October 23, 2014

The blue, noisy neighbours of Manchester have been rather quiet of late.

City have been content to work in the shadows, letting Leicester City soak in the deserved applause of their run to the top of the table, viewing the occasional pendulum swings of Arsenal's quality of play and reveling in the week-to-week inconsistencies of their red-clad archrivals.

Their talisman is still ailing, yet their star striker is scoring and the sum of all these parts could mean Manchester City are the team to beat in the Premier League heading into Saturday's clash with West Ham United at Upton Park.

Even Manchester City's 2-1 road loss a fortnight ago in the first leg of their League Cup semifinal versus Everton cannot be viewed as overly negative given the potential value of Jesus Navas' 76th-minute goal at Goodison Park with the return fixture coming next week, but what gives City (13-4-5) the spring in their step is how the defence has finally responded to the challenge of playing without injured captain Vincent Kompany.

Manchester City are riding three shutouts on the trot for the first time this season, including the last two in league play following last Saturday's 4-0 dismantling of Crystal Palace. It moved them within one point of co-leaders Arsenal and Leicester City and kept them six clear of fifth-place Man United.

Manager Manuel Pellegrini has shown no hesitation juggling his lineup from match to match in chasing silverware in four competitions, and his players have rewarded that faith.

"We need Kompany but we can play without him," the Chilean told City's official website. "I am happy we didn't concede and kept the clean sheet but also that we scored goals too. We have not changed our style - we are playing the same way."

The Argentine duo of Martin Demichelis and Nicolas Otamendi have anchored the central defence in this run as City have conceded just eight shots on target.

"If from now to the end of the season, we have top players, our team will be stronger," Pellegrini said. "If not, I absolutely trust the other players. (Saturday) and against Everton, we didn't have any problem playing with Martin Demichelis and Nicolas Otamendi - both of them played very well."

Their compatriot, Sergio Aguero, provided a brace on either side of halftime, giving him four goals in his last five matches across all competitions and a team-high 13 overall. Fabian Delph also had a goal, but he may be on the outside looking in for this match since fellow holding midfielder Fernandinho has been a full participant at practice after missing the last three contests with a knock.

City's lone move on the transfer market thus far was last week's signing of midfielder Anthony Caceres from Central Coast of the Australian A-League before loaning him to sister club Melbourne City, while striker Wilfried Bony shot down reports he was unhappy with his lack of playing time since Aguero's return from injury last month.

West Ham United (9-8-5) are in the thick of the chase for European play, entering this match two points behind Manchester United. The Hammers, though, were denied a fifth win on the bounce in all competitions after a 2-1 loss at Newcastle United last Saturday.

Goals by Ayoze Perez and Georginio Wijnaldum in the first quarter-hour proved too much to overcome for Hammers, who did pull one back early in the second half on a Nikica Jelavic strike four minutes after he was introduced at intermission.

The London-based squad signaled their intention to compete for a top-four spot Wednesday by beating Everton to the punch and signing Sam Byram from Leeds United, hoping the 22-year-old can bring pace on the right flank and continue the form that led to him being named Championship Player of the Month for December.

"As players everyone is ambitious and you want to play in the best leagues you can," Byram told the club's official website. "The Champions League is the highest of what you can achieve, so to be joining a club who has a chance of getting in there is brilliant."

The Hammers are seeking their first Premier League double over City after escaping the Etihad Stadium with a 2-1 victory in the Sept. 19 reverse fixture. Victor Moses and Diafra Sakho provided both goals in the first 31 minutes, and City failed to net an equaliser after Kevin De Bruyne scored in first-half stoppage time.

City unloaded 27 shots in that contest, but Adrian finished with seven saves. West Ham have won two of the last three between the teams after claiming just one victory in the previous 18 (1-4-13) matches in all competitions.

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