Doku and Alvarez pick up the slack for City
Haaland has an off-day but champions keep up perfect record
By Rob Draper CHIEF FOOTBALL WRITER AT LONDON STADIUM
dmg media (UK)
YOU MAY not have noticed it as they maintained their 100 per cent record, but Manchester City are in the midst of an injury crisis: John Stones, Jack Grealish, Mateo Kovacic and Kevin De Bruyne are huge misses for them. They also lost key players over the summer in Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez. But then again you may not notice any of this at all this season. Because what Sir Alex Ferguson once did, in using the status of his club to strengthen almost incidentally, is now the preserve of the noisy neighbours. It helps to have a Haaland but sometimes the less spectacular deals are just as significant. City’s summer was low profile, as in came Jeremy Doku from Rennes. On his debut, he was underwhelming. Here, in his second game, he was unplayable. Then there was Julian Alvarez. He’s not new, it’s just in all the razzmatazz surrounding Haaland, it was sometimes forgotten City had picked up possibly a generational talent from Argentina. For £14million. You would imagine that the agents’ fee might have added somewhat more but, still. This is what City do so well, incrementally turning the screw with clever low-key recruitment. In losing Gundogan, City might have taken a step back over the summer. Yet somehow they seem to have taken a couple of steps forward. That’s what it felt like at the London Stadium, where West Ham gave them their best test yet in the Premier League. It might have been the afternoon where we dwelt on Haaland missing two near open goals. As it was, he scored. He (almost) always does. But even if he fails, there are alternative talents to pick up the baton. First there was Doku, who scored the equaliser, 45 seconds into the second half, the assist provided by Alvarez. It had been coming because he had been playing with fiery intent from the off. ‘I have to be honest, I didn’t expect in his second game he would play like he did today,’ said Guardiola. ‘I don’t remember [seeing] something like that for a long time. From the first minute, he was incredible: aggressive, determination. I’m really pleased because we thought the qualities were there and today he started to prove it and not just with the goal.’ Then there was Alvarez, fresh — if that is the word — from helping Argentina win 3-0 on Tuesday in the international venue from hell: La Paz, Bolivia at 3,600m of altitude. ‘We had doubts because he was jetlagged, so tired. But he said, “No, I feel good”. The injury for De Bruyne has been unfortunate but he has his chance and he’s using it. Now he’s almost un-droppable.’ This is how dynasties are built, by paying attention to the details, by getting those mid-range transfers right. But the result didn’t really do justice to the tussle at the London Stadium. City strained at times with West Ham’s indefatigability. It’s a pretty thin straw for City’s rivals to clutch at, but there were times when the set-piece delivery of James Ward-Prowse, the tireless running of Michail Antonio and mercurial creativity of Lucas Paqueta looked like they might just curtail City. A tall order of course and one that ultimately couldn’t be fulfilled. But City were made to at least break sweat for this victory. West Ham had taken the lead on 36 minutes when Doku mis-controlled — a rare mis-step — and Josko Gvardiol switched off, allowing Vladimir Coufal to race forward down the right. The cross he rolled into the path of Ward-Prowse was superb. The finish though was also fine, first time coming on to the ball to shoot past Ederson. But the first half was almost as notable for those two extraordinary moments when Haaland demonstrated mortality. On 14 minutes, Gvardiol rolled the ball across the box to him, but, four yards out, he scuffed his shot wide. There was a momentary silence, as though everyone needed time to compute what they had just witnessed before the jeers broke out. Fast forward to 43 minutes and this time it was Doku, crossing into Haaland’s path. This time he hesitated, didn’t get any power and dribbled the ball goalwards, allowing Nayef Aguerd to stop it on the line. West Ham conceding that Doku goal so quickly in the second half was a real passion killer for the crowd. In that spell Alvarez also smashed a free-kick on to the bar and Haaland had one of those extraordinary mid-air volleys in which he specialises. Limbs were in seemingly impossible places as he leapt to strike the ball, forcing a save from the excellent Alphonse Areola. He had produced two contenders for miss of the season. This might have been goal of the season. That said, Ederson had to be smart off his line to deny Antonio bearing down on goal soon after and then produced a wonderful save to tip away Kurt Zouma’s header from another near-perfect Ward-Prowse corner. ‘The small margins have gone for us early season and today against a top team they haven’t,’ said David Moyes afterwards. The moment that was decisive came on 76 minutes when Alvarez chipped a ball into the path of Bernardo Silva. Aguerd probably should have dealt with it more decisively but Silva got his foot up high to strike home. Haaland got there in the end, his goal arriving on 86 minutes. Alvarez played a slick ball through to Silva in space and he made the cross for Haaland. One touch, one look and a shot across Areola was enough. It sat in the bottom corner and the Norwegian ran to the corner of Manchester City fans who chanted his name. However, on this occasion the scene had already been stolen by the supporting actors.