Everton missed the chance to go a point behind local rivals Liverpool at the top of the Premier League as Tomas Soucek’s late strike earned West Ham a 1-0 win at Goodison Park on Friday.
In a disappointing game of few chances, Soucek was in the right place to stab home Aaron Cresswell’s deflected shot four minutes from time as David Moyes enjoyed a winning return to his former club.
Victory for the Hammers moves them to within three points of third despite sitting 10th in the table.
Everton on the other hand were left to rue a huge missed opportunity to bolster their European credentials.
Carlo Ancelotti’s men had enjoyed nearly a week off after their clash with Manchester City on Monday was postponed due to a coronavirus outbreak among the City squad.
Ancelotti was able to welcome back Richarlison from a concussion and James Rodriguez made his return from injury off the bench in the second-half, but the Toffees rarely put West Ham stand-in goalkeeper Darren Randolph under any pressure.
The visitors had the best chance of the first-half when another Cresswell shot flew across goal and this time beyond Jarrod Bowen at the back post.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored a hat-trick when the sides met in the League Cup in September, but the England international was largely anonymous.
West Ham were playing for the third time in six days, yet it was Moyes’s men who ended the game stronger and grabbed the late winner.
Soucek’s goals from midfield have played a big part in his side’s success this season and the Czech international scored for the fourth time in seven games when Cresswell’s effort broke kindly to him.
Later, Manchester United have the chance to move level on points with Liverpool when they host in-form Aston Villa, who could go third with victory at Old Trafford.
Manchester United gave the West Ham support the second-half show they did not want to see as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men won 3-1 in the first Premier League match with fans inside the stadium since March.
A crowd of 2,000 Hammers fans saw their side take a deserved first-half lead through Tomas Soucek at the London Stadium.
But United kicked off a huge week with a much-needed win as three goals in 13 minutes from Paul Pogba, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford moved the Red Devils up to fourth and within two points of the Premier League leaders.
“It’s something everyone knows the game has missed,” said Rashford on the return of fans. “It’s just a great feeling to have some fans back, 2,000 is much better than nothing.”
United have now come from behind to win in all five away league games this season.
“We need to stop doing that. If we keep more clean sheets we will definitely win more games. It is good that we showed spirit, but ideally we don’t want to be conceding,” added Rashford, who was summoned from the bench at half-time, along with Bruno Fernandes to turn the game in United’s favour.
Solskjaer’s side need a point when they travel to RB Leipzig on Tuesday to secure a place in the Champions League last 16 before hosting Manchester City next weekend.
However, the manager’s plan to give Fernandes and Rashford a rest before the trip to Germany backfired as United were lucky to stay in the game before the break.
“Football is ups and downs,” said Solskjaer. “Poor first half. In the second half of course the goal changes the mood, the first one. Great goal by Paul, then Mason’s goal is special.
“I am very, very pleased with the performance. Last week we were 2-0 down at Southampton so this was a step forward, we were only one down!”
Haller slip costly
Jarrod Bowen had a goal ruled out for offside before he teed up Pablo Fornals to head a great chance into the side-netting.
Fornals came even closer moments later when the Spaniard stabbed a shot off the post.
But the goal West Ham deserved came seven minutes before the break when Soucek turned home Declan Rice’s flick-on from a corner at the back post.
Sebastien Haller should have doubled the lead for David Moyes’s men, but the Ivorian slipped with the goal at his mercy after rounding Dean Henderson, who was deputising for the injured David de Gea.
Fernandes and Rashford were summoned at the break and United were a different side in the second half.
Pogba produced the flash of brilliance he is capable of but has so rarely shown in a United shirt to kickstart the comeback as he curled home a long-range shot from Fernandes’s pass.
West Ham boss David Moyes was furious on the touchline as he believed the ball had gone out of play from Henderson’s punt into Fernandes’s path, but VAR could find no conclusive proof to disallow the goal.
