LONDON — West Ham United and Manchester City played out an entertaining 2-2 draw at Upton Park on Saturday as the Hammers twice let leads slip against title-chasing Manchester City’s.
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Doubles from Enner Valencia and Sergio Aguero evened things up as City never found top gear in east London.
Here’s what we learned.
PAYET HOLDS THE KEY TO HAMMERS SUCCESS
His name was cheered louder than any other West Ham player when it was read out on the PA before the game and during it Dimitri Payet delivered.
The French playmaker oozed class every time he got on the ball and the home crowd adore him. Just before half time his elegant, dipping free kick was spectacularly tipped wide by Joe Hart as he always look to make something happen. Payet, 28, has so far failed to break into Didier Deschamps national team on a regular basis but if the man from the tiny French island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean continues to play like this, there’s no way Les Bleus can ignore him in the upcoming friendlies ahead of EURO 2016. In the same mold as Paolo Di Canio and Joe Cole in years gone by, Payet adds a sprinkling of class to West Ham’s attacks and unlocks defenses with his shimmies and poise.
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Payet was out injured from early November until early January and in that two-month period West Ham won just once in seven outings and sorely missed his influence and vision in the center of the pitch. With his temperament questioned in the past, Slaven Bilic took a chance on Payet and at $15 million he seems like an absolute steal. With an away win against Man City, plus victories at Liverpool and Arsenal, the Hammers have moved up into the upper echelons of the PL this season. Earlier this week co-owner David Sullivan claimed that with the move to the 54,000 capacity Olympic Stadium coming up next season and a squad which has talents such as Valencia, Diafra Sakho and Aaron Cresswell, the Hammers are “on the verge of big time.” By that he means competing in the UEFA Champions League. If West Ham can keep Payet fit, they have every chance. He holds the key to their success.
CONSISTENCY CONTINUES TO EVADE CITY
It may have gone unnoticed but Man City have failed to win back-to-back Premier League games since Oct. 17 and grinding out wins continues to evade Manuel Pellegrini‘s side, especially on the road where they only have four victories all season long. They battled back from going behind twice on Saturday with Aguero showing his class. The Argentine striker scored from the penalty spot and then grabbed an equalizer 10 minutes from time and before making it 1-1 he had an audacious attempt bounce back off the post after controlling with his right and then delicately lobbing Adrian from an impossible angle.
Without skipper Vincent Kompany they once again looked shaky at the back (the video above shows how one long-throw ripped them open far too easily for Valencia’s second goal) but a ray of light was Nigerian youngster Kelechi Iheanacho jumping off the bench to provide pace and power which led to Aguero’s second equalizer to grab City a point. On the face of things, grabbing a point away at West Ham isn’t a terrible result but City will be striving to string together consecutive wins and with their next four games against Sunderland, Leicester, Tottenham and Newcastle, they have a good chance to do just that. But only if Aguero stays fit and Kompany can accelerate his return from yet another calf injury. .
UPTON PARK UNDER THE LIGHTS A RAW GEM
Strolling along Green Street as you jump off the tube at Upton Park station, I think most West Ham fans would agree that it isn’t the most salubrious of areas London has to offer. But it’s home. An hour or so before kick off you can feel, smell and hear the atmosphere begin to crackle from bars, street merchants and food stalls as you walk down the road towards West Ham’s famous home, the Boleyn Ground.
This is their final season in the stadium they’ve called home since 1904 and with a move to London’s shiny Olympic Stadium looming large, big things lay on the horizon for the Hammers. That said, when you look at the shot I snapped during a break in the second half I think you’ll agree that English soccer will be losing a gem when Upton Park plays host to its final game on May 7.
As new stadiums continue to replace historic homes throughout the PL we should pause for a moment and gaze in the wonder of stadium which has seen West Ham greats such as Sir Bobby Moore and Sir Trevor Brooking call it home. With the high rise apartment blocks towering over one end of the stadium and a view over the industrial East End of London from high up in the West Stand, it’s hard not to look out and imagine scenes of years gone by. With historic stadiums such as Anfield and Old Trafford getting revamps, plus the likes of White Hart Lane and Stamford Bridge set to be totally demolished and rebuilt, it will be tough to see venues likes this. In a world where we always seem to value what is next, let’s enjoy the past and present and enjoy a slice of English soccer history while we can.