals in all competitions amongst Englishmen in the Premier League this season than Jarrod Bowen (17). Industrious. pic.twitter.com/Cdeh55X9Um
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 15, 2022
Haaland is 7/10 to score anytime at the London Stadium while Jarrod Bowen is 17/4. Both are fine shouts. For better value though, back Tomas Soucek at 15/2 to get off the mark. The Czech notched on the opening day last season and has found the target twice in pre-season.
Should the Hammers better the Blues it will be the first time they’ve done so in the league on home soil since 2014 but the past plays little part in proceedings this weekend, it being a curtain raiser that symbolizes a fresh start and, in this respect, even May’s 2-2 draw doesn’t feel especially relevant.
What is relevant is the probable debut of Gianluca Scamacca, a giant of a forward who will be hell-bent on immediately gaining cult status after impressing in Serie A last term. A useful foil to Jarrod Bowen going forward, the Italian’s physical battle with Ruben Dias intrigues and though set pieces are an obvious area to focus on, his potential for causing havoc in the City box leads us to the possibility of a spot-kick being awarded.
To what little extent the past does draw us in, it only further strengthens the points made above.
On the opening day of the 2019/20 campaign, City travelled down to the London Stadium and emerged 5-0 winners from a one-sided encounter that ultimately was an exhibition of wonderful football. Yet in the weeks leading up to this ruthless display, the Blues had committed to a lengthy tour of Asia, prior to overcoming Liverpool in the Community Shield. Their victory via pens at Wembley necessitated fortitude and high levels of fitness.
On that day against West Ham therefore, Guardiola’s men were primed and ready but that doesn’t feel the case right now. So, it follows that an early slip-up should not be discounted. Perhaps it should even be anticipated.