Three minutes later, the visitors led as Alex Telles’s cross was brilliantly controlled and thrashed into the net by Greenwood for his first Premier League goal of the season.
United was now in full flow as they could counter-attack into acres of space behind the Hammers’ defence.
Rashford had a sighter as he struck the post from a brilliant Fernandes through ball.
But the England international was clinical with a second chance as this time Mata unlocked the West Ham defence and Rashford coolly lifted the ball over the advancing Lukasz Fabianski 12 minutes from time.
Diogo Jota capped Liverpool’s dramatic fightback as the Premier League champions beat West Ham 2-1 to move three points clear at the top, while Manchester City and Chelsea both won to keep in touch with the leaders on Saturday.
Jurgen Klopp’s side were rocked by Pablo Fornals’ early strike at Anfield as the West Ham midfielder punished a poor header from Joe Gomez in the 10th minute.
The Reds drew level in the 42nd minute when Mohamed Salah was fouled by Arthur Masuaku and the Egyptians stepped up to convert the penalty for his eighth goal of the season.
Liverpool thought they had claimed the lead with just over 10 minutes remaining when substitute Jota turned in a loose ball.
Jota had pounced after Lukasz Fabianski saved Sadio Mane’s shot but after a lengthy delay that saw referee Kevin Friend make use of the pitchside monitor, the goal was ruled out for a foul by the Senegal winger.
In the 85th minute, Jota ran onto Xherdan Shaqiri’s pass to score his fourth goal since joining from Wolves in September.
It was Liverpool’s fourth successive victory since influential defender Virgil van Dijk was sidelined for several months with a serious knee injury suffered against Everton.
Despite their defensive issues this term, Liverpool have opened up a three-point lead over second placed Everton, with their Merseyside rivals in action at Newcastle on Sunday.
“It’s not about shining, or flying, or whatever, it’s about hard work. That was absolutely necessary against this opponent,” Klopp said after Liverpool equalled their club record of 63 home league games unbeaten.
“We had a lot of good football, not 500 chances or whatever but enough. I want to see us dig in and we did that, and I’m so happy.”
While Liverpool were completing their win, government officials confirmed the Premier League could continue despite a new national lockdown that will last until at least December.
“The world is in a difficult place and we are happy to be allowed to play football,” Klopp said.
Title rivals City have yet to hit the free-scoring form of Pep Guardiola’s side at their best, as for the third consecutive league game they were held to a solitary goal.
But Kyle Walker’s long-range strike against his former club was good enough to earn a 1-0 win at goal-shy Sheffield United.
It was his first goal for a year in his 100th Premier League appearance for City.
A fourth win in five games in all competition edges City up to eighth, five points behind Liverpool.
And there was another boost for City after the game as Guardiola ruled out a return to Barcelona despite interest from presidential candidates at the Catalan giants to bring the club’s most successful ever coach back to the Camp Nou.
“I said many times, my period as a manager in Barcelona is over,” said Guardiola, whose contract at the Etihad expires at the end of the season.
“I am incredibly happy here, still I have the desire to do well and this is the most important thing.”
– Chelsea hit their stride – Chelsea are also finding their form after a slow start to the season as Frank Lampard’s men ran out 3-0 winners at Burnley to stretch their unbeaten run to nine games.
Hakim Ziyech was handed his first Premier League start after scoring in a 4-0 Champions League win away to Krasnodar in midweek and the Moroccan’s shot wrong-footed Nick Pope to open the floodgates for the visitors on 26 minutes.
Kurt Zouma’s bullet header then doubled Chelsea’s advantage from Mason Mount’s corner just after the hour mark.
Timo Werner was due to be rested until an injury in the warm-up to Christian Pulisic forced the German international into Lampard’s line-up.
And Werner rounded off an excellent second-half performance from the Blues with a fine finish from Ziyech’s pass.
