|match review copied from www.theguardian.com|
Sergio Agüero rides to Manchester City’s rescue twice in West Ham draw
Sachin Nakrani at Upton Park
Date Published Saturday 23 January 2016 19.57 GMT
If these are indeed the final few months of Manuel Pellegrini’s tenure as Manchester City manager then he might as well enjoy them and, in particular, being paid to watch Sergio Agüero. For sure, he took delight in seeing the Argentina striker show his clinical brilliance here. Agüero scored either side of half-time, with his second goal rescuing a draw for his team that they hardly deserved.
The visitors were sluggish in attack and sloppy in defence and looked to be heading for another away defeat when Enner Valencia scored himself for a second time on 56 minutes. The home supporters were in raucous voice, sensing their side were heading for a victory based on another show of vibrancy and determination at this venue, but with time running out Agüero struck in typically expert fashion, coolly lifting the ball over Adrián to secure his 15th goal of the season as well as a point for City that moves them ahead of Arsenal into second place before the Gunners’ match against Chelsea on Sunday afternoon.
City deserve credit for their refusal to roll over and die, coming back as they did twice from going behind, with Agüero cancelling out Valencia’s opening goal after just 53 seconds via a ninth-minute penalty. But a team of their quality and ambitions should not be in those positions in the first place and there remains the feeling that while they are in the thick of the title race, City will once again fall short. Without doubt Arsenal and Leicester, who returned to the summit after their 3-0 victory over Stoke, are playing better than Pellegrini’s men.
Not that the Chilean saw it that way after this match, claiming that with 15 matches to go (16 in Arsenal’s case) it is impossible to make any judgments about who will be crowned champions and that this match showed his team have what it takes to ultimately prevail. “It is important when you play away against a very good team like West Ham to try to win the three points, but if you cannot do that it is important not to lose, and that is what we have done” said the City manager. “We have added points and had options in the end to even win it.”
Pellegrini went on to insist his side are not overly reliant on Agüero yet there could no denying that without the 27-year-old City would have lost for a fourth time on the road. As has often been the case away from the Etihad Stadium, the visitors lacked zip in and out of possession, with Yaya Touré once again sleepwalking through proceedings, at no point more so then when Cheikhou Kouyaté drove past him with the ease of a man bypassing a piece of litter on the street before delivering the cross from which Valencia swept a close-range shot past Joe Hart to open the scoring.
Others in dark blue were also off the pace, most notably the wide players, Kevin De Bruyne and Jesús Navas, while at the back there was another reminder of just how clueless City can be without Vincent Kompany. For instance, there is no way the injured captain would have allowed Michail Antonio’s throw-in to sail past him and into the path of the lurking Valencia in the manner Nicolás Otamendi did in the build-up to West Ham’s second goal. “We were not concentrating” Pellegrini said, yet the more telling reaction came from Hart, who immediately after seeing the ball go past him berated Otamendi for being so lacklustre.
The goal was also West Ham’s reward for taking the game to their opponents. The hosts pressed with intensity, while their passing and movement showed purpose and intelligence. Valencia naturally caught the eye, as once again did Dimitri Payet, who caused City constant problems with his vision and skill and came close to giving West Ham a 2-1 lead at half-time with a curling free-kick on 33 minutes that forced Hart into a high, reflex save.
Valencia did nudge West Ham back in front shortly after the break but the individual contribution that stood out most came from Agüero. The Argentinian was constantly on the move, constantly looking to get behind the opposition defence, and having hit the post with a stunning one-touch volley on seven minutes he scored shortly after from a penalty he won himself, albeit Carl Jenkinson appeared to make only minimal contact with the forward as he surged into the area.
And then with nine minutes remaining Agüero was on hand to pounce again after Aaron Cresswell inadvertently diverted Kelechi Iheanacho’s driving run into his path. The fact he barely celebrated said it all – this was simply another day at the office for one of Europe’s finest finishers.
West Ham’s sense of deflation was only compounded by the sight of Kouyaté’s stoppage-time header rattling the bar but they should take a huge amount of encouragement from this match. Slaven Bilic certainly did, describing himself as “proud” of his team’s performance.
For City, there remains more questions than answers. Thankfully for them, and fitness permitting, they have Agüero to call upon.
Daily Mail: PLAYER RATINGS, PREMIER LEAGUE TABLE AND MATCH ZONE FROM ROB DRAPER AT UPTON PARK
West Ham: (4-3-3): Adrian 7; Jenkinson, 4, (Byram 12, 6) Collins, 7, Reid, 6.5 Creswell, 7; Noble, 7.5 Song 6.5, Kouyate 8; Antonio 7.5, (Moses 65, 6), Valenica 8.5, (Jelavic 86) Payet, 9
Subs not used: Randolph, Oxford, Ogbonna, Obiang
Goals: Valencia 1, 56
Booked: Noble, Byram
Manchester City City (4-2-3-1): Hart 8.5; Sagna, 5 Otamendi, 4 Demichelis, 4 Clichy 5; Yaya 4, Delph 6 (Iheanacho 75, 7 ); Navas 5.5, Silva 5.5,(Fernando 83) De Bruyne 6 (Sterling 67, 5.5); Aguero, 8
Subs not used: Caballero, Fernandinho, Tasende, Zabaleta
Goals: Aguero 9 (pen), 81
Booked: Demichelis. Toure, Fernando
Ref: Craig Pawson 5.5