‘Delicious’ was the word used by Gary Neville and you cannot help but wonder whether he has ever used the word ‘delicious’ before. Or indeed whether anybody has ever said the word ‘delicious’ in a Bury accent before. But that’s what Kevin De Bruyne can do to a man, with one of those moments when he finds space where there was none, to claim three points where there was one.
The finish was pretty delicious too, and it was only fitting that it came from the boot of David Silva, with these two unlikely deep central midfielders combining to score Manchester City’s inevitable but for so long elusive winner. Just when it looked like City might need a sledgehammer to break down West Ham’s wall, the Premier League’s two deftest footballers turned up with a scalpel and a fish slice.
This was a game that showcased all City’s weaknesses, though Pep Guardiola had given a spoiler earlier in the week when he said: “I can imagine them defending like Huddersfield or Southampton, problem balls, ball in the box and Carroll scores a goal. Carroll in the box is better than our central defenders.”
It turns out Angelo Ogbonna in the box is also better than City’s central defenders, but that probably did not surprise Guardiola either, and nor would he have been shocked that David Moyes instructed his players to sit deep and give City the space to pass themselves into sedation. He may have been shocked that his players so easily fell into the Hammers’ trap, though his half-time substitution at least hinted at his own culpability with a line-up that pulled Fabian Delph into midfield.
Guardiola acted, Gabriel Jesus replaced Danilo and City’s remaining players were clearly instructed to move the ball quicker and to introduce some variety to their attack. So if Kyle Walker did no damage from wide, and Raheem Sterling’s feet did not tempt a penalty area challenge, then De Bruyne or Silva would prod and probe to find the smallest crack. The equaliser came thanks to the invention of Jesus and the determination of Nicolas Otamendi, before anxious City fans were forced to wait for the winner.
“They can’t keep winning games 2-1,” said Martin Tyler, but why not? You get as many points for a 2-1 win as a 4-0 cruise, and crucially you gain a whole lot more belief and togetherness. Witness the celebration for an equaliser against West Ham at home; these struggles are fostering a tremendous team spirit. This team is eight points clear at the top of the Premier League not only because they have the finest collection of players and a visionary in the technical area, but because they are a bona fide team. Not a side. Not a club. Not a project. A team.
And central to that team – both physically and metaphorically – is the man who has produced 35 Premier League assists since September 2015, which is not just the highest total in the English top flight but in the top five European leagues. Or more impressively, a man whose pass made a Bury-born Manchester United man use the word ‘delicious’.