Manchester City’s late heroics know no bounds. West Ham United was the latest to find that out in an excruciating second half at the Etihad Stadium.
For the fourth time in 11 days, City extended its remarkable winning streak with a post-80th minute winner. Raheem Sterling scored the first three. This time, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva combined for a picturesque 83rd-minute goal to beat the Hammers 2-1:
Silva’s acrobatics brought City’s winning run to 20 in a row in all competitions. The Citizens equaled an English top-flight record with their 13th Premier League win on the trot, tying 2016-17 Chelsea, 2001-02 Arsenal and two others. And they set the mark for the best start to an English top-flight season with 43 points from their first 15 games.
But once again, in the second half, all of the streaks and records seemed to be in jeopardy. Fears of yellow card suspensions prompted Pep Guardiola to rest Fernandinho and Vincent Kompany. He moved Fabian Delph into midfield, brought in Danilo and Eliaquim Mangala, and stuck with the 4-3-3. But it was surprisingly ineffective in the first half. There wasn’t much penetration.
West Ham scrapped and broke on the counter. It was the visitors’ best performance under David Moyes. And they took a not-undeserved 1-0 lead shortly before halftime through Angelo Ogbonna:
Guardiola made a drastic halftime switch, replacing Danilo with Gabriel Jesus. He realigned his side in a 4-2-4, with Delph returned to left back. And it was Jesus who drilled in a cross that Nicolas Otamendi finished to bring City level:
For a good 15 or 20 minutes, West Ham seemed to be hanging on for dear life in stoppage time. Adrian palmed away several shots from outside the box. Central defenders scrambled away loose balls and cutting passes.
Finally, it took a bit of magic from City’s two midfield magicians to complete the comeback, and keep the streak alive.
Here’s what the 20-game run looks like in list form:
2-1 at Bournemouth
5-0 v Liverpool
4-0 at Feyenoord (Champions League)
6-0 at Watford
2-1 at West Brom (League Cup)
5-0 v Crystal Palace
2-0 v Shakhtar Donetsk (Champions League)
1-0 at Chelsea
7-2 v Stoke
2-1 v Napoli
3-0 v Burnley
0-0 v Wolves (penalties, League Cup)
3-2 at West Brom
4-2 at Napoli (Champions League)
3-1 v Arsenal
2-0 at Leicester
1-0 v Feyenoord (Champions League)
2-1 at Huddersfield
2-1 v Southampton
The run began with Sterling’s dramatic 97th-minute winner at the Vitality Stadium. City then won the next 10 matches 37-4 on aggregate. It was utterly dominant. The margins prompted talk of an extended run like this. It hasn’t come out of nowhere.
But City has won the last nine by an aggregate score of only 19-8. It has scraped by when necessary. And Guardiola knows that will be necessary sometimes. His players have taken that message to heart.
Next up is a tricky away trip to Shakhtar Donetsk in a meaningless (for City, anyway) final game of the Champions League group stage. Guardiola could, and probably should, rest some regulars. That will imperil the run.
An outright Premier League record will then be on the line when the Citizens travel across Manchester to take on United at Old Trafford next Sunday. It will offer them an opportunity to extend their Premier League lead to 11. The derby will be the next real litmus test for their excellence.