Enner Valencia and Sergio Aguero both bagged a brace as West Ham United and Manchester City drew 2-2 at Upton Park on Saturday, a result that moves the Citizens into second in the Premier League but still three points behind leaders Leicester City.
There were two goals within the opening 10 minutes, and the frenetic pace barely relented for the rest of the match.
Both sides spurned excellent chances to win in injury time. Aguero was denied for City, and Cheikhou Kouyate crashed a header off the bar at the other end.
Hammers boss Slaven Bilic was content to pack the midfield against the forward-thinking visitors. As the club revealed in the full starting XI, Alex Song featured in the centre alongside Mark Noble and Kouyate:
West Ham United @WestHamUtd
TEAMS: #WHUFC Adrian, Jenkinson, Reid, Collins, Cresswell, Kouyate, Song, Antonio, Noble (c), Payet, Valencia #WHUMCI #WHUFC #COYI1/23/2016, 4:30:29 PM
City welcomed back dynamic midfielder Yaya Toure, who partnered Fabian Delph in the middle. Manager Manuel Pellegrini also swapped out his full-backs, handing starts to ex-Arsenal pair Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna. The starting lineup was revealed by the club's Twitter account:
Manchester City @ManCity
TEAM NEWS: Here's your #mcfc line-up for today. #westhamvcity https://t.co/96k4LJqfKm1/23/2016, 4:30:15 PM
Despite the refreshed squad, City fell behind in less than a minute when Valencia pushed a shot underneath goalkeeper Joe Hart.
City almost made a lightning-fast response when Aguero improvised a lob from the edge of the box that beat Hammers 'keeper Adriano, but the ball ricocheted off the post and the home side survived.
Not deterred by the unfortunate miss, Aguero continued to terrorise West Ham's back four. He forced a penalty out of full-back Carl Jenkinson, and the Argentinian No. 10 confidently slotted the spot-kick into the net.
The goal kept up Aguero's outstanding record against London opposition, according to OptaJoe:
13 - Sergio Aguero has now scored 13 goals in 10 Premier League away appearances versus London sides. Capital.1/23/2016, 5:43:35 PM
Jenkinson's clumsy challenge also cost him physically when he pulled up lame and was subbed for new signing Sam Byram.
West Ham nearly regained the lead via a Dimitri Payet free-kick just after the half-hour mark, but the Frenchman's curled effort was tipped away superbly by Hart.
There was a scramble in the City box following an Aaron Cresswell cross that Hart had to claw away rather desperately. West Ham continued to find a lot of joy down the flanks, while Payet's varied runs were confusing the City defence.
The second half began with the Hammers wasting an excellent chance, as Michail Antonio headed wide at the back post after a cleverly clipped cross from the impressive Payet.
He was causing a ton of problems anytime he ran directly at the away side's defence, as Squawka detailed:
Squawka Football @Squawka
Dimitri Payet has already completed more take-ons (5) than any other Premier League player managed today. https://t.co/93mOtAOgUY1/23/2016, 6:28:23 PM
West Ham's bright start after the break soon paid dividends when Antonio hoisted a long throw that bounced all the way through for Valencia to prod in. The flight of the ball easily deceived hopelessly outmatched centre-back Nicolas Otamendi.
Stuart Brennan of the Manchester Evening News was not impressed by the Argentinian's effort:
Stuart Brennan @StuBrennanMEN
Shambolic defending from Otamendi, who has been superb lately. #MCFC1/23/2016, 6:45:22 PM
Trying to protect a lead better than they had in the first half, the Hammers relied on their solid midfield base. Kouyate and Song were rugged and disciplined in front of the back line, while the hard-working and deceptively skilled Noble brilliantly swept up.
Bilic opted for attack as his best form of defence, introducing jet-heeled winger Victor Moses for Antonio. Seconds after the change, Song flashed a long-range effort at goal that had Hart worried.
Pellegrini's response was to bring on Raheem Sterling for Jesus Navas to help aid City's bid for an equaliser, and he added young forward Kelechi Iheanacho to the fray at the expense of Delph soon after.
The changes made a difference when Iheanacho linked up with Aguero. A smart one-two followed by a fortunate deflection teed up Aguero to equalise with just under 10 minutes left.
Aguero's brace makes him the most consistent goalscorer in this season's Premier League, according to WhoScored.com:
Sergio Agüero: Has averaged a goal every 95.6 mins in the PL this season, more often than any other player with 5+ apps #mcfc1/23/2016, 7:14:35 PM
Perhaps sensing the need for more defensive resolve, Pellegrini removed playmaker David Silva for defensive midfielder Fernando. His introduction allowed Toure to push forward.
Yet West Ham might have snatched all three points seconds before stoppage time when substitute Nikica Jelavic glanced a header wide from a corner. The Croatian mistimed his jump and didn't make full contact with the ball or he surely would have scored.
Pellegrini rued the draw despite what he called a "difficult game." He was left to bemoan the defensive errors that led to the Hammers' second goal, according to Sky Sports:
Sky Sports 📺 @SkySports
Manuel Pellegrini was happy with a point at West Ham but disappointed with City's defending. https://t.co/ZcHlCM3xc5 https://t.co/FPjLEaHLwT1/23/2016, 8:25:19 PM
The City manager was effusive in his praise for Aguero and his dominant display, per Mark Booth of City's official site: “Kun played very well. He scored two goals, he made the penalty and he had another shot that hit the post. He’s a player that is at 100 per cent now and I’m very pleased with his performance.”
Meanwhile, Bilic saved his praise for his whole team, dubbing his players "fantastic" and "excellent:"
West Ham United @WestHamUtd
BILIC: Slaven Bilic was proud of his team's performance against @MCFC today. More at https://t.co/UHCeYpQNo5 #WHUFC https://t.co/mazwS0tB091/23/2016, 9:27:53 PM
A point has moved City above Arsenal into second on goal difference, but Pellegrini will be disappointed by the defensive errors that have still left his team trailing Leicester.
As for the Hammers, they missed the chance to leapfrog Manchester United into fifth place and close the gap on the top four.
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