Manchester City v West Ham United: Alvaro Negredo the enforcer takes complete control as king of his domain

 

Sam Allardyce teams are not meant to be about timidity and deference but that is precisely what West Ham United presented yesterday at the Etihad Stadium. This is Alvaro Negredo’s backyard, his home turf, and West Ham allowed him to exert his  proprietorial authority  with barely a whimper of resistance.

Imported players tend to take time to settle and yet Negredo has, with instant effect, made the Etihad  Stadium his own personal patch. City, as everyone knows, have been ferocious at home this season. Edin Dzeko’s second was their 59th goal in their 15th home game this season. With most of the bottom half of the Premier League still to come here in the second half of the season – including, ominously, West Ham United on the final day – they could well make it into three figures.

City do have finer players than Negredo, players who can claim to be among the world’s best, as Yaya Touré, David Silva and Sergio Aguero can. Negredo, though, is something different. He is City’s attack leader, their forward enforcer, who lets the opposition know from the very start that this is his patch and his rules apply here.

This was Negredo’s second hat-trick of the season, the first coming against CSKA Moscow two months ago. Both hat-tricks form part of his astonishing recent run at the Etihad – 14 goals in his last 11 home appearances, not all of them from the start.

Some of those goals, certainly, were more important than these. There was his game-turning equaliser in the 3-1 win against Everton – their opponents’ first league defeat of the season. There was his winner, just before the half-time break, in the Boxing Day classic against Liverpool. The pursuit of the title, of course, is more important than the League Cup, but this performance was more than enough to send City to Wembley.

 

It took only 12 minutes for Negredo to impose himself, to show the West Ham defence that leaving a long straight pass from midfield – as they did – was not an option. With excellent control and clarity, Negredo waited for the ball and volleyed it into the far bottom corner.

Negredo has done most of his best work alongside Sergio Aguero – as anyone would – but his unlikely partnership with Dzeko made its third straight appearance, with its biggest success yet. Neither are natural link-men, and City have struggled with it before, but it was an excellent one-two in midfield that set up Negredo’s second. Dzeko came under no real pressure from Roger Johnson and threaded a pass through to Negredo. His first touch took it away from George McCartney, his second hit it into the bottom corner.

The third goal, City’s fourth, required nothing more than one clean strike. West Ham’s defending was dismal – they played as if  they had no idea that Manchester City might be quite useful with the ball – and Negredo, even having scored two, was allowed to stand freely in the box following a corner. The ball ended up at his feet and all he had to do was aim and fire.

There was not a single part of the pitch that was not Negredo’s private property. Early on, he charged back into City’s half for an athletic interception of a rare West Ham attack. Just before the break, when most players were catching their breadth, he nicked it off Modibo Maiga in the box.

Negredo was eventually taken off, with 11 minutes left. City have a rather more difficult encounter at St James’ Park on Sunday afternoon. The damage, the brutal imposition, the fierce, bullying reminder of exactly who is in charge at the Etihad Stadium, had already been done.

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