Manchester City extended their winning run to 20 matches and moved 13 points clear at the top of the Premier League as John Stones’ second-half strike was enough to seal victory over a resilient West Ham United.
Stones fired home his fourth goal of the season from Riyad Mahrez’s neat lay-off to keep Pep Guardiola’s side in control of the title race.
Fourth-placed West Ham gave City a decent game at Etihad Stadium and fought back to level through Michail Antonio before the break, after Stones’ central-defensive partner Ruben Dias had put the hosts in front.
But Guardiola, likened to celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal by Hammers counterpart David Moyes before Saturday’s fixture, once again came up with the right ingredients as his side improved following the second-half introductions of Gabriel Jesus and Phil Foden.
City’s unbeaten record now stretches to 27 games and they will equal their longest run without defeat if they do not lose against Wolves on Tuesday.
After about 20 minutes, City midfielder Kevin de Bruyne lined up a free-kick, about 40 yards out, to the right of the West Ham box.
The execution was terrible – the ball barely got off the ground and ran straight into the wall, allowing the visitors to clear. It was a notable moment because it was so unusual.
What De Bruyne did with another crossing opportunity from a similar position not long afterwards was more in keeping with the Belgian’s normal standards.
Delivered with his left foot, the ball curled towards goal, too far out for stand-in West Ham keeper Darren Randolph to come for, and begged Dias to head it home.
It was De Bruyne’s 11th assist of the season – equal with Tottenham’s Harry Kane – and proved to be a rare moment of inspiration for a City side well shackled up to that point, with the returning Sergio Aguero barely having a touch.
The Argentina forward has been beset by a series of setbacks since last summer.
He made it to the second half this time around after being replaced at the break on his last Premier League start, also against West Ham in October.
But the 32-year-old was off the pace and did not react quickly enough to tap home a De Bruyne cross on City’s last attack before he was replaced by Gabriel Jesus after an hour.