Manchester City headed into the penultimate game of the season facing a tricky away trip to the London Stadium. West Ham still have a place in the Europa League for next season up for grabs and thus posed a tough challenge for City in their quest for a second straight league title.
Both the starting central defenders in the last game came off injured midway through the second half – but both Aymeric Laporte (knee) and Fernandinho (muscular) made it back in time and started the game. Nathan Ake is presumably still not fit enough for a whole 90 minutes. Three other changes to the side from the previous game involved Ilkay Gundogan, Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden, making way for Jack Grealish, Gabriel Jesus and Riyad Mahrez.
The game started and West Ham made their game-plan abundantly clear, sit back and stay compact, with Michail Antonio the only player not near their 18-yard box. City fashioned the game's first half-chance with Oleksandr Zinchenko latching on to Bernardo Silva's cross, but his shot was easily caught by Lukasz Fabianski. But just seconds later, West Ham on the other end, could've taken the lead as Craig Dawson could only hit the roof of the net with his free header.
City were dominating the possession with almost 80% of the ball, but Antonio was getting enough joy against Fernandinho for City to feel uncomfortable. And on the 23rd minute, the alarm bells rang as City got opened up by a simple ball over the top to Jarrod Bowen, who rounded Ederson and slotted the ball into the far post. Zinchenko and Ederson didn't necessarily cover themselves with glory for that goal.
But after the goal, City seemed to have switched on and tried patiently to fashion a chance against the deep sitting West Ham side. Jesus with a couple of half-chances – one flashing just wide the post from a left-footed shot and another shot blocked by Zouma after some wonderful trickery by the Brazilian inside the congested box. Grealish also had a chance, but the cross from Mahrez was just inches over the Englishman's head.
City knew before the game that a win would help put one hand on the title, but a draw would not be the worst result in the world. But then, disaster struck right before half-time as Antonio again won his duel and lobbed a ball over the defence to Bowen – who again made no mistake and slotted the ball past Ederson. City players appealed for an offside, but replays showed that Zinchenko had played Bowen on.
City came into this game with a seven-goal advantage over Liverpool in the goal-difference tally but now saw their advantage cut to just five at half-time. City desperately needed to draw level at the least, and for that to happen, Guardiola needed to make some changes at the break – either tactically or personal-wise. It felt as though City were under the immense threat of losing further ground to Liverpool in their goal-difference advantage were they to open up and present even more space for the rampant duo of Antonio and Bowen.
City had trailed by two or more goals at half-time on 52 previous occasions in the Premier League before today. They have never managed to completely overturn the deficit, only going on to draw one of the 52, losing the other 51. The task City faced was mammoth in the second half against the dangerous European hopefuls in West Ham.
City came out in the second half without any changes to the XI but were visibly more motivated compared to the first half. And it didn't take long before Grealish made it count – reducing the arrears – as he blasted a volley towards the West Ham goal, which took a slight deflection and evaded the reach of Fabianski. That was Grealish's first away league goal in a City shirt, and what a time to get it.
Guardiola's men kept knocking at the door to force in an equaliser.
However, West Ham maintained their attacking threat as a mix-up between Laporte and Ederson put Zinchenko in a spot of bother. The Ukrainian's subsequent clearance was really bad and could've proved fatal for City's chances of a comeback in this game. Bowen latched on to the loose ball and drove into the penalty area, but Ederson came across to cover and the angle was too tight for Bowen to squeeze it in as he hit the side netting. Just seconds later, Bowen had an immense chance to potentially seal the game – but his point-blank volley was somehow blocked by Laporte and it looped wide, with Ederson stranded.
City had just about rode their luck and survived, but Fernandinho would then make a huge blunder, as his back pass under pressure was loose, and Antonio had pre-emptively made a move to intercept the pass. Antonio was one-on-one with Ederson, but with the Brazilian just outside his area, Antonio's only option was to chip him – and he chipped it wide.
On another day, City would've already been dead and buried, but here they were alive and kicking. West Ham were soon made to rue their missed chances as a devilish cross whipped in by Mahrez was nodded into his own net by Vladimir Coufal. City had just over 20 minutes to now complete the turnaround, and all but seal the title in their favour.
Grealish, with one of his best performances this season, was dancing around the West Ham defence. He had two shots blocked, but he did look like the likeliest to score if City could do it. City pinned West Ham deeper and deeper as the game went on.
City were rewarded for their continuous pressure in the dying minutes as Jesus was brought down by Dawson in the penalty area. The decision was not given by Anthony Taylor on-field but he was asked by the VAR to review and consider changing his obvious error. Taylor did subsequently make the right call and overturned his decision. Up stepped Mahrez, City's designated penalty taker this season, to complete a miraculous 3-2 turnaround in the week of the tenth anniversary of 93:20. But City do not like to do it the easy way. Mahrez's shot was saved by Fabianski.
After the penalty City could not fashion another clear chance and had to defend a dangerous West Ham set-piece right at the end to secure a hard-fought draw.
At half-time, Guardiola and his side would've loved to get a draw, but at full-time the dominant feeling was two points lost rather than one point gained. Looking at the game as a whole, though – City were lucky to only concede two, and on any other day, could have lost heavily. The severe lack of options in defence has not been kind to Guardiola, but he will hope that Ake can recover sufficiently in the coming week for the final game of the season.
The point has helped keep City's fate in their own hands with a win in the final game guaranteeing back-to-back titles for the Blues. The draw means that if Liverpool were to lose against Southampton in mid-week – City will be crowned champions before they set foot at the Etihad next Sunday.
De Bruyne: 7
Grealish: 8 (MOTM)
What's next for Manchester City?
City have one last game left in the Premier League and a week off before their final foray this season. Aston Villa come to town as they and their Scouse manager – former Liverpool player, Steven Gerrard, will hope to prevent City from winning the title.
But next Sunday is a long way away, with Liverpool playing midweek as well as Villa facing a relegation-threatened Burnley on Thursday. Owing to City's massively superior goal-difference any kind of Liverpool slip-up could all but hand City the title. City, though, will want to win – irrespective of any results in midweek in front of a full and noisy Etihad Stadium next weekend.
Written by: @adwitya16
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