Manuel Pellegrini's Manchester City picked up their first away win in the Premier League this season as they secured an impressive 3-1 win over striker-less West Ham United at Upton Park on Saturday evening.
The sensational Sergio Aguero put City two goals in front in London to mean he now has six goals already this season and, although Ricardo Vaz Te gave birthday boy Sam Allardyce's home side some hope, David Silva made sure of the points for the visitors.
It was a tough outing for West Ham, who again played with the striker-less formation which impressively defeated Tottenham Hotspur before the international break, but it was also impossible to ignore the classy displays of Aguero, Silva and Yaya Toure - who are clicking in a manner which is stirring memories of City's title-winning campaign of 2011/12.
West Ham stuck with the same team who beat Tottenham 3-0, meaning man of the moment Ravel Morrison had another chance to show off his skills in an advanced role with no recognised striker in the ongoing absence of the injured Andy Carroll.
Pellegrini made five changes to his starting XI, which saw Matija Nastasic, Micah Richards, who was making his first 2013/14 league start, Javi Garcia and Gael Clichy come into a new-look defence as there was no place for injured captain Vincent Kompany. Samir Nasri also started.
Story of the game
Unsurprisingly given the nature of West Ham's line-up, the opening 15 minutes of the game were focused on the central areas of the field, with Mark Noble (13) and Toure (18) having the highest number of touches of the ball for their respective teams.
In response to West Ham's formation, it was expected City would look to wide areas to stretch their hosts. But Pellegrini's side actually aimed centrally, with more than half of their attacks going down the middle of the pitch in the opening quarter-of-an-hour before they took the lead through Aguero in the 16th minute.
The goal summed up City's central attacks all evening and a superb dummy from Alvaro Negredo to Aguero showcased the communication and movement between the duo. Sky Sports' Alan Smith said: "That is clinical from City."
Having enjoyed great success against Tottenham with the striker-less formation and rotation of attacking midfielders, Allardyce had told Sky Sports in his pre-match interview: "Manchester City play in a very similar way to Tottenham, we think, and hopefully we can play as well as we did at Tottenham."
But the game plan simply did not work and City goalkeeper Joe Hart did not have a shot to save in the first half. City had passed West Ham off the pitch in the first half and had played 337 passes to their hosts' 148.
6 - Sergio Agüero has now scored six goals in seven Premier League appearances this season. Update.- OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 19, 2013
A main reason was the immense central midfield presence of Toure, who - despite his club's inconsistency - is getting back to the monstrously good personal form of City's title success two seasons ago. In the first half alone, he touched the ball 67 times - which was the highest number of any player on the pitch - won three of his four duels and played 59 passes - another first-half high - at a success rate of 84.7 per cent.
Morrison had been making all the headlines prior to kick-off following his heroics against Tottenham but he only touched the ball on 25 occasions before half-time. Noble, who before the weekend had created more goalscoring chances than any other player in the Premier League (17), could only attempt 30 passes at a success rate of just 73.3% - despite being West Ham's busiest player with 43 touches.
Another goal from Aguero, with a free header from a Silva free-kick and his first headed goal in the Premier League, and Vaz Te's overhead kick, from Morrison's assist, made it an explosive opening 13 minutes to the second half.
And West Ham, chasing a maiden point of the season from a losing position, certainly improved after the break with superior statistics when comparing their first and second-half performances in terms of duels won (36.4% & 55.8%), passing accuracy (73.6% & 81.7%) and possession (32.8% & 42.1%).
However, City, who ended the game with an overall 62.6% dominance of possession, always looked capable of opening up West Ham. In comparison with their compact performance at Tottenham, this could be attributed to the greater emphasis on West Ham to attack as the home team while they were also always chasing the game. This meant there was more space in West Ham's formation for City to exploit.
But City were also always a class above and the familiar feeling of Silva and Toure pulling the strings with Aguero scoring the goals does create memories of 2011/12. Silva had been excellent throughout the game with 104 touches, 86 passes at a success rate of 90.7% and his assist for Aguero. Fittingly, the Spaniard added his club's third in the 80th minute to secure the points.
The win should also largely be attributed to the superb Aguero and Toure. Aguero, who scored just 12 Premier League goals last season, finished the game with his two goals from five shots on target out of a total of six efforts. The Argentine also returned the favour by assisting Silva's goal. Meanwhile, Toure ended the game with more touches than any other player (112) and attempted an impressive 99 passes.
"We gave two dreadful goals away from our point of view. They have created some very good chances and our goalkeeper has kept us in the game. That is what disappoints me, that Manchester City's goals were given, rather than earned, and in the end we paid the price for that. We gave a spirited fight-back when we got to 2-1. We showed what we could do for a period of time and made Manchester City's defence look shaky. But, unfortunately, it was far too late."
"Having players of the quality of Silva, Aguero, Nasri and Edin Dzeko, I think this team must always play on the attack. It is never a problem to have good players on the bench. It is more important when you do not have players who can change a result. That is why for us it is very important to have players of good quality because we have a lot of games to play this year. The quality of players is what makes the difference."
"Aguero's whole performance was good today. He started the game really well. He is like Mighty Mouse, isn't he? He is a powerful little figure. He has that strong backside that all real top footballers have. He was a nuisance. He was ice cold today. He is a brilliant player."
Aguero's two goals and his assist for Silva's goal strike meant he was the man of the match at Upton Park. But Silva and Toure also deserve credit and produced excellent performances to give City their first away league win of the season.