After much criticism of his side’s defending, Lampard will be equally delighted at a fourth straight clean sheet as Chelsea moved up to fourth place.
West Ham shattered Leicester’s unbeaten start to the Premier League season with a surprise 3-0 win, while Oriol Romeu’s superb strike inspired Southampton’s 2-0 victory against West Bromwich Albion on Sunday.
After thrashing Manchester City 5-2 last weekend, second-placed Leicester were brought back down to earth as their three-game winning run came to an end at the King Power Stadium.
Goals from Michail Antonio, Pablo Fornals and Jarrod Bowen ruined Leicester’s bid to win their opening four league games for the first time in their history.
West Ham, who crushed Wolves 4-0 in their previous league game, have won three of their four matches since boss David Moyes tested positive for the coronavirus in September.
“I had hoped to be back with the squad for today’s fixture but I’m not quite ready to return just yet,” Moyes told West Ham’s website before kick-off at the King Power Stadium.
“I’m feeling generally fine but I have had some mild symptoms so we are taking it day by day and following the advice of the medical experts.”
Alan Irvine again managed from the dugout, while Moyes, watching at home on television, liaised with assistant Stuart Pearce by phone.
Moyes’ quarantine hasn’t affected West Ham and they took the lead in the 14th minute.
Having won a free-kick when he was fouled by Caglar Soyuncu, Antonio made a well-timed run to the far post, where he headed home from Aaron Cresswell’s pin-point cross.
Antonio is the first Hammers player to score in five consecutive top-flight away matches since Mike Small in 1991.
Jamie Vardy’s long-range chip over Lukasz Fabianski was disallowed after the Leicester striker’s foul on Angelo Ogbonna.
West Ham doubled their lead in the 34th minute, Fornals beating the offside trap as he controlled Cresswell’s long punt and ran clear to fire past Kasper Schmeichel for his first goal since February.
Leicester failed to muster a single shot on target and with seven minutes left, Bowen slotted home from Fornals’ pass.
At St Mary’s, Southampton won their second successive league game against lowly West Brom.
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side dominated throughout and Ryan Bertrand’s fierce drive drew a superb early save from Albion keeper Sam Johnstone.
Ings forced an even better save from the over-worked Johnstone with a header that was pushed away by the 27-year-old.
Southampton’s pressure was rewarded in the 41st minute when Moussa Djenepo’s clever drag-back eluded Jake Livermore before the winger stroked his finish into the bottom corner.
Romeu, who hadn’t scored since February 2019, met Stuart Armstrong’s cross with a brilliant volley from the edge of the area to wrap up the points in the 69th minute.
West Brom are the first Premier League side to concede as many as 13 goals after four matches of a season since Southampton in 2012-13.
Albion, who blew a three-goal lead in their 3-3 draw with Chelsea last weekend, are winless in eight league matches dating back to last season.
West Ham assistant boss Alan Irvine has confirmed David Moyes will still manage the team for Sunday’s game against Wolves even though he is self-isolating at home after testing positive for coronavirus.
The Hammers boss, and players Issa Diop and Josh Cullen, had to leave the London Stadium on Tuesday after they received positive tests for Covid-19.
Irvine took charge of the League Cup tie against Hull and secured a 5-1 win but Moyes will be the man making the decisions this weekend.
“David will be the manager,” Irvine said on Friday. “Everything we do will be run through him first of all and he will make the decisions on everything.
“He would make the decisions anyway but, like for this press conference, I am the messenger.”
Irvine confirmed Moyes, Diop and Cullen remained asymptomatic and were all coping well.
“He is fine. I have spoken to him several times this morning and he is not feeling any symptoms,” he said of the West Ham manager. “Obviously a bit frustrating for him but he is getting on with other things.”
“They (Diop and Cullen) are both fine. Frustrated because they can’t come in, but that is the situation and they understand that.
“None of them are feeling anything, which maybe makes it more frustrating.”
