Match Report: Allardyce is a happy man but Balotelli angry again
West Ham United 0 Manchester City 0
In a week where Roberto Mancini admitted he had been discussing jobs beyond Manchester City, the man who has finally accepted that he will never manage such an elite side at least illustrated he is occasionally capable of matching them.
On Thursday, Sam Allardyce said: "I won't ever be going to a top-four club so I think we'll just leave it at that," before laughingly referencing his famous "Allardici" line. Yesterday, though, he showed he hasn't lost his knack of taking points off such teams, as West Ham claimed an admirable 0-0 draw against the champions.
While Allardyce again joked that "no clubs talked to me in the summer", he did say he was happy to be back "pitting wits against the best in the world".
City remain undefeated. And, in a stadium that, under Allardyce, is always going to look less enticing than the Stade Louise II in Monaco, that is no mean feat. Even then, though, something just remains off about the champions.
Afterwards, Mancini insisted that a draw was not a fair result and that his team deserved to win, but conceded something is wrong with their attack.
"We have improved our defensive face [again] but we need to start scoring like last year. We need to improve this offensive face. Sometimes we need to be quicker."
Mancini refused to be drawn on what looked like another outburst from Mario Balotelli, after the striker seemed to mouth abuse at the manager following a few missed chances and an inevitable substitution.
"This is football. I think, a player like Balotelli, when he has a chance like today, he should score. But I think all the players played 100 per cent. West Ham defended very well."
And how. Right from the very start, the home side executed Allardyce's instructions to the letter. This display bore all the classic characteristics of the performances that had brought him results against big teams in the past: West Ham kept tight, they made their challenges and they admirably played the percentages, with Andy Carroll illustrating their ethic by frequently dropping back to aid the defence. One thing you can almost always say about Allardyce's teams, they don't make things easy for opponents.
"We have to be satisfied we've taken a point off the champions. It really is a good day for us," he said. "You're going to be forced back by a team that's got the quality they've got... in the end we've done great and you have to be happy."
If West Ham succeeded by doing what is so familiar to them, City struggled as they had to adjust to the unfamiliar. Because while the debate about the champions' attack will go on, the furore about their formation can temporarily be parked. Although it seemed Mancini had planned to put James Milner at wing-back in this 3-4-3, the 26-year-old's injury in the warm-up meant the City manager had no choice but to quickly improvise, with Kolo Toure going to right-back in a 4-3-3. Milner now looks set to miss Tuesday's Champions League clash with Ajax at home, along with Joleon Lescott.
West Ham took advantage of the gaps in the champions' reshuffled approach, with Kevin Nolan striking but having a goal ruled offside, Yossi Benayoun hitting the bar and Mohamed Diame and Carroll going close.
City struggled to find a way past West Ham's forceful challenges and organisation other than the odd Balotelli opportunity or Carlos Tevez mishit shot.
Gareth Barry handled to force an ultimately missed chance, and Mancini hauled off Balotelli for Sergio Aguero.
With West Ham snapping at the merest sniff of a City opening, however, he struggled to make an impact.
By then, as the clock ticked past 80 minutes, Mancini had one card left to play. Replicating the move that went a long way to helping City win the title last season with victory at Newcastle, he put on a defensive midfielder for an attacker as Javi Garcia replaced Tevez to allow Yaya Toure to advance.
Other than one shot over bar, it couldn't force a winner.
Allardyce had done his job, even if he'll never get one as big as Mancini's.
West Ham (4-5-1): Jaaskelainen; O’Brien, Reid, Collins (Spence, 84), McCartney; Benayoun, Diame (O’Neil, 71), Nolan, Noble, Jarvis; Carroll (Cole, 77).
Manchester City (4-3-3): Hart; Nastasic, Kompany, Toure, Clichy; Barry, Toure, Nasri; Tevez (Garcia, 84), Dzeko, Balotelli (Aguero, 67).
Referee: Howard Webb.
Man of the match: Noble (West Ham)
Match rating: 6/10
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