Looking to tomorrow’s fixture at Olympic Stadium, there are a lot of elements that could lead Manchester City to a confident victory. West Ham United has appeared resilient in their last two matches, but the Blues’ efforts against Tottenham Hotspur and Crystal Palace are a good foundation for upcoming competitions.
Here are three things to watch as the Sky Blues and the Hammers prepare for action on Wednesday evening:
1 - Possible Options
Vincent Kompany had a solid return against Palace, making it easy to attribute a sizable portion of Saturday’s win to the Belgian captain. Whether his influence is immediately exploited to stabilize the Sky Blue defense or he is allowed a gradual evolution of his fitness is still unclear.
One thing looms above the particulars of his continued recovery: Kompany has to stay fit! Seeing him limp off again is unbearable to imagine. His value is undeniable but it needs to be secured for the long term, even if that only means the remainder of this season.
Gabriel Jesus’ ability to jump in and quickly make a difference has been exciting. Seeing his named listed alongside Kevin De Bruyne for Wednesday night’s affair would be a sure signal of intentions.
There are a lot of questions about how the City roster will be managed with so many options. Now that Fernandinho’s off suspension, where will Yaya Touré play? Will Zabaleta be a right-back again or continue to venture into midfield positions? Who comes out for Sergio Agüero if Gabriel Jesus plays? Leroy Sané and Raheem Sterling have created good rhythm on the wings. Does that give them priority? With Kompany back on the list, how will the other center-backs shuffle and operate alongside the captain or in his moments of rest?
Pep Guardiola retains the answers until Wednesday evening. Regardless of particulars, the following points emphasize the overall character City has shown at times this season. It will be up to whoever is chosen in the starting XI to bring that style to life.
2 - A Passionate Approach
The Citizens' ability to play according to their own desires hinges on constant energy. They have the depth of squad to stay relatively rested and have shown that they can take down anyone when they try hard enough.
As the sorrowful loss at Everton showed, the worst defeats don’t always come in blockbuster matches. West Ham should not be underestimated, so Man City have to take the pitch with vigor and fight for the entire 90 minutes.
While this is merely common sense, there have been times this season when either a lack of output and coordinated effort or the stubbornness of opponents have denied City crucial points. While my third point refers to struggles that the team has not totally left behind, in the last two games they have at least showed a boost in zeal and personality that needs to be implemented in every match.
3 - Defense
Sorry to say it again. Even as City push seven strikers toward the opposing goal, they need maturity and leadership at the back.
During the injury-induced exile of Vincent Kompany, the back line and goalkeeper have been very unstable. Offensive aspirations and a lack of inter-connectedness have often given teams around England dangerous looks at City’s net.
This season, in particular, City saw their best results with simple, slightly more conservative approaches at the back. The ultimate emphasis on scoring goals has to be supported by a core of strong defenders.
After mitigating the effects of the Everton loss relatively well, City need to continue building. Kompany and Jesus have been a boost to the squad, but anyone named to start could help the Sky Blues gain points in the Premier League.
Stepping back into frustrated, dead-end movement, getting taken off their front foot and forced to defend uncomfortably, or allowing West Ham to move quickly on counters or stall the game in the center of the pitch will not kill the Citizens, but it will stall hopes of an immediate ascent back to proper form.
With nearly limitless options, each player in the City shirt should take the pitch with significant hunger. As they prepare for Champions League and FA Cup matches, there will be inevitable rotation. Their success in various fronts this winter and spring will hinge on maintenance of core principles like passion, intelligence, and tenacity.