It is the latest setback in a difficult start to the season for West Ham, who have lost their first two Premier League games against Newcastle and Arsenal.
Fans have protested against the club’s co-owners David Gold and David Sullivan, while West Ham captain Mark Noble criticised the board’s decision to sell promising youngster Grady Diangana to West Bromwich Albion.
The three positive tests came just hours after Tottenham’s League Cup tie at Leyton Orient was postponed after several members of the fourth tier side testing positive for the virus.
Earlier on Tuesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said fans would not be allowed back into stadiums in October as originally planned due to a spike in Covid-19 cases.
In a major blow to the financial future of English football, Johnson suggested the measures introduced on Tuesday would remain in place for “perhaps six months”, leaving teams facing the prospect of playing most of the season behind closed doors.
Norwich were condemned to a record fifth relegation from the Premier League as Michail Antonio’s four-goal blitz fired West Ham to a 4-0 win at Carrow Road on Saturday.
A seventh successive league defeat for Daniel Farke’s side sealed their fate as Antonio’s ruthless display boosted West Ham’s own survival bid.
Norwich are 13 points from safety with only three games left, meaning they are certain to make an immediate return to the Championship after last season’s promotion campaign.
The Canaries have become accustomed to relegation in the Premier League era, going down on four previous occasions in 1995, 2005, 2014 and 2016.
Farke was already resigned to relegation before this weekend given Norwich had lost every game since the coronavirus hiatus.
“We wanted to beat the odds again but when the dust settles the outcome is more or less what was expected. It doesn’t take anything away from the fact that we are disappointed,” Farke said.
“From the first day after promotion our chances to survive were perhaps 5 percent so in 19 out of 20 cases you will go down. If you have luck and no injuries then you have a chance.
“When we are 100 percent we are competitive but when it’s 96 or 97 percent then it sometimes looks like men against boys. That’s what I expected.”
With all games being played behind closed doors, some Norwich fans might have been relieved not to have to watch the embarrassment of their limp demise in person.
In truth, they have looked out of their depth among the Premier League elite from the moment they paid the price for a naively attacking game-plan in a 4-1 defeat at Liverpool on the opening day of the season.
Farke was hamstrung by Norwich’s decision not to spend big money on new signings following their promotion.
Since Teemu Pukki’s early-season goal rush dried up, they have been on a relentless slide towards the Championship.
A 3-2 win over Manchester City was a rare highlight but just weeks later a 5-1 home defeat against Aston Villa underlined the problems undermanned Norwich would endure all season.
Norwich face losing promising youngsters Todd Cantwell and Max Aarons to Premier League clubs when the transfer window opens.
West Ham’s second win in four games was a huge lift to their hopes of staying up.
David Moyes’ side are six points above the bottom three with three games left against Watford, Manchester United and Aston Villa.
The early signs were ominous for Norwich as West Ham took the lead in the 11th minute.
Arriving to meet Issa Diop’s flick from Jarrod Bowen’s corner, Antonio volleyed into the roof of the net from close-range for his third goal in his last four games.
Norwich were surrendering with a whimper and Antonio pushed them closer to the relegation trap door in first half stoppage-time.
Rising above the meek challenge of two Norwich defenders, Antonio glanced his header into the far corner from Mark Noble’s free-kick.
Antonio was proving unplayable for the leaky Norwich rearguard and he completed his hat-trick in the 54th minute, looping a header into the net after Tim Krul saved his initial effort.
Antonio completed a memorable personal performance with his fourth goal in the 74th minute, coolly finishing from Ryan Fredericks’ cross.
Troy Deeney scored two penalties as Watford improved their survival prospect with a 2-1 win against Newcastle at Vicarage Road.
Newcastle snatched the lead in the 23rd minute when Matt Ritchie’s corner was flicked on by Federico Fernandez and Dwight Gayle bundled home at the far post for his third goal of the season.
But Deeney pulled Watford level seven minutes after the restart.
