Goals in the final quarter-of-an-hour from Bernardo Silva and Erling Haaland saw the Champions League winners come from behind to stay top of the division after Jeremy Doku’s curler had cancelled out James Ward-Prowse’s opener for the home side, whose own unbeaten start to the campaign was brought to an end.
This, though, was no outclassing. Both sets of fans began the afternoon singing in unison of their respective continental triumphs last term and the Hammers, having carried the momentum from their Europa Conference League success across the summer, look a cut above the team that started last term in such muddling fashion.
With Pep Guardiola back in the dugout after back surgery, City came close to opening the scoring on seven minutes, or rather, did so four times in a mad ten seconds. Ruben Dias, Haaland and Rodri (twice) were all denied by a combination of Alphonse Areola and Tomas Soucek’s goalline heroics, but when Haaland steered wide of a gaping net soon after, the home side took the let-off as their springboard.
The London Stadium announcer had called Ward-Prowse “our set-piece specialist” when running through the teams before kick-off, as if the midfielder were like an NFL kicker, brought into the game solely to master the dead-ball. Corners round these parts are cheered almost as loudly as goals these days in anticipation of what might follow and City were drawn into the hype, anticipating the right-footers outswinger and almost being caught out by Jarrod Bowen’s curler towards the near-post with his left. Soucek flicked on a delivery that might have been creeping in, but Nayef Aguerd could not react in time to nod home.
Only Luton and Nottingham Forest had been averaging less possession than the Hammers across the first month of the season and this, on paper, looked a fixture unlikely to buck the trend. As the first-half wore on, though, the confidence embedded by such a fine start began to seep through, nowhere more evident than in the shimmering feet of Lucas Paqueta, clearly keen to impress against the club so keen to sign him earlier this summer.
On 37 minutes, due reward for an increasingly assured display arrived as Bowen’s clever pass through the legs released Vladimir Coufal down the right. The full-back, not renowned for his final-third composure, picked out Ward-Prowse perfectly, taking two defenders out of the game and inviting his teammate’s diving finish. Four matches into his West Ham career, Ward-Prowse is yet to go a game without at least one goal or assist.
City’s response was not immediate, but they did come within inches of a leveller at the break when Doku drove low across goal for Haaland to meet but Aguerd became the latest home defender to clear off his own line.
Doku has been City’s liveliest attacker and in showing his ability to go both ways on the left flank had planted the seed of doubt that must have forced Coufal’s decision to stand off as the Belgian jinked into the box within 45 seconds of the restart. A clever curling finish, using the right-back as a guide, left Areola no chance.
A brief peppering ensued, Julian Alvarez hitting the woodwork with a long-range free-kick and an airborne Haaland forcing Areola into an acrobatic stop, but as before the break, West Ham counter-punched well. Michail Antonio’s heavy touch saw his opening smothered by Ederson, but it took a superb save from the Brazilian to keep out Kurt Zouma’s powerful header from Ward-Prowse’s corner.
Finally, though, City’s firepower told, the fit-again Silva latching onto Alvarez’s scoop as Aguerd stretched in vain, before Haaland put a wasteful day behind him with his customary strike four minutes from time.