Guardiola’s half-time fury made clear by Laporte but Man City’s run continues

When Aymeric Laporte, part of the most sumptuous buffet of substitutes imaginable, returned to his seat after half-time, he was asked about Pep Guardiola’s interval team-talk.

Laporte simply widened his eyes and blew out his cheeks.

It was safe to say Pep the perfectionist had not been best pleased.

In fact, he had been furious and his humour did not dramatically improve even after John Stones had struck to ensure the winning streak sneaked into the twenties.

Guardiola knew his team probably got away with one here, not quite pinching a win but gratefully pocketing one when nowhere near their best.

The old chestnut says that is the sign of champions but best not apply that mantra here.

Guardiola’s men were not at their best but found a way to see off the Irons

The sign of champions is 14 Premier League wins on the spin.

The sign of champions is 27 games unbeaten across all competitions.

The sign of champions is 16 goals conceded in 26 matches, five of them on one freakish day.

And the sign of champions is having a defensive pairing that is as reliable as a German car.

This might be a duo that is not even guaranteed to start every game but the Stones-Ruben Dias combination is now barrelling its way into the Ferdinand-Vidic, Terry-Carvalho bracket.

And this triumph, courtesy of a goal apiece from the centre-halves, was symbolic of their growing influence.

Dias opened the scoring with a towering first-half header
Dias opened the scoring with a towering first-half header

No-one in this City team stands taller than these two, no-one shouts louder, no-one leads by greater example.

Early in his career, Stones was touted as a future England captain but the suggestion became faintly ludicrous with each passing error.

It is not so ludicrous now.

Talking of standing tall, Stones has grown a foot this season and the fact his liaison with Dias keeps Laporte out so often tells you all you need to know.

Listening to Pep’s interval rant was the limit of Laporte’s activities and keeping him and the rest of the rotated ones suitably motivated will be a challenge for Guardiola over the rest of the season.

But if you are looking for new, fresh illustrations of City’s power-in-depth, consider the thought that Kevin De Bruyne was their weak link for half an hour here.

Antonio drew the visitors level just in time for the interval
Antonio drew the visitors level just in time for the interval

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It was genuinely bizarre to see the Belgian unerringly find West Ham jerseys with pass after pass.

To have Guardiola’s embarrassment of riches is clearly a title-winning blessing but it does mean he feels compelled to make significant game-by-game changes.

There were just the seven here.

And De Bruyne does strike you as the type who likes to get into a rut of excellence.

It took him 30 minutes to find any sort of range against the latest deep-lying opponents and that was with his left-foot.

As it happened, it provided City with their opener, Dias – the hulking Dias – somehow ghosting in to head his first Premier League goal.

Stones struck the winner as he continues to grow in stature at the Etihad
Stones struck the winner as he continues to grow in stature at the Etihad

Was 2-1 a fair reflection of the match? Have your say in the comments.

But keeping, or getting, players in a groove, even those with the sublime talent of De Bruyne, is a challenge for Guardiola.

This, for example, was Sergio Aguero’s first start since October and, boy, could everyone tell.

Rusty did not come into it, his surrender of possession ahead of West Ham’s equaliser unsurprising if not the only contributing factor to Michail Antonio’s tap-in.

That Aguero escaped Guardiola’s hook until the hour-mark was something of a shock.

Aguero famously needs a good run of games to get up to speed after injury lay-offs but Guardiola has so many options, it would be an indulgence to make the Argentine a guaranteed starter.

But the truth is that whatever permutations Pep picks out of his magic hat, the outcome is almost certainly going to be entirely predictable.

As good as West Ham were – particularly Declan Rice and Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard – there was still a certain inevitability about the outcome.

Just as there is already an inevitability about the Premier League season’s outcome.

Not that you would guess as much from a grumpy Guardiola.

Not that you would guess as much from perfectionist Pep.

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