MAN CITY 2, WEST HAM 0
Manchester City’s Premier League win against West Ham was completely overshadowed by off-the-field storm as manager Pep Guardiola made an impassioned defence of the club.
While the original fixture was postponed a week last Sunday by Storm Ciara, it was not adverse weather as his was the first time City had played since they were handed a two-year ban from the Champions League by UEFA and fined £25million for alleged financial irregularities.
There was a distinctly subdued mood at the Etihad with the most emotion the abuse directed at European football’s governing body.
And the fact goals from Rodrigo and Kevin De Bruyne, which reduced Liverpool’s lead over them to 22 points, seemed academic as the post-match press conference was dominated by the off-field controversy.Embed from Getty Images
City had confirmed they are to appeal and Guardiola said: “It’s not finished. The club believes it’s unfair so we are going to appeal. We are going to wait. All we can do is on the pitch and do what we have done the last four years and focus on that until the end of the season. I trust 100 per cent completely my club what they have done. They explained to me the reasons why.
“We are going to fight like we have fought every single game and day we are together until the end of the season. We are optimistic that at the end the truth will prevail and next season we will be in the Champions League.
“If they don’t sack me I will stay here 100 per cent more than ever. First because I want to stay. It’s something special, more than the contract I have. I said before, I say now I want to stay and help the club and maintain this level as long as possible.
“Why should I leave? When I said I love this club I like to be here, why should I leave? No matter what happens I will be here next season.”
Guardiola added he had spoken to City’s chairman and the CEO and he believe in them, adding it was difficult to elaborate further because of legalities.
He continued: “Of course it is not easy and we are talking about a sensitive issue.
“There are two sides, one has accused the club and the club is defending its position.
“You are talking about legal action so it is difficult. I am not a lawyer. You will have to wait until after talks about the situation.”
Of the match, Guardiola, who has won all nine matches against West Ham, was delighted with his side’s display following the 12-day winter break.
“After what has happened I wondered how we would react and it was good,” he said.
City made four changes from the side that lost 2-0 at Tottenham before the winter break.
There were recalls for David and Bernardo Silva, Aymeric Laporte and Benjamin Mendy.
The players to lose out were Fernandinho, the suspended Oleksandr Zinchenko, Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez.
West Ham made one change from the 3-3 draw against Brighton last timer out as Sebastian Haller made way for Arthur Masuaku in a 3-4-2-1 formation when attacking and 5-4-1 when defending.
It was aimed at stifling City but was ineffective as City could have been 2-0 ahead inside eight minutes.
Gabriel Jesus was put clean through but he spectacularly messed up as he tried to round goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski and Sergio Aguero poked a shot agonisingly wide.
Kevin De Bruyne’s fiercely struck effort was kept out by the legs of Fabianski and Jesus hesitated for a second time when through on goal as Aaron Cresswell got back to make a timely block.
City finally made the breakthrough after half an hour.
Rodrigo headed De Bruyne’s corner towards goal. It appeared to be going in, but Laporte made sure by applying the final touch on the goalline, though Rodrigo was credited with the strike, his third for the club and first at the Etihad.
Jesus had a chance to make it 2-0, but he was denied by the alert Fabianski who also denied Aguero early in the second period.
The biggest cheer of the night came on the hour when City legend Pablo Zabaleta was brought on by the Hammers to replaced Ryan Fredericks who appeared to have dislocated his shoulder.
City finally made it 2-0 in the 62nd minute through De Bruyne who exchanged passes with David Silva before beating Fabianski at his near post with an angled shot, his eighth league goal of the season.
De Bruyne has also 16 Premier League assists and his involvement in 24 goals, three more than any other player.
Guardiola replaced Laporte, only recently back from serious injury, with John Stones midway through the second period.
Jesus was foiled again by Fabianski who raced from his line to block the Brazilian’s shot.
City made a second change with 11 minutes left when De Bruyne made way for Gundogan at the same time the Hammers handed a debut to new £20million signing Jarrod Bowen.
There was a new injury blow for City as David Silva limped off with a hamstring strain to be replaced by Phil Foden with six minutes left.