Manchester City 2-1 West Ham United
It may not yet be March but the Premier League title race has long been over.
And no wonder when there is a side as consistent as Manchester City.
West Ham gave it a damn good go – in fact, the outcome remained in the balance until the final whistle at the Etihad Stadium – but they could not prevent the runaway leaders from making it 20 straight wins in all competitions.
That is the longest competitive winning streak in history by an English top-flight team with 14 of these victories in the league.
No wonder all the other leading sides are playing for second place.
Highlights of the game
On the team news front, City hotshot and record scorer Sergio Aguero made his first Premier League appearance since January 3 in one of seven changes to the side that beat Borussia Monchengladbach in the Champions League in midweek.
It was the Argentine maestro’s first start in the league since the earlier season fixture in East London which ended 1-1 and only his sixth of the campaign so far.
Elsewhere, John Stones and Oleksandr Zinchenko came into defence with Fernandinho, Riyad Mahrez, Kevin de Bruyne and Ferran Torres recalled.
West Ham full-back Ryan Fredericks (groin) joined Andriy Yarmolenko, Angelo Ogbonna and Arthur Masuaku on the sidelines as the visitors made two additions to the team that beat London rivals Spurs last weekend.
Goalkeeper Darren Randolph was handed only his second league appearance of the season in place of Lukasz Fabianski, while Ben Johnson came in for Jarrod Bowen.
The Hammers started the day in fourth place and are doing far better than any of their fans or pundits realistically anticipated, despite the lack of an out-and-out striker.
So overwhelming were the SBOTOP Premier League betting odds in favour of the hosts that they headed north with nothing to lose and for the first half an hour were largely comfortable.
In fact, they nearly took a surprise lead when loanee Jesse Lingard’s deflected shot looped to Tomas Soucek at the back post whose header was half cleared before Lingard saw another shot blocked.
Then came City’s first effort on target as footballer of the year De Bruyne delivered a pinpoint cross which centre back Ruben Dias powerfully headed past Randolph.
When Michail Antonio struck the base of the post around 10 minutes later, following more good work by Lingard, it seemed West Ham would go into the interval behind.
Yet they kept coming and were rewarded just before the break as Lingard steered a Vladimir Coufal cross towards Antonio who made no mistake.
It was to the visitors’ immense credit that there was little in the contest but it didn’t stop the hosts grabbing a winner.
This time it was Dias’ centre-back partner Stones who side-footed the winner past Randolph after a delivery from Mahrez.
Before this contest, David Moyes had described his opposite number Pep Guardiola as the footballing equivalent of celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal for his ‘tactical innovations that defy convention’. While the positioning of Guardiola in the pantheon of managerial greats may never be fully known – as he has always managed at clubs with the resources to swamp their rivals – Moyes’ point cannot be disputed.
This time Guardiola had been indebted to his two centre backs for their Premier League highlights. That was enough to take them 13 points clear at the summit.
City are now unbeaten in 27 games across all competitions (won 24, drawn three) – one match shy of their longest run without defeat under Guardiola, set in 2017.
They have not trailed at any point in their past 18 league fixtures, conceding just five goals.
West Ham are winless in 12 games against City in all competitions since a 2-1 league victory at Etihad Stadium in September 2015 (drawn two, lost 10).
City have scored in 20 successive league and cup games against West Ham.
Moyes has gone 41 Premier League away games without a victory against established top-six opposition since his Everton side beat City in December 2010 (drawn 12, lost 29).
Moyes is winless in his nine competitive fixtures as a manager versus Guardiola, losing all five away matches.
No player has more Premier League assists this season than de Bruyne (11 – level with Harry Kane).
Stones has scored three goals in his last eight Premier League games after just one in his first 170 appearances. He has scored four goals in all competitions in 2021, more than any other Premier League defender.
City are back in action on Tuesday night (March 2) as they host Wolves looking to extend their lead at the summit before next weekend’s Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium.
West Ham have nine days before they are next in action with a home match against Leeds on March 8.
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