How did Man City draw at West Ham? Analysis and highlights as Mahrez's penalty woe leaves door ajar for Liverpool

How did Man City draw at West Ham? Analysis and highlights as Mahrez's penalty woe leaves door ajar for Liverpool

Victory at West Ham on Sunday would have all but sealed a fourth Premier League title in five seasons for Manchester City.

But a lacklustre first-half display from Pep Guardiola’s side was ruthlessly exploited by two-goal hero Jarrod Bowen and threatened to blow a high-steaks title battle with Liverpool wide open once more.

Jurgen Klopp’s team mimicked their Carabao Cup penalty shoot-out victory over Chelsea to lift the FA Cup at Wembley on Saturday and the Champions League finalists’ hopes of a historic quadruple have now been given a boost.

Jack Grealish pulled a goal back early in the second half and Vladimír Coufal headed Riyad Mahrez’s free-kick into his own net, but there was a further twist as Algeria star Mahrez had a late penalty saved by Łukasz Fabiański to deny City an incredible comeback win.

The 2-2 draw means the destiny of the title remains entirely in the reigning champions’ hands ahead of Liverpool’s Tuesday trip to Southampton, but this is how they diced with catastrophe in east London.

MORE: How can Liverpool win the Premier League title? Mapping what the Reds need to beat Man City to the trophy

Why was Fernandinho in defence for Man City at West Ham?

Last weekend’s 5-0 win over Newcastle came at a cost for Guardiola, as Ruben Dias suffered a hamstring injury to end his season, leaving him on the sidelines alongside Kyle Walker and John Stones.

Aymeric Laporte and veteran midfielder Fernandinho started at centre-back in Wednesday’s 5-1 win at Wolves but both departed with fitness concerns before full-time. Nathan Ake was introduced but is nursing an ankle complaint.

Guardiola said he had “13-and-a-half” fit senior outfield players last week, with Ake’s condition making him the half. What the sum of his back four at West Ham amounted to is anyone’s guess because they were shambolic throughout.

Laporte and Fernandinho patched themselves up but were given the runaround by Bowen and Michail Antonio, while Oleksandr Zinchenko was positionally suspect at left-back and Joao Cancelo made some maddening decisions in possession.

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Each of West Ham’s goals came from long, straight balls that a scrambled City defensive line failed to deal with. Despite an improved attacking performance, their struggles at the back continued after half-time.

Both Laporte and Fernandinho suffered communication breakdowns with goalkeeper Ederson, but dreadful decisions in front of their own penalty area went unpunished.

Did Kevin De Bruyne play well against West Ham?

Kevin De Bruyne produced a bravura display at Molineux in midweek, scoring four of his side’s goals, but he and City’s other midfield creators struggled during the first half.

Guardiola’s team hogged possession for long periods, as is customary, although they seldom moved the ball at a sharp tempo  —  perhaps down to a combination of West Ham’s impressive organisation and a wariness of exposing their own flimsy defence to the counter-attack.

Gabriel Jesus flashed a shot just wide but quality chances were at a premium for City before the break and West Ham were good value for their lead.

How did Pep Guardiola change Man City’s tactics?

One or both of City’s full-backs tucking into midfield to assist with the build-up play has been an increasingly common sight under Guardiola. However, at London Stadium, both Zinchenko and Cancelo were positioned wide for attacks, with wingers Mahrez and Grealish looking for opportunities closer to the penalty area.

The motivation for this appeared to be to stretch West Ham’s massed ranks in defence with plenty of attacking numbers, but the result was things getting crowded in those pockets of space where De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva are so adept at doing damage.

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Guardiola switched to a more traditional approach from his wingers at the start of the second half, with Mahrez and Grealish pegged wide. His team instantly looked more dangerous and Grealish’s deflected strike reduced the arrears, with City maintaining an impressive attacking rhythm for the rest of the half

Why didn’t Guardiola make any substitutions?

That word “rhythm” is key here. As the clock ticked down and the scoreline remained level, plenty of fans will have been frustrated to see Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden and Ilkay Gundogan remaining unused.

But City have been here before this season. Sterling and Gundogan also remained in their tracksuits, along with Jesus, when their teammates had lots of the ball but not enough penetration in the 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace in March.

“I was thinking about that (making substitutions) but the guys who were playing were playing good and the game was in a high, high rhythm, so today we decided to stay with those guys,” Guardiola told Sky Sports after that match and the same applied on this latest London trip.

If City had continued in their first-half torpor, Guardiola would have shaken things up. But once they started to move West Ham around and ask frequent questions of them, he will have been satisfied.

Part of the logic here is an aversion to risk. If either of Foden and Sterling – naturally explosive and attacking players – had come on and upset City’s rhythm in possession, it might have meant the defence being more exposed to counters. And, as discussed above, this wasn’t the day to risk such a scenario.

Why did Riyad Mahrez take Man City’s penalty?

A VAR review showed Craig Dawson clearly fouled Jesus, giving Mahrez the opportunity to reattach blue and white ribbons to the Premier League trophy.

Liverpool have benefitted from Mahrez’s penalty woes before. He blazed one over late on in a 0-0 draw at Anfield in the 2018/19 season  —  a title fight that also went down to the wire.

But Mahrez has since recovered to become City’s undisputed number one from the spot. He netted a clutch kick against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League last season and had converted seven out of seven this time around.

Despite social media clamour for De Bruyne to take the kick, it would have been unusual to see City deviate from their designated taker and top scorer in all competitions.

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What do Man City need to do to win the Premier League title?

They might not have to do anything else. Although that would necessitate Southampton fashioning an against-the-odds win over Liverpool on Tuesday. Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side claimed a pair of draws against City this season, so Guardiola might feel they owe him a favour.

Liverpool are now four points behind the champions with two games to play. A positive result at St Mary’s will take proceedings to the final day, although a draw would probably be of little use given City boast a seven-goal advantage on goal difference.

Wolves travel to Anfield next Sunday, while City entertain an Aston Villa side managed by Steven Gerrard and featuring Philippe Coutinho as their star playmaker. 

It could mean one more delicious opportunity for a narrative twist, but the most likely scenario on the final day for City is this: match Liverpool’s result and they will be champions.