Kiko Femenia was clipped inside the area by Ritchie and Deeney smashed the penalty past Martin Dubravka.
In the 82nd minute, Javier Manquillo brought down Ismaila Sarr and Deeney stepped up again to bury his second penalty.
Fourth bottom Watford are now six points clear of third bottom Bournemouth, who face Leicester on Sunday.
Second bottom Aston Villa are seven points adrift of safety before Sunday’s clash with Crystal Palace.
West Ham rocked Chelsea’s top-four hopes and boosted their survival bid with a dramatic 3-2 win, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang struck twice as Arsenal climbed back into European contention with a 4-0 thrashing of Norwich on Wednesday.
Chelsea were hoping to take advantage of third-placed Leicester’s 2-1 defeat at Everton earlier in the day, but instead, the Blues were beaten for the first time since the Premier League restart.
West Ham were denied the opening goal at the London Stadium when VAR ruled Michail Antonio was offside as he lay on the ground while Tomas Soucek slotted home.
Willian fired Chelsea ahead from the penalty spot five minutes before half-time after Issa Diop tripped Christian Pulisic.
Soucek headed home in first-half stoppage time as West Ham finally scored their first goal since the restart.
Antonio put West Ham in front in the 51st minute when he slid in to convert Jarrod Bowen’s cross.
Willian’s superb 70th-minute free-kick drew Chelsea level, but it was West Ham who broke away to win it in the 89th minute when substitute Andriy Yarmolenko finished a brilliant counter attack.
Chelsea are one point behind Leicester and only two ahead of Manchester United and Wolves as the race to qualify for the Champions League hots up with six games left.
West Ham’s crucial first win since the restart moved them three points clear of the relegation zone.
At the Emirates Stadium, Aubameyang moved alongside Jamie Vardy as the Premier League’s top scorer on 19 goals on a night of contrasting fortunes for the Golden Boot contenders.
Arsenal registered a third straight win to move up to seventh against a Norwich side ever more resigned to relegation.
Canaries keeper Tim Krul did his side no favours by gifting the opener to Aubameyang when he was caught trying to dribble past the Gabon international.
Aubameyang’s first saw him reach 50 Premier League goals in 79 appearances — making him the fastest Arsenal player to reach that landmark.
“A player that is able to score as many goals as he has done in that short space of time tells you everything about the importance that he has for us,” said Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta.
Aubameyang turned provider for Granit Xhaka to make it 2-0 before half-time and was then handed another gift when Norwich striker Josip Drmic teed him up to make it 3-0.
Cedric Soares, signed from Southampton in January, made his debut one to remember with a long-range strike nine minutes from time to round off the scoring.
Leicester lose more ground
Leicester are headed in the opposite direction as their winless run since English football’s restart from the coronavirus pandemic stretched to four games.
Richarlison and Gylfi Sigurdsson’s penalty gave Everton the perfect start at Goodison Park.
Kelechi Iheanacho’s fortunate goal as the ball ricocheted in off his face reduced Leicester’s arrears and they pressed hard for an equaliser in the closing stages.
Michael Keane’s clearance off the line spared Jordan Pickford’s blushes after another huge error from the England number one.
“Our form hasn’t been the best for a period now but we still have it in our hands to achieve what would be a dream for us, getting into the top four,” said Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers. “But we can only get that if the performance is right.”
At the bottom of the table, Bournemouth also suffered a huge blow in their battle to beat the drop with a humiliating 4-1 home defeat by Newcastle.
Dwight Gayle, Sean Longstaff, Miguel Almiron, and Valentino Lazaro were on target for the Magpies, who were not distracted by the ongoing uncertainty around the club over a proposed Saudi takeover.
Bournemouth remains in the bottom three and the margin of defeat could also prove costly as they drop below Aston Villa on goal difference into 19th.
