It said a good deal about this game, and a little about the trajectories of two clubs involved in it, that as the whistle blew for full time West Ham’s players looked just as disappointed as Manchester City’s. They may have ridden their luck at times. They may have spent most of the last half-hour defending. But they knew, too, that this was a game that could just as easily have gone their way.
In the event, it was merely another point, and a further sign of West Ham’s progress under David Moyes. Having taken an early and spectacular lead through the flying boot of Michail Antonio, they withstood the inevitable backlash with guts and good judgment. City were again curiously half-present, a team drifting in and out of their old selves, a team who were both clinical and dominant, but rarely at the same time.
This was a precis of many of their recent performances under Pep Guardiola: excellent in parts, and probably creating just enough chances to win on a good day, and yet still somehow incomplete. Their first half was abominable: one-paced, short of ideas and curiously lacking in conviction. The second, following the introduction of the inspirational Phil Foden in place of Sergio Agüero, was better. And yet here again, missed chances and imperfect decision-making proved the difference between one point and three.
It was the first time Manchester City had named an unchanged side in 172 matches – “To get the rhythm as quickly as possible‚” Guardiola said before the game – and yet not until the introduction of Foden at half-time did City attack the game with anything like their usual tempo. After a reasonable start, West Ham’s early goal seemed to send them into a sulk: a now-familiar holding pattern of harmless passes in harmless areas.
The goal itself was a piece of art: Antonio using the heft of Rúben Dias to winch his body into position, uncoiling a textbook bicycle kick past Ederson, who was unsighted. City howled purposelessly for a handball by Tomas Soucek in the buildup, but the blame was entirely their own: João Cancelo finding himself isolated on the City left, with too little pressure on Vladimir Coufal’s cross.
This, you felt, had been part of Moyes’s plan all along. They too were unchanged: well-spaced and well-organised in their five-man defence, and keen to set Jarrod Bowen loose against Cancelo in attack. Declan Rice was having a super game in midfield. And with Antonio as a barrelling one-man agent of chaos up front, there was always a pressure-release available to the man in possession. Indeed, West Ham were unlucky not to get a penalty on 25 minutes when Antonio was brought down by Eric García.
Clearly Guardiola had to change something. And the energy of Foden was just what they needed: a little human bath bomb, fizzing and effervescing and zipping across the surface, sweetening City’s attacks and finding his way into West Ham’s vital nooks and crevices. It took him just six minutes to put City back on track, turning and finishing after Cancelo had surprised Coufal with a scintillating burst of pace.
The other main turning point in the game came soon after, when Antonio limped off with injury, depriving West Ham of their main attacking outlet. His replacement Andriy Yarmolenko offered little, and with Kevin De Bruyne entering the arena and still a quarter of the game remaining, West Ham settled in for a dogged rearguard.
Whenever they were not able to keep City at bay, the last line of defence kicked in. Angelo Ogbonna whipped the ball away from Riyad Mahrez just as he was about to shoot from six yards. Lukasz Fabianski made several crucial saves, the most important to deny Raheem Sterling one-on-one in the dying minutes, after Arthur Masuaku – a player who never seems more than one stepover from pure catastrophe – had lost the ball in his own half.
But West Ham could so easily have stolen it too. Pablo Fornals had the best of their late chances, trying to lob Ederson when put clean through and ending up chipping it straight into his arms. And amid the end-to-end pandemonium of the finish, it was telling that West Ham were just as prepared to throw numbers forward as City, convinced that Guardiola’s side were there for the taking. Honours even, then, and on a chilly afternoon in east London you’d struggle to argue that either side deserved any less.