When Pep Guardiola lavishes a player with praise, it is often an indication he will drop them. When he hailed Sam Allardyce as a genius on Monday, it felt a sure sign he would not just beat him, but embarrass him. So it proved.
Allardyce and Guardiola are opposites and there was plenty to separate them: four goals before half-time, five in total. Manchester City ended up on the division’s summit for the first time, apart from a two-hour spell, this season. West Bromwich Albion finished rooted still deeper in trouble. Allardyce’s genius seemed distinctly misunderstood when his record as Albion boss at the Hawthorns stood at: P4 W0 D0 L4 F0 A17 Pts 0.
His team are hapless history makers. Not since Chelsea in 1978 had a team conceded three or more in five straight home top-flight matches. Albion reached that unwanted landmark with an hour to spare, aided by contentious officiating and a clinical Ilkay Gundogan. Albion are now on course to break Derby’s record of 89 goals conceded in a 38-game Premier League season.
City can enjoy their numbers. Their 11th straight win was an exhibition, featuring four beautiful finishes and a lovely team goal. They may yet miss Kevin De Bruyne against Liverpool or Tottenham but not here. They needed neither a specialist striker nor their premier playmaker. If the title race is decided by who can cope best without pivotal players, they stand an excellent chance.
Albion were utterly outclassed. They remain the last team to stop City from winning but that 1-1 draw was Slaven Bilic’s last game; a penny for his thoughts when he sees this scoreline. For those with no allegiance to West Brom, there was plenty of savour in the sight of City in such control.
It may play down to the stereotype of the Albion manager to suggest the game’s dominant individuals are anti-Allardyce footballers. Maybe it is fairer to call them quintessential Pep players, but this was a triumph of the technical over the supposedly physical – Albion again struggled to close down – of Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva.
There was an early hint of classic Big Sam, a long throw that wreaked havoc, a penalty appeal against Rodri, a shot from Semi Ajayi, the centre-back who is his main goal threat, that Ederson saved.
Thereafter, it was one-sided. Guardiola’s sides are sometimes accused of trying to walk the ball in, but this was a demonstration of mid- and long-range shooting. It almost yielded another goal, Rodri hitting the bar with a dipping effort. Guardiola applauded the tap-in, though, with Raheem Sterling supplying the finish to Mahrez’s volleyed cross to complete a wonderful move.
Even when Phil Foden had a shot touched onto the post by Sam Johnstone, it was from the edge of the box. City soon found their range. Athletic then, Johnstone was motionless when Gundogan picked out the bottom corner of his net.
The goalkeeper did not move for City’s second, either; this time it was more contentious. Sian Massey-Ellis, in a rare error, had flagged Silva offside before Joao Cancelo flighted in a lovely shot from 20 yards. Except, as replays proved, Silva was narrowly onside. A VAR review later, the right-back could celebrate his first Premier League goal. Albion, who had switched off after seeing the flag, could feel aggrieved.
But they retain a self-destructive streak. Romaine Sawyers allowed himself to be dispossessed by Gundogan for the third, the German cutting inside Dara O’Shea far too easily before placing a shot into the bottom corner. Then Mahrez whipped a shot past Johnstone on the stroke of half-time.
At 4-0 down, Allardyce brought on another centre-back. It was a damage-limitation exercise. Sterling nevertheless added a fifth. Like Marcelo Bielsa, Guardiola recorded a 5-0 away win over Allardyce. And when he calls Bielsa a genius, the sentiments may be rather more genuine.