Harry Kane scored his first goal of 2020 as Tottenham breathed new life into their challenge for a Champions League place next season with a 2-0 win over West Ham on Tuesday.
The England captain looked far more like his old self after a laboured performance in his first appearance for six months against Manchester United on Friday and was rewarded with a goal eight minutes from time.
Tomas Soucek’s own goal had opened the scoring as West Ham remain precariously poised outside the relegation zone only on goal difference.
Jose Mourinho’s men were well worthy of a first win in eight games dating back to February.
Victory takes Spurs to within six points of the top four and within one of Manchester United in fifth.
Should Manchester City’s appeal against a two-season ban from European competitions not prove successful, fifth would be good enough to qualify for the 2020/21 Champions League.
In keeping with many of the 14 games since the Premier League’s restart seven days ago, this was another slow burner as Spurs took time to start picking holes in West Ham’s rearguard.
Mourinho expressed his delight pre-match at having six fit attacking options available for the first time since taking charge in November.
The Portuguese recalled Lucas Moura and Dele Alli to partner Kane and Son Heung-min in attack with Steven Bergwijn and Erik Lamela dropping to the bench.
Son thought he had broken the deadlock on the stroke of half-time with a smart finish at Lukasz Fabianski’s near post, but the goal was ruled out for offside after a VAR review.
Spurs still had an even better chance to go in ahead at the break only for Lucas to skew wide when unmarked inside the area.
Mourinho launched an impassioned defence of his record of working with world-class strikers on the eve of the game after criticism that his playing style could see Kane look for pastures new.
And Kane had no shortage of opportunities after the break as his near post flick was turned behind by Fabianksi before he fired wide after sprinting the full length of the field as Spurs broke dangerously from a West Ham corner.
In between times, Pablo Fornals dragged wide West Ham’s big chance to go in front and aid their battle to beat the drop.
But David Moyes’s men were undone by one of their own when Soucek unwittingly turned a corner into his own net 26 minutes from time.
Jarrod Bowen smashed a shot against the post as the visitors suddenly had to alter their gameplan of containing Tottenham to look for an equaliser.
But in doing so, they left themselves exposed at the back and Kane timed his run perfectly from a Son pass before coolly slotting past Fabianski and collapsing to the ground in a mixture of relief and exhaustion.
Alexandre Lacazette came off the bench to keep Arsenal in the hunt for a Champions League place as his late strike survived a VAR review to seal a vital 1-0 win against West Ham on Saturday.
Mikel Arteta’s side struggled to find any momentum for long periods at the Emirates Stadium and could easily have been behind before Lacazette settled a scrappy London derby.
The French striker turned in Mesut Ozil’s header with 12 minutes left, but it took several minutes before VAR finally confirmed the German was onside when he laid on the goal.
Arsenal’s third successive Premier League win lifted them within five points of fourth placed Chelsea, who face Everton on Sunday.
Earning a Champions League berth still looks a long-shot for Arsenal, especially after this uneven display.
But the Gunners, who face Manchester City on Wednesday, are unbeaten in their last eight league games and showed commendable spirit to make the late breakthrough.
West Ham have lost five of their last seven league games and, with only one win in their past nine, they are destined for a nervous finish to the season as they battle to avoid relegation.
Arteta admitted this week that only a victory against West Ham would keep their Champions League bid alive.
He got his wish, but only just.
There was no pre-match handshake between the teams following the Premier League edict to ditch the ritual over coronavirus fears.
Listless for long periods, Arsenal didn’t look too keen on any contact once the game started either.
Granit Xhaka carelessly surrendered possession to Jarrod Bowen, whose long-range drive slipped through Bernd Leno’s grasp onto the near post.
West Ham should have gone ahead when Michail Antonio raced onto Pablo Fornals’ pass, but with the unmarked Sebastien Haller screaming for the ball, the winger could only send a woeful delivery yards behind him.
