City leave more questions than answers
The champions remain undefeated - but also underwhelming. Because, at the end of a week in which Roberto Mancini revealed that he had discussed a number of other jobs away from Eastlands, it was re-emphasised that he still has a bit of work to do at Manchester City.
On Saturday at Upton Park that was mostly down to the work ethic of a manager who knows he will now never get a job at such an illustrious club. Two days before this match, Sam Allardyce stated he "won't ever be going to a top-four club so I think we'll just leave it at that", before jokingly referencing his famous 'Allardici' line. Here, though, he illustrated he retains that admirable old knack of frustrating and taking points off them.
After this game, Allardyce again laughed that "no clubs talked to me in the summer". He did concede, however, that he was glad to be back "pitting my wits against the best in the world".
That he certainly did. Right from the start of this game, West Ham executed Allardyce's instructions excellently. This creditable 0-0 draw bore all the classic characteristics of the displays which have brought his teams results against big teams in the past: a regimented defence, fierce challenges, admirable percentage playing and no little threat. It said a lot that the most inspired piece of attacking of the entire came when Andy Carroll attempted an audacious bicycle kick that went oh so close.
One thing that you have to say for Allardyce is that he very rarely makes it routine for the elite teams. In 15 games against the previous season's league winners, Allardyce has taken a worthy eight points.
"You have to be satisfied we've taken a point off the champions," he went on afterwards. "It really is a good day for us.
"You're going to be forced back by a team that's got the quality they've got. Whatever you say about Manchester City, the front four - Edin Dzeko, Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli, Sergio Aguero - who all played today, it's about £150 million so you're going to have to do some defending at some stage with that amount of quality on the pitch."
While insisting that a draw was unfair on his team and praising the overall performance, Mancini did admit something is a little off with his attack.
"I think that, when you win the title, it is more difficult and we had some problems with some important players injured in the first two months," he said. "This was maybe the biggest problem we had. Maybe we conceded a lot of goals at the start of the season. We improved our defensive face but we need to start scoring like last year. We need to improve this offensive face. Sometimes we need [to be quicker]. Three or four chances were incredible."
One of them, of course, fell to Balotelli. And, after a fractious display which ended with the Italian losing his temper and inevitably being substituted, he appeared to mouth abuse at Mancini. The City manager, however, refused to be drawn on it.
"This is football," Mancini said. "I think a player like Balotelli, when he has a chance like today, he should score. I think all the players played 100%. West Ham defended very well."
They also initially attacked very well. Kevin Nolan had the ball in the net just minutes into the game, only to be narrowly flagged for offside, before Yossi Benayoun, Mohamed Diame and the excellent Carroll all went close.
A lot of that had to do with City's lack of cohesion. Because, if the debate about the champions' performances will go on, the recent furore about formation can be temporarily sidelined along with James Milner. Before this match, it had seemed like Mancini wanted to again deploy the midfielder on the wing of his contentious 3-4-3 system. A hamstring injury in the warm-up necessitated a hasty and ill-prepared reshuffle.
And, with Kolo Toure moved to right-back and City's central midfield seemingly devoid of a true defensive presence, it took them quite a while to find a balance.
When they finally did at the start of the second half, West Ham remained as disciplined. Other than a wayward Tevez shot, a handball-enabled Gareth Barry chance and one Jussi Jaaskelainen fumble, City struggled to get past the home side's committed challenges and fine organisation. More than anybody except Carroll, Mark Noble illustrated the