In seasons past, Manchester City hosting a team of West Brom’s calibre would only ever end one way.
Namely, the home side scoring lots and lots of goals without reply.
Last season at the Etihad, Watford were smashed 8-0, Brighton 4-0 and Newcastle, Norwich and Burnley 5-0.
Against similar bottom half fodder in the Baggies on Tuesday evening, these comprehensive victories seemed a million miles away.
Sure, the Citizens did manage to poke their noses in front when Raheem Sterling’s cutback was side footed home by Ilkay Gundogan, but this goal was one of only two shots of targets the hosts had in the entirety of the first half. That was the exact same as their far more cheaply assembled opponents.
In fact, if anyone deserved to be ahead at the break, it was the Baggies. Half an hour before Semi Ajayi’s shot deflected in off Ruben Dias’ shin to make 1-1, West Brom frontman Karlan Grant should have put his side in front. Almost miraculously, the ball broke kindly to Grant in the area but his shot lacked conviction with Ederson getting down to save it easily.
For all of their possession – 76.7% to be precise – City’s first half performance was tepid at best. The usual overloads they forced out wide were absent with both Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden tucking in far too much, causing congestion in the middle. The pair’s narrowness was particularly strange, considering City’s goal came from a trademark piece of Sterling wingplay.
Much to the frustration of Joao Cancelo in particular, City’s full-backs had little joy without a winger to double up with. Kevin de Bruyne also continued to look unusually lethargic, barely creating anything, despite being paired with a more attack minded midfield partner than he had in the Manchester Derby in Gundogan.
After the break, City grew more and more frantic as they continually failed to break down West Brom’s low block. It took until De Bruyne decided to turn on the magic and the Baggies started to tire in the final twenty minutes, for the hosts to seriously look like scoring.
First, De Bruyne stung Sam Johnstone’s palms with a bobbling free kick. Soon after, Gundogan went close twice, forcing saves out of the Baggies stopper with a close range header and a free kick of his own.
The best chance of all fell to Sterling. With seconds left on the clock, a inch perfect cross from De Bruyne was begging to nodded home but his teammate could only produce the meekest of headers.
Full time, 1-1.
The result is a measure of how far City have fallen in recent times. This is far from the merciless team that used to toy with bottom half sides for sport. Against the Baggies, the Citizens could not get the job done, spurning a golden opportunity to close the gap to their title rivals.
Guardiola needs to help his players find their ruthless streak once again if they are to have any chance of returning the Premier League trophy to Manchester in the summer.