Pablo Mari, on loan from Flamengo, was making his Premier League debut at the heart of Arsenal’s defence alongside David Luiz, while Greek centre-back Sokratis was used out of position at right-back.
But Arteta’s reshuffled rearguard were easily exposed by Mark Noble’s pin-point pass and Leno did well to get down quickly at the feet of Haller after the West Ham striker moved menacingly towards goal.
West Ham’s enterprising opening was nearly undone when Sokratis thumped his close-range header onto the bar from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s cross.
There were still plenty of holes for David Moyes’ men to exploit and only a shocking miss from Antonio stopped them scoring just before half-time.
Issa Diop climbed above Aubameyang and headed Noble’s corner to Antonio, who somehow managed to screw wide from just two yards.
For the first time in over a year, Arsenal had failed to record a shot on target in the first half of a home league game.
They finally tested Lukasz Fabianski when Eddie Nketiah darted onto Bukayo Saka’s pass and flicked his shot at the Hammers keeper.
West Ham remained a threat and it took a superb save from Leno to deny Antonio’s close-range header from Haller’s flick.
Arteta sent on Lacazette in place of Nketiah for the final 30 minutes and his arrival turned the game.
He saw his appeal for a penalty rejected by VAR after Angelo Ogbonna appeared to haul him down.
But Lacazette broke the deadlock with his ninth goal of the season in the 78th minute.
Aubameyang’s shot deflected off Declan Rice and looped to Ozil, whose header found Lacazette for a clinical close-range finish.
A lengthy VAR review prolonged the agony for West Ham before it was finally ruled that Ozil was onside when he set up Lacazette.
Haller almost snatched an immediate equaliser but his effort was pushed away by Leno as Arsenal held on.
Manchester City cruised to a 2-0 win over West Ham on Wednesday as Pep Guardiola’s side returned to action for the first time following the club’s shock two-year ban from European competitions.
Goals from Rodri and Kevin De Bruyne lifted City’s spirits as they cemented their hold on second place in the Premier League.
The Champions League and Europa League suspension for alleged financial fair play regulations drew a furious response over the weekend from City supporters who have long believed UEFA hold an agenda against their Abu Dhabi-owned club.
Yet the attendance at the Etihad Stadium for the visit of David Moyes’ struggling side was disappointing, with approximately 10,000 empty seats greeting the two sets of players before kick-off.
That may have been due, in part, to the fact the fixture was rescheduled from its original date 10 days earlier due to storms.
Live TV coverage and gridlocked early evening Manchester traffic also did not help supporters arrive in good time for a fixture in which their team was seeking to close the 25-point gap to leaders Liverpool.
It was a curiously subdued atmosphere, therefore, rather than the expected frenzied demonstration of anti-UEFA rhetoric.
There were a couple of home-made banners proclaiming “UEFA Cartel” and “UEFA Mafia”, as well as chants of adulation praising City owner Sheikh Mansour and boss Guardiola.
There were also taunts to UEFA that “we’ll see you in court” and crude songs aimed at the governing body.
But not until Rodri headed City into a 29th-minute lead did City fans become truly animated as their team maintained their complete dominance against the visitors.
It is fair to say, however, that there will be a very different atmosphere when City next play at the Etihad in the Champions League, with Real Madrid the visitors on March 10 in the last 16-second leg.
City’s chief executive Ferran Soriano was clearly in a combative mood when discussing the approach to their latest confrontation with UEFA.
“The fans can be sure of two things. The first one is that the allegations are false,” said Soriano, who confirmed the club will take the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
“And the second is that we will do everything that can be done to prove so.”
Guardiola was equally defiant when asked to comment on the suspension before kick-off.
“The first moment was impacted but after a few hours we cannot control, we support the club 100 percent,” he said.
A second-half goal from De Bruyne at least ensured that City returned from the winter break, and five days of controversy, with the minimum of fuss.
However, it promises to be events in European law courts, rather than a football pitch, that has a greater impact on the club over the coming months.