The Return of Maximus Decimus HODOR!

Pre-Season Friendly: Man City 3 West Ham 0

Starting line-up:

City XI: Ederson, Kompany (C), Stones, Otamendi, Yaya Toure, De Bruyne, Sane, Silva, Danilo, Jesus, Aguero.

Yesterday in Reykjavic, Manchester City achieved another satisfying and somewhat routine win against West Ham who served as little more than willing training cones before the serious business gets started in a couple of weeks’ time.

From the outset, City were tight and efficient, starting with Otamendi (LB) and Danilo (RB) on either side of Kompany and Stones in defence – a unit which looked composed and comfortable throughout in the first half.

Some will disagree and say that the formation was a Central 3 (Ota-Stones-Kompany) flanked by Leroy Sane (left) and Danilo (right) but I felt Otamendi was so regularly in the LB position that it was effectively a 4 with Leroy liberated to go forward.

Otamendi looked gratifyingly assured and relaxed in what is for him an unfamiliar role at left back whilst Danilo again looked sharp and menacing, this time in his preferred position on the right. Perhaps it’s true that we don’t need to invest in LB cover…

City took first blood when a casual Joe Hart pass out to his defence put the West Ham backline under unnecessary pressure. De Bruyne nipped in to provide a neat cross-box assist to the lurking Gabriel Jesus at the back stick and the score was 1-0 a mere 8 minutes in.

As the action progressed, De Bruyne, perhaps City’s best player on the summer tour, began to take command.

In the 16th minute, an incisive whipped-in corner from the Belgian was desperately cleared by Ogbonna as the Blues ratcheted up the pressure.

Two minutes later KDB sent David Silva, now bearing a disconcerting resemblance to Stephen Ireland, running free to square for Aguero who was ultimately thwarted by Fonte in another last gasp clearance.

Alas, we were not given a chance to see those famous Superman underpants (or to lament dead grandmothers…)

On 23 minutes Hart tipped over from the marauding Leroy Sane to deny the inevitable second goal as the tide swept inexorably toward the West Ham goal-line.

It seemed only a matter of time.

Hart denied Danilo 3 minutes later before Sane scorched past Zabaleta on the 35-minute mark to send a shot fizzing past the left hand post.

When West Ham occasionally found themselves with a half chance, they were repeatedly beaten to the mark by City‘s new keeper Ederson who showed that he has tremendous skills of anticipation, interception and alertness.

The youngster is thrillingly unafraid to sprint out to shore up defensive complacency.

Just on half time, Aguero played through Danilo but the scoreline remained unchanged as Hart produced a smart stop to deny the Brazilian in what was becoming a “decent” showing from City‘s former stopper.

The Blues maintained their momentum at the start of the second half and just over 10 minutes after the restart, Superman flew down the left channel to provide an inch-perfect cross for Aguero to tap in on 56 minutes.

Three minutes thereafter came the inevitable raft of changes:

Incoming: Fernandinho, Bernardo, Walker, Foden, Mangala, Sterling and Zinchenko.

Outgoing: Yaya, De Bruyne, Stones, Danilo, Aguero, Sane and Jesus.

Five minutes later saw perhaps Hart‘s best moment against his former teammates: a stunning finger-tip save from a left-footed strike, again from our new Man of Steel.

Then came City‘s third: Walker and Fernandinho combined adroitly down the right to tee up Phil Foden whose deflected effort looped up invitingly for Sterling to volley home.

Game over.

Adarabioyo replaced Kompany 4 minutes later while Brahim and Roberts came on for Silva and Otamendi.

As the game fizzled to its conclusion, City fans began to reflect on yet another gratifyingly impressive performance and there turned out to be no late drama.

However, the one thing that most will remember about this game was the complete lack of need for a match commentator!

We all could finally begin to see why Pep may well have dispensed with the services of Hart, silly chest-thumping machismo notwithstanding.

The action on the field was regularly and persistently forced to play second fiddle to some irritating and monotonous bellowing from between the goalposts from Hart who was taking it upon himself to micro-manage almost every one of his new teammates with instructions pinched right out of the screenplay of Ridley Scott‘s Gladiator.

It was difficult to know whether to be amused or alarmed at the continual pleadings to “Hold the line! Hold the line!” which echoed out over the noise of the largely polite and appreciative Icelandic crowd.

Difficult to know what they made of it.

Puzzled amusement seems a good bet.

Channeling his very best Russell Crowe, Hart, I felt, somewhat embarrassed his teammates in the same way touchline Dads often embarrass their red-faced schoolboy charges.

One can only imagine what Guardiola thought.

I imagine the Catalan probably smiled knowingly at what now seems an astute decision – taken undoubtedly to allay his fears of all his carefully planned tactical instructions being drowned out by a lovable looney between the goalposts who’s appointed himself the team’s de facto on-field general, and to hell what anyone thinks about it!

As the game wore on, it became clear that Hart was not for quitting, calling out City‘s attacking players by name and barking out directives on what to do with them.

As for myself, as I heard the wail “Hold the Line” for the umpteenth time, in my mind, the phrase began to slowly morph into “Hold the door” and by degrees, eventually into “Hodor!”

Given Ederson‘s competent and effective (and comparatively muted) display, I took a certain quiet satisfaction in the growing conviction that my team, the 2017 reboot of it anyway, are no longer a comedy club…

After the game, Pep said:

“I think we need someone else, something else, a little bit more…The transfer window finishes on August 31, we have time to see what is going on with the people coming and going. We will see.”


Hmm..wonder what/who he could be referring to…?


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