LONDON — If Pep Guardiola’s mood can be measured by the time he spends in the technical area, his absence from the touchline on Friday for the majority of the second half of Manchester City’s 5-0 FA Cup rout of West Ham United suggested his demeanour had flicked from darkness to light courtesy of his team’s emphatic victory at the London Stadium.
Four days earlier, the Spaniard had delivered his first genuine postmatch rant as City manager with a bizarre, even petulant, reaction to his team’s 10-man victory over Burnley at the Etihad Stadium.
West Ham United
During that game, a 2-1 win for City that saw midfielder Fernandinho sent off for the third time this season, the angst was clear on Guardiola’s face as he prowled the touchline shaking his head, raising his arms and portraying a general sense of displeasure at referees, opponents and maybe even life in general in the unforgiving world of English football.
But as Guardiola sat in his seat in West Ham’s soulless new home, the sight of Hammers manager Slaven Bilic cutting a forlorn figure in his own technical area in the stadium will have resonated with the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach. Sometimes it goes your way, other times it doesn’t, and on this occasion the other guy was enduring the agony of adversity.
The zoom lens was fixed on Bilic rather than Guardiola, and the Croatian was forced to suffer as his team once again caved in at the London Stadium — a new home that has quickly become a miserable one for West Ham.
City’s first goal, from the penalty spot, was another example of West Ham being harshly treated by officials this season, with referee Michael Oliver pointing to the spot after Pablo Zabaleta had done nothing more than run into Angelo Ogbonna. Yaya Toure scored to maintain his record of scoring every one of his 13 penalty kicks for City, but from that point on, it was plain sailing for Guardiola as Bilic was dragged deeper and deeper into his personal torture chamber.
A terrible miss, seconds later, by Sofiane Feghouli denied West Ham the chance to make it 1-1, and Bilic probably knew at that point that the game was up.
“The first goal, the penalty, was crucial, but we made the mistake of starting to chase them on a big pitch, and that is very difficult to do,” Bilic said. “We missed a good chance and conceded two more, so it was game over at half-time.”
His team were having no luck with the officials, and his own players were failing to convert the simplest of chances, but City were ruthless as they turned the screw on Bilic while alleviating the pressure that Guardiola had placed upon himself.
Perhaps Bilic was to blame for his team’s capitulation. With Guardiola naming his strongest possible starting XI, Bilic inexplicably chose to rest Dimitri Payet and captain Mark Noble, arguably his two most influential players.
“This was our third game in six days,” Bilic said when explaining that decision. “Mark was ill for a couple of days too, but we thought this team would have a good chance to get us through to the next round.”
Guardiola and City were surely lifted by the sight of a West Ham team containing neither of these players, and City carried their boosted confidence out onto the pitch, where they dominated virtually from the start.
And for all of Guardiola’s thinly veiled complaints about the DNA of English football — the high balls, the tackling, the incessant workload — he was wise to the aerial threat of Andy Carroll, making sure his defenders denied the towering West Ham forward any meaningful service.
Guardiola continues to insist that he has come to England “to learn,” so maybe he is getting to grips with it more quickly than he lets on. But this was hardly a typical example of English football.
Had this tie taken place at Upton Park, West Ham’s boisterous and intimidating former home, Guardiola would have experienced a different kind of atmosphere than the one he and his team encountered here, and he even admitted that the surroundings helped his team.
“In England, the crowds are usually so close to you, so much noise, but it seemed bigger here,” Guardiola said. “Maybe it is just an impression, but it felt different.”
The West Ham supporters have made clear their loathing of the new stadium and the players have failed to settle, but the sight of many fans heading for the exits before half-time after David Silva made it 3-0, shortly after Havard Nordtveit’s own goal had made it 2-0 City, summed up the mood surrounding the East London club.
There is discord off the pitch and an alarming demise on it. As a result, City were able to play much of this game like a training match, strolling around and coasting into the fourth round after Sergio Aguero’s fourth goal, six minutes into the second half.
Seven minutes later, Bilic inserted Noble and Payet in one of the strangest substitutions of the season. Trailing 4-0 and facing an impossible task, he may as well have rested the pair for next week’s league game against Crystal Palace — managed, of course, by his West Ham predecessor, Sam Allardyce.
If, indeed, Bilic survives as manager long enough to take charge of that crucial fixture.
After John Stones made it 5-0 in the closing stages, Bilic’s humiliation was complete, and it will take a strong and supportive board to stick with him after this.
“It’s a very bad night for us, a big defeat,” Bilic said. “It’s not easy to say anything positive when the game finishes like this.
“Now is the time for the team to show character. After the Arsenal defeat, we showed quality and character, and now is the time to do it again.”
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_