Runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City will surely extend their impressive winning streak when they host struggling West Ham at the Etihad on Sunday (16:00 GMT, live on Sky Sports).
Man City currently have an eight-point lead over local rivals Manchester United at the top of the table following an unbeaten start to the season that has seen them string together 12 straight league victories following their draw against Everton back in August.
The latest of those triumphs came at home to Southampton on Wednesday. It was quite an even match, with their visitors able to create some good chances on the break, but one from which City eventually emerged victorious. Kevin de Bruyne’s early second-half strike was equalised, only for Raheem Sterling to pop up with a dramatic injury time winner that prompted exuberant celebrations from players and staff alike.
It was the third match in a row in all competitions in which Sterling has produced a decisive goal at the death, and his output to date provides further illustration of the individual and collective improvements Man City have made this season. Some of that has clearly been facilitated by their heavy summer spending, but it is notable that those who were already at the club also seem to have taken a step forward.
The result is a team who have scored 44 goals – 12 more than any other side – and conceded just nine in racking up 40 points from 14 matches. They are 10 points better off than they were at the same stage last season and a full 14 points better off than in their equivalent fixtures against the same opponents. Even at this relatively early stage of the campaign, their status as the heavily odds-on favourites to win the Premier League looks justified.
West Ham are rather less salubriously positioned just over a third of the way into the season. Two wins from 14 matches means that they currently find themselves down in 18th, with a mere 10 points. They have picked up only one from their three matches since David Moyes replaced the sacked Slaven Bilic earlier this month.
Things went from bad to worse with a 0-4 thrashing away at Everton on Wednesday. The scoreline slightly exaggerated the difference between the sides, with a penalty and a wonderful strike from inside his own half providing two of the three goals in Wayne Rooney’s hat-trick. It was nevertheless a pretty listless display from the Hammers.
Afterwards, Moyes said that he could at least take some positives from an improved performance in the second half, but a glance at the fixture list suggests he may find himself clutching at similar straws a few more times before the end of the calendar year. West Ham’s trip to the Etihad on Sunday is followed by home matches against Chelsea and Arsenal. After a brief respite, Tottenham Hotspur host them on New Year’s Eve.
It is during this upcoming run of matches that the Hammers will regret not taking more points from their somewhat kinder earlier encounters. They have so far accumulated 11 less points than in their equivalent fixtures against the same opponents last season – a difference that if subtracted from their final total would have seen them finish joint on points with relegated Hull City.
There is, then, much work for Moyes to do if he hopes to straighten out the deficiencies of a side who have endured a difficult campaign. If things don’t soon improve, relegation is a real possibility.
The likelihood is that West Ham will approach Sunday’s game in a similar fashion to how Southampton approached their own trip to the Etihad in midweek. They will form a deep defensive block and seek opportunities to move forward on the counter-attack. But while Southampton had some success in doing just that, much to City coach Pep Guardiola’s frustration, West Ham look much less well-equipped to pull it off.
The Hammers have the worst defensive record in the Premier League, with over two goals conceded per match, and have scored less than a goal per match themselves. City’s quick, slick and incisive attack is therefore likely to make short work of them in what can be expected to be comfortable home victory. That opinion is reflected in this preview’s betting tips for the match, detailed below with best odds from the pick of the top rated online bookmakers.