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Five Things We Learned: Man City 2-1 West Ham (Premier League)

Manchester City moved to within just one point of Premier League leaders Chelsea, after a hard-earned victory over West Ham at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

Pep Guardiola's side dealt admirably with the heavy snow to go 1-0 up through Ilkay Gündoğan in the first half. But they spent most of the game struggling to force a second goal, with West Ham defending resolutely and threatening on the break.

Fernandinho came off the bench to wrap things up in the dying seconds before another substitute, Manuel Lanzini, ruined Ederson's clean sheet with an exceptional late half-volley from outside the area. 

But Manchester City ultimately held on for the crucial three points - and here's what we learned from the victory...


Ilkay Gündoğan Steps Up Again

Described as "absolutely fantastic" by Alan Shearer on Match of the Day 2, Ilkay Gündoğan's performance was probably the stand-out amongst several impressive Manchester City displays.

The City skipper on the day was at the heart of so many attacks for his side, linking up play with one-touch passing and smart footwork. 

He also got the crucial goal that looked as though it would be the winner, stepping up to score just as he did so many times last season. Rodri's defensive dominance means the shackles are off for the German international now, freeing him up to dart into the box and get on the end of a loose ball with striker-like precision.

That's the thing with Gündoğan - when none of the forwards were firing last season, he produced the goods time and time again even though it was out of his comfort zone - and, as Shearer rightly said, we shouldn't be surprised if he goes on another goalscoring run this winter.


Fernandinho's Last City Goal?

Yaya Touré. Vincent Kompany. Sergio Agüero. David Silva. Fernandinho?

The Brazilian has certainly earned a spot in the discussion over his eight-and-a-half years of service at the Etihad Stadium.

His consistency and commitment across an eclectic range of positions is something we haven't seen from any other modern City player, and it's telling that the club still consider him important to keep around, even though minutes have become severely limited by Rodri's form. 

One thing that has understandably dried up for Fernandinho lately is goalscoring, but against West Ham, he popped up with a crucial late strike that ended up being the winner.

With the Brazilian international averaging less than a goal a season over the last few years, we may have just witnessed his last ever strike for us - and, if so, it feels like a fitting way for one of our greatest ever midfielders to close his account.


Ederson Comes Out on Top

A few weeks ago, we watched in amazement as one of the world's best goalkeepers was absolutely dominated by West Ham's physicality. Liverpool's Alisson was at fault for all three goals on that day, frequently looking lost at set-pieces. 

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Ederson had no such problems.

It's gone mostly unmentioned, but one of the key reasons behind City's victory was our goalkeeper's confident and physically assertive performance against the Hammers.

David Moyes has coached his side into one of the most threatening set-piece specialists in the world, but Ederson shut down every attempt at a ball into the box with ease, claiming crosses as if he barely noticed the away team was there.

With a less physical goalkeeper, things would've been far more difficult today.


The 'Other' City

I always say there are two kinds of Manchester City side under Pep Guardiola: In the warmer months, we're often treated to free-flowing attacking performances and absurd scorelines, like the 8-0 vs Watford a few seasons ago or the countless 5-0 victories we've claimed over the years.

Then there's the City we saw on Sunday afternoon, which tends to emerge in the winter months. This City is professional without being so flashy. It constricts the opposition defence rather than peppering it with shots, always quietly confident that eventually - even if it takes all game - the goal will come.

In fact, the weekend's performance felt very much like the kind of display we put in throughout last season's decisive 15-game winning run. That can only bode well for the upcoming Christmas period.

It's also ominous, however, for the rest of the league.


The League's Best Midfield

In 2017/18 and 2018/19, Manchester City controlled games with one of the best midfield trios in modern football: Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva and Fernandinho.

David Silva has left, Kevin De Bruyne isn't always fit and Fernandinho is 36 years-old, but Manchester City still have the best midfield in the Premier League, albeit with three different names. 

It's perfectly balanced: Rodri sits back and runs the show from deep just as Fernandinho used to, which gives Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva license to make runs into the box when the opportunity arises.

There's no assist machine like De Bruyne, and nobody quite on the technical level of David Silva, but when the three of them play together it just seems to work. They play off of each other's strengths brilliantly and cover for each other's weaknesses.

When De Bruyne is back from his COVID-enforced absence, it will be fascinating to see who drops out of the team.


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