Don’t you just love pre-season optimism? It filled social media, pubs around the ground and The Hawthorns itself until about 8:09pm. But Albion were brought crashing down by a slick Man City side last night as the title-chasers swept aside Tony Pulis’ men.
Pulis handed debuts to a couple of new recruits with Rickie Lambert, James McClean and James Chester making their league debuts. Lambert partnered Saido Berahino in attack with Chester in a back four at right back. Craig Dawson partnered Joleon Lescott with Gareth McAuley still recovering from a calf complaint. McClean played in front of Brunt on the left. Surprisingly, Pulis opted for a 4-4-2 formation. More surprisingly, Albion’s ball winner Claudio Yacob was on the bench.
City started on the front foot and were ahead inside ten minutes. After Navas had already darted past Brunt on a couple of occasions, the Spaniard pulled the ball back to the edge of the area where Yaya Toure’s shot deflected off Craig Dawson and crept over the line.
An early goal against City is never going to end well. It got worse ten minutes later with Toure again ripping through Albion. The giant Ivorian played a one-two with Bony on the edge of Albion’s area and riffled a curling shot into the top corner. Boaz Myhill in the Albion goal had absolutely no chance. Thankfully the ‘keeper managed to keep £49m Raheem Sterling’s weak effort out when through on goal.
The Baggies tried to hit back but were chasing shadows for much of the half. Saido Berahino looked to have pulled a goal back but his effort was flagged for offside. City strolled through the rest of the half. Pulis was forced to scrap his 4-4-2 formation with Berahino sacrificed on the right as the Baggies went to a five-man midfield.
After the break
The hard working but mainly ineffective James McClean was swapped at the break with Yacob tasked with marshalling Toure and the brilliant David Silva. The move largely worked as Albion restricted City’s marauding efforts. But in truth, City were coasting and didn’t have to get out of second gear.
The Baggies tried to rally and Lambert fired a free kick inches over. Berahino then had a better chance as he collected Morrison’s through ball but lost his balance and allowed Hart to gather when through on goal.
Any hopes Albion had of finding a way back into the game were dashed before the hour mark when Lescott allowed Vincent Kompany to have a free header at the near post. City’s captain looped his header into the far corner.
City were now strolling and although Albion kept up their workrate they were unable to find a goal back. James Morrison came the closest when he headed straight at Joe Hart after good work from Berahino and Brunt.
After the game, Pulis admitted to the media he’d made a mistake with his tactics and should’ve opted for a five-man midfield. There’s no doubt that Albion looked more solid after Yacob’s arrival. Unfortunately the game was beyond doubt by then. While City are easily one of the best teams in the league, the defeat highlighted areas of the team that need strengthening in the next few weeks.
James Chester did OK defensively but looked uneasy going forward. Brunt looked better going forward than when faced with Jesus Navas. Two specialist full backs are essential in the next couple of weeks. Before the match, new signings Serge Gnarby and Salomon Rondon were presented to The Hawthorns crowd. Gnarby, fitness permitting should easily replace Craig Gardner on the right. The former Blues and Sunderland man gave away the ball on numerous times and wasted good shooting opportunities.
Also, if Berahino is sold, then Rondon will need to hit the ground running. Lambert was one of a few positives on the night. His hold up play was excellent and was unlucky not to score with his free kick. His replacement, Victor Anichebe, looked as idle as ever. He will never score goals regularly in the Premier League.
Although Albion will not face the likes of Man City every week, started the season with such a demoralising win won’t help anyone. There was little to cheer about on the evening and the result now places more pressure on Albion’s trip to new-boys Watford on Saturday.
Come on you Baggies
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