When they are like this, you can never be quite sure how many players are actually out there in Manchester City blue.
It certainly does not feel like just the 11 named. Maybe someone sneaks on without anybody noticing.
Way too good, way too slick. Pep Guardiola appeared to have three false nines on the pitch, and West Bromwich were a spinning top waiting to collapse. There is always a man over, always yards and yards of grass to move into. And when players of this ability engineer that much space, the result will end the same way most weeks.
Midfielder Ilkay Gundogan (left) scored twice as Manchester City stormed to the top of the Premier League on Tuesday night
Midfielder Gundogan opened the scoring at the Hawthorns by clipping the ball into the far corner in the sixth minute
West Brom (4-4-1-1): Johnstone 5; Furlong 5, Ajayi 4, O’Shea 5, Gibbs 5; Snodgrass 5 (Phillips 59, 6), Livermore 5, Sawyers 4, Grant 5 (Robson-Kanu 64, 6); Pereira 5; Robinson 5 (Bartley 46, 6)
Subs not used: Button, Townsend, Gallagher, Ivanovic, Edwards, Peltier
Manager: Sam Allardyce 4
Man City (4-1-4-1): Ederson 7; Cancelo 9.5, Stones 7, Dias 7, Zinchenko 7.5; Rodri 7.5; Sterling 8, Gundogan 8.5 (Laporte 52, 6.5), Silva 8.5 (Jesus 60, 6), Foden 8 (Torres 51, 7); Mahrez 9
Subs not used: Steffen, Walker, Mendy, Fernandinho, Garcia, Bernabe
Goals: Gundogan (6, 30), Cancelo (20), Mahrez (45), Sterling (57)
Manager: Pep Guardiola 8.5
Referee: Chris Kavanagh 6
This is 11 victories on the trot in all competitions for Guardiola, the first time he has managed that since the Centurions season of three years ago. The run has included swaggering away victories at Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea. This was another for the collection.
City have climbed to the summit for now and this dominance of the division is well-timed, given the wretched form of some other contenders. Style is always a big indicator with Guardiola and this current version, beauty with brawn, is exceptionally dangerous.
‘This month we have the commitment and it’s so good,’ said Guardiola. ‘The way we play, everyone is involved in the attack. The movement is really good.’
West Brom were in this game for three minutes. There was a penalty shout, a big save by Ederson to deny Semi Ajayi as Sam Allardyce — labelled a ‘genius’ by Guardiola before this — attempted to bombard his illustrious visitors. That was that.
City were ahead within six minutes and out of sight by the half hour. Ilkay Gundogan had two, sandwiching a curling Joao Cancelo effort. All three were eye-catching.
The Cancelo goal, on 20 minutes, saw Allardyce raging on the touchline. The right back prodded a pass forward to Portuguese compatriot Bernardo Silva, who looked offside. Silva carried on regardless, as is the way in the age of VAR, and Sian Massey-Ellis kept her flag down. Until Silva checked back. Then her flag went up. West Brom stopped, City did not. Crucially, referee Chris Kavanagh did not either. So Cancelo caressed the ball into Sam Johnstone’s top-right corner. A stunning finish, although one that seemed about to be disallowed, with the flag still high in the air.
Moments later, City’s bench started going up in celebration amid a VAR check. The referee looked a little sheepish. Silva had been kept onside by Darnell Furlong. It was all a bit embarrassing: the uncertainty and the fact that Albion did not play to the whistle.
West Brom, already one goal down by this point, were finished.
Allardyce said: ‘You can’t tell me about all that “play to the whistle” stuff. That’s nonsense. The assistant referee made a mistake, but that was just one mistake. We made lots more than that.’
Bernardo Silva had been flagged offside – with some of the home defence stopping – before Joao Cancelo struck the second
A VAR check showed Furlong had played Silva onside and assistant ref Sian Massey-Ellis had incorrectly signalled early
Allardyce and his players had an hour-long, clear-the-air meeting in the dressing room after the match, to try to sort out their problems.
‘I can accept defeat but I can’t accept defeat like that,’ he said. ‘It wasn’t Man City and their brilliant goals, it was us and our defending.’
For the opener, Cancelo punched an exquisite pass through the lines to Gundogan, who turned on his heels on collection, 20 yards out. He stopped, allowed Ajayi to dash past him, and passed into Johnstone’s far corner.
Gundogan later picked the pocket of Romaine Sawyers on the edge of West Brom’s box. Again, he looked, he passed and Johnstone waved it goodbye.
Albion were the masters of their downfall as they failed to clear in the 30th minute and the visitors made it 3-0
Gundogan robbed Romaine Sawyers on the edge of the box before turning Dara O’Shea and firing past Johnstone for the third
Fitting that City’s No 8 shone so brightly on the day they laid Colin Bell to rest. ‘I feel proud to wear his number,’ said Gundogan. ‘I try to represent it as good as possible.’
Three was four by half-time and the tackles were becoming a little half-hearted. Riyad Mahrez was encouraged to check back on to his left foot and he flashed into the exact same corner.
Mahrez turned provider shortly after the break. Rodri clipped a pass towards his zone and, instead of taking a touch, the Algerian just volleyed across goal for Raheem Sterling. He gratefully tapped into an empty net.
Cancelo’s position was intriguing. Officially he is a right back. He spent some time of the second half as a central striker, then sprinting back when West Brom threatened to break. He often takes up space as an old-fashioned half-back, or a No 8, or right winger. Sitting up in the stand, it is difficult to ascertain quite what Guardiola is asking him to do, so what chance City’s opponents have down below is anybody’s guess.
Sterling picked out Mahrez in the box and he was allowed to check inside and beat the keeper just before half-time
Raheem Sterling got in on the act in the second half as City went top of the table for the first time this season
Mahrez returned the favour for Sterling, steering Rodri’s lofted pass across for the forward to net his ninth of the season
Sam Allardyce’s side have now lost their last five home games in the league, conceding 22 goals in the process