An Alvaro Negredo-inspired Manchester City tore West Ham United apart and effectively sealed their place in the Capital One Cup final on Wednesday, as they won the first leg of their semi-final 6-0 at the Etihad Stadium.
It took Negredo just 50 minutes to complete his hat-trick, as he ran riot against a ravaged Hammers defence. Yaya Toure and Edin Dzeko (twice) also got in on the scoring to give Manuel Pellegrini's men an almost unassailable lead ahead of the return leg at Upton Park.
As good as Manchester City were, however—as they lived up to their record this season of averaging four goals a game at home—West Ham were equally if not even more abject, producing the second awful cup performance in four days following Sunday’s 5-0 loss against Championship side Nottingham Forest.
"Today was an important result for us," Pellegrini noted afterwards to Sky Sports. "Today we have one leg in the final.
"The most important thing was not to score the six goals, but it was the way this team played. If we continue to play this way, then the goals will come."
Pellegrini named a strong side for the tie, with the presence of the likes of Toure, Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Pablo Zabaleta suggesting he did not want to risk a repeat of the surprise loss that afflicted rivals Manchester United in the first leg of the other semi-final 24 hours earlier.
His opposite number wasn't afforded quite so many luxuries, however, with Sam Allardyce feeling forced to throw loan signing Roger Johnson straight in for an immediate debut alongside George McCartney in a makeshift centre-back pairing that did not inspire confidence.
It was to be a selection decision that would not work out.
Allardyce had suggested before kick-off that a draw would constitute a good result for the Hammers, but to the manager’s likely dismay, his side were behind after just 12 minutes and never really looked like they would recover.
It was Negredo who broke the deadlock, the Spaniard stealing in between McCartney and Joey O’Brien to volley home Toure’s long ball over the top in one fluid movement.
Fourteen minutes later it was 2-0, with Negredo again the player celebrating. This time it was he and strike partner Dzeko who combined, the Bosnia and Herzegovina international slipping Negredo through with a slide-rule pass that he took in his stride before lifting over the onrushing Adrian with a stretching finish.
The beleaguered Hammers goalkeeper had made two fine saves prior to that—from David Silva and Samir Nasri, respectively—while there had also been a scare for Yaya Toure, who was briefly forced off the pitch after seeming to injury his knee while making a tackle.
But the midfielder was able to return to the action soon after, and it was he who would get the game’s third goal.
If the opening two goals hinted at West Ham’s defensive frailties, then it was the third that fully exposed them—and perhaps ended the tie in the process. Toure picked up the ball on the halfway line and was then able to run completely unchallenged all the way into the box before stopping on the ball and side-footing a shot at goal that Adrian was again unable to stop.
With only a speculative 25-yard curler from Mohamed Diame and a few hopeful crosses to show for their first-half attacking endeavours, West Ham badly needed a second-half lift, with Carlton Cole immediately brought on to replace the ineffectual Modibo Maiga.
But instead of Cole making an instant impact, it was City celebrating a fourth moments after the break, as Negredo completed his hat-trick. Once again, it was a brilliantly clinical finish, as the man the Etihad crowd refer to as “Beast” stepped onto Silva’s rolled pass and curled a left-footed finish across Adrian and just inside the post.
Perhaps sensing the opportunity to really run up the score rather than sit back and consolidate their advantage, City continued to press forward looking for a fifth. Toure narrowly missed with a trademark free-kick, and Dzeko appealed for a penalty—much to the anger of O’Brien—after contact in the box.
It never seemed in doubt that a fifth goal would arrive, however, and it came right on the hour mark through Dzeko. Once again, the striker made an incisive run into the six-yard post, taking advantage of some slack tracking back from Johnson and McCartney to arrive at the near post to turn Gael Clichy’s low cross home.
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Finally, Pellegrini made a change by withdrawing Toure, who still seemed slightly affected by his earlier knock, as a precautionary measure for Martin Demichelis, who immediately moved in as City’s midfield anchor.
A rare Adrian save (from a Dzeko header) was sandwiched between that and the second change, as 18-year-old Marcos Lopes replaced Silva for further first-team experience.
Eventually, Negredo too was withdrawn, and with him seemed to go City’s ardent desire to continue adding goals. Johnson managed to make a few important blocks, and Adrian perhaps solidified his place as West Ham’s best player (the hollowest of honours on this day) with another sharp stop with Dzeko.
But City’s No. 10 got the last laugh, getting his second goal of the game and completing the scoring in the final minute of normal time with a Negredo-esque finish, as he found the inside of the Adrian’s near post with another pure left-foot strike.
City, reasonably, can now start planning for a final at Wembley. West Ham can at least turn their full attentions to their Premier League survival bid; on this evidence, however, it could prove a long slog to the end of the season.
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The second leg takes place at Upton Park on Tuesday, January 21.
Prior to that, Manchester City have three games to negotiate—away to Newcastle in the league, at home to Blackburn in an FA Cup replay and then back to league action at home to Cardiff—while West Ham have just the two league games against the same opposition, visiting Cardiff this Saturday before travelling to St James' Park the following weekend.
All quotes via Sky Sports' live broadcast of the game.