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Man City start week in crisis and end it in cruise control


COMMENT

Talk about the right result at the right time.

After Manchester City started the week with a raft of negative headlines brought on by Pep Guardiola's chippy interviews, they could not have asked for a more positive Friday night.

If it felt like the world was caving in on Guardiola earlier this week - although, in fairness, mainly because a pre-recorded interview had been taken out of context - he will be able to enjoy the rest of his weekend safe in the knowledge that City are the first team through to the FA Cup fourth round. He might even have time to think about his retirement plans.

The Catalan was in a considerably more talkative mood at his Thursday press conference than he was when he shrugged off a string of reporters on Monday, but he was quick to shut down one question about City's cup clash with West Ham.

Just as he was being asked if he was going to name a weakened line-up for the game at the London Stadium, he jumped in with a short, firm, "no". He did expand on that a little but it was clear he was taking the FA Cup seriously.

So are his players.

This was probably the first time since the 10-match winning run at the start the season that it seemed everything went City's way from start to finish. Even against Barcelona, in that dramatic 3-1 win, Guardiola's men fell behind.

Here they romped to victory. West Ham were just threatening to get a foothold on the game when Pablo Zabaleta won a debatable penalty, and when Yaya Toure swept his spot-kick past Adrian there was no looking back.

A fine team move conjured up a Harvard Nordtveit own goal but Bacary Sagna's delicious cross deserved a decisive finish, no matter who provided it.

When David Silva put his foot on the ball within spitting distance of the goal and sent Adrian sprawling, you knew City were playing with the kind of confidence that has not been evident in several weeks, if not months.

So many of their recent victories have come thanks to battling, somewhat scrappy displays, something which has not exactly thrilled Guardiola.

But this was often sublime from City and Silva's impudent control, when he could have just as easily tapped the ball home first time to round off a fine move down the right, highlighted their swagger.

Any Hammers fans who hoped the second half would provide a little more cheer were left bitterly disappointed just five minutes after the break when Sergio Aguero, who worked so hard in the first half and had a hand in City's third, deflected in Toure's low shot.

By the time John Stones headed in for 5-0 City were cantering towards the almost forgotten feeling of a comfortable victory.

Not that a run of four wins and one defeat in their last five league games should be cause for too much concern, but the loss at Anfield last weekend, coupled with Guardiola's frosty reaction to victory on Monday, convinced not only the more sceptical members of the press but a significant number of City's own fans that things were not right.

This, albeit in the cup, is a perfectly timed reminder that City have progressed under Guardiola and there is more to come.

Zabaleta - one of six players expected to leave the club when his contract expires in the summer - showed that even those who won't be around when Guardiola's team really hit their stride can still make an impressive contribution.

The Argentine look accomplished in central midfield and he will be hoping to start there at Everton next weekend. As will Willy Caballero, who deputised for the under-fire Claudio Bravo and kept a clean sheet.

The City players, who elected not to go on a warm weather break to the Middle East after this game, now have the weekend off and nine days before their next match. After the crazy Christmas schedule, it will feel like a whole summer off, whether they spend it in Dubai or Didsbury.

For the first time in a long time, it seemed City could do no wrong. In the space of four days they have gone from crisis to cruise control.