Tired Manchester City beat jet lag and West Ham to reach Premier League Asia Trophy final
Pep Guardiola's treble-winning champions set up pre-season tournament's summit clash in Nanjing against Wolves
It transpired that getting to China was the hard part for Manchester City.
Thanks to the failings of a travel agent, they arrived two days later than they were supposed to and only one day before the Premier League Asia Trophy began. They showed few signs of jet lag by booking their place in Saturday’s final against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
It was City with a difference, a starting 11 featuring four teenagers and a 20-year-old, but they duly defeated West Ham United 4-1. The winning habit was transported several thousand kilometres, into a pre-season tournament and on to the shoulders of some relative unknowns.
Raheem Sterling, a scorer 25 times in City’s treble-winning campaign, carried on where he left off with a double, set up by his fellow substitutes Leroy Sane and Kevin de Bruyne, but the first-half goals owed more to newer faces.
“The young guys played great,” said De Bruyne, who skippered City in the second half. “I don’t think we were at the best level but we expected it because it has been a tough couple of days. The travel was not the best.”
City’s win was all the more impressive as their new-look team had trailed.
It marked an inauspicious return for Angelino, bought back by City after a successful season at PSV Eindhoven.
The left-back conceded one penalty, handling on the ground when Felipe Anderson dribbled past him, and could have given away a second, when he seemed to trip Ryan Fredericks. Mark Noble made him pay for the first offence.
But while Andriy Yarmolenko later hit the post, his side had conceded four times by then. City transformed a deficit into a lead inside three minutes.
David Silva levelled with typical class, delicate chest control being followed by an accurate volley, but the real revelation was his supplier. Adrian Bernabe, an 18-year-old Spanish winger, had provided an inch-perfect cross to follow the bright dribbling he had already displayed.
Then, if Lukas Nmecha was fortunate to be awarded a penalty, after minimal contact from Angelo Ogbonna, he converted it coolly. The striker, who spent last season on loan at Preston, benefited from the absence of Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus. It was a reason why Sterling played as a centre forward in the second half as Pep Guardiola sent out a stronger side.
“It is not easy for the players,” the City manager added, citing the humidity. “They were incredibly tired at half time.”
His reinforcements clinched victory. Sane, who was terrific in his cameo, sent Sterling sprinting clear for the third goal and De Bruyne teed him up for the fourth. He was one of those who had been in action for his country last month.
“Eight players just came back for [the last] four days,” the Belgian said.
Others are yet to return. Summer international commitments meant City were without more regulars than West Ham, with the absentees including Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden, Fernandinho, Nicolas Otamendi, Aguero, Jesus and Ederson, plus the injured Benjamin Mendy.
It felt telling that the unused substitute Ben Knight was wearing the little-seen No 96 shirt. A more familiar name was Tommy Doyle, the grandson of two of City’s 1968 title winners in Mike Doyle and Glyn Pardoe. The midfielder showed a neat touch, though it will be harder to get a spot during the season.
West Ham, too, can anticipate becoming stronger.
They have signed Sebastien Haller for a club record £45 million (Dh205.4m). He replaces Marko Arnautovic, who has joined Chinese Super League side Shanghai SIPG. The French striker joined too late to be involved but they could be encouraged by the exploits of one newcomer. Roberto, the goalkeeper West Ham signed from Espanyol, made fine saves from Taylor Harwood-Bellis, Ian Poveda-Ocampo, Sane and Sterling.
They face Newcastle United in the third-place play-off after Wolves beat the Magpies 4-0. They sliced Newcastle apart to score three times in the first 40 minutes, courtesy of a Diogo Jota double and a classy strike from Morgan Gibbs-White. The Newcastle youngster Tom Allan added a freakish late own goal.
Newcastle were managed by caretakers Ben Dawson and Neil Redfearn. Steve Bruce, appointed earlier in the day, will arrive for the West Ham game but this was an indication of his difficult inheritance and their shambolic summer.
Updated: July 17, 2019 10:18 PM