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Three key battles Man City must win to pass West Ham Premier League challenge

By Alex Brotherton

Manchester City face West Ham in their penultimate game of the season on Sunday, knowing a win will put them within touching distance of the Premier League title.

Pep Guardiola's side travel to London three points clear of Liverpool at the top of the table with two games remaining, and with Liverpool on FA Cup final duty they could extend the gap to six. A win at West Ham would leave City needing just a point on the final day against Aston Villa to clinch a fourth league crown in five seasons. Thanks to their superior goal difference, three points from their final two outings could even be enough.

David Moyes' side are not going to make things easy though. Currently sitting seventh in the table, the Hammers are three points from sixth place and the final Europa League spot, currently occupied by Manchester United. Thanks to a superior goal difference, a win against City would see them leapfrog Ralf Rangnick's side.

READ MORE: Cries of media bias becoming part of Man City's identity

With that kind of motivation behind them, City will have to win a number of key battles on Sunday afternoon.

Dilapidated defence

It's no overstatement to say that City are experiencing something of an injury crisis at the moment. With Kyle Walker, John Stones and Kyle Walker already out for the rest of the season, both Fernandinho and Aymeric Laporte limped off during City's 5-1 win at Wolves on Wednesday.

Nathan Ake replaced Laporte in the second half, but he isn't fully fit himself. That means that Rodri could be forced to drop back into defence, or that a youngster like CJ Egan-Riley could be called upon.

Either way, someone without much experience playing in central defence in the Premier League is going to have to cope with the likes of Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen.

West Ham are no slouches in front of goal - they've scored 57 league goals this season, the same as Manchester United and one more than Arsenal. This will be a huge test for City's makeshift defence.

Midfield control

The defensive juggling Guardiola is going to have to perform will have a knock-on effect on his midfield selection, particularly if Rodri drops into the backline.

The Spaniard is key to how City not only attack but how they control and manage their opponents. While Rodri is not the most agile of holding players, his incredible vision, passing and reading of the game allow him to dictate City's play and avoid giving away possession in dangerous areas.

West Ham are a team that like to counter, especially against possession-heavy sides like City. Without Rodri in the centre of pitch, Guardiola could go with a double pivot of Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan.

The duo are two of City's most reliable ball-players, but perhaps lack the defensive knowhow of Rodri or Fernandinho. They'll need to work hard to make up for that and protect the middle of the field.

Battle of wills

As mentioned above, West Ham have their own objective to achieve over the next two games. City must counter that with their own desire to get their title bid over the line - win in London and it takes a lot of pressure off against a potentially tricky final day assignment against Villa.

The West Ham crowd will be more than up for it, but City must channel their hunger and use their big-game experience to get the result they want.

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Dive Deeper:
Man City defy their own history to grab vital Premier League point at West Ham
Second-half comeback was almost completed but Riyad Mahrez missed a penalty to ensure the spoils were shared
West Ham vs Man City prediction: How will Premier League fixture play out today?
Everything you need to know ahead of this afternoon’s match
West Ham vs Man City confirmed line-ups: Team news ahead of Premier League fixture today
Everything you need to know ahead of this afternoon’s match
West Ham vs Man City live stream: How to watch Premier League fixture online and on TV today
Everything you need to know ahead of this afternoon’s match
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Is West Ham vs Man City on TV today? Kick-off time, channel and how to watch Premier League fixture
Everything you need to know ahead of this afternoon’s match
West Ham vs Man City LIVE: Premier League result, final score and reaction as Riyad Mahrez misses late penalty
Follow all the action from the London Stadium as City aim to move within one point of the title by…
Get all your news in one place