Manchester City effectively sealed their place in the Capital Once Cup final on Wednesday as a hat-trick from Alvaro Negredo helped them to a 5-0 victory over a listless West Ham in the first leg of their semifinal at the Etihad.
The contrasting form of the two sides was in full evidence throughout a wholly one-sided contest. Some of City’s play going forward was superb, with Negredo ruthless in front of goal, not least in slamming home a perfectly struck volley to open the floodgates early on. Two more followed for the former Sevilla man, with Yaya Toure scoring from a solo effort in between, before Edin Dzeko struck a deserved brace to end any hope for West Ham back at Upton Park for the second leg.
After a youthful West Ham side was embarrassed by Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup at the weekend, there was a far more experienced team selected at the Etihad but there was to be no difference in the outcome. Roger Johnson, brought in from League One Wolves to try and help an ailing defense was caught out repeatedly as part of a back four that lacked any cohesion. While Sam Allardyce’s future will be decided by what happens in the Premier League, the ease at which West Ham went down must be concerning to all connected with the relegation-threatened club.
The failings of the opposition should not take too much away, though, from what was another impressive display from Manchester City, who bounced back from their draw with Blackburn. With Sergio Aguero and Stevan Jovetic set to imminently return from injury, deciding how best to maximize the ample talent at his disposal looks to be Manuel Pellegrini’s chief concern. Given the quality served up by the League Cup’s other semifinalists, a first trophy for the Chilean could well be coming around at the first opportunity.
The tone was set on Wednesday in just the third minute when Joey O’Brien let a low cross run across his body in the box and Pablo Zabaleta almost pounced. West Ham were lucky to escape, too, when Javi Garcia flashed a header wide from a near-post corner. Their reprieve would only last 12 minutes.
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The lack of pressure on the ball coupled with a disheveled defensive line contributed heavily to the goal, but there was so much to admire from City’s point of view. Toure’s long ball over the top was inch-perfect for the run of Negredo, who watched it over his shoulder and struck it majestically on the volley into the bottom corner.
With West Ham providing only token resistance, the one bright spot in the visitors’ team, Adrian had to be alert to deny both David Silva and Samir Nasri, but it was only ever a matter of time before he would be beaten once more. Again it was a combination of woeful defending and scintillating attacking. Dzeko and Negredo combined superbly as the former was given ample space to turn and return a pass into the path of the Spaniard who ran unchecked into the box and held off a challenge from George McCartney before finishing impressively into the top corner as he fell away.
Dzeko should have gotten on target himself when he skied over the bar form Nasri’s square pass inside the box, but further punishment would not be long in coming for West Ham, who once more laid down the welcome mat. Toure, who had earlier hobbled off after taking a knock to his knee, showed that his mobility was fully restored by going on a typically marauding run from inside his own half. As Johnson continued to back off deep into his own box, and with no other West Ham player opting to make a challenge, the Ivorian took the invitation to shoot low into the net.
The half ended with West Ham’s first shot on target, but the ironic cheers that accompanied Mohamed Diame’s harmless effort reflected a chastening 45 minutes for the hosts. The second half was not to begin any better.
After West Ham failed to properly clear a corner, Silva’s low ball back into the danger zone deflected straight to the feet of Negredo, who finished it with aplomb once more with his lethal left foot.
With his strike partner getting all the glory, Dzeko was in no mood to miss out on the party. He again came close with a rasping effort from 25 yards that may have just brushed the crossbar on its way over, before having a penalty appeal turned down for a challenge by McCartney. But on the hour mark the Bosnian had the goal his display warranted.
David Silva created it with a defense-splitting ball to find Clichy surging toward the byline down the left, who crossed first-time low and hard for Dzeko to slide in and prod home from close range. Only further excellent saves from Adrian prevented Dzeko from adding to his account sooner.
City had taken their foot off the gas in the closing stages, with Toure, Silva and Negredo being taken off in the knowledge that the tie had already been decided. Still, with just a minute remaining, one of those brought on helped bring a final flourish to the night. Young Portuguese Marcos Lopes’s flick set up fellow-substitute Aleksandar Kolarov to cross low into the box and Dzeko delivered the ball into the top corner with yet another outstanding finish from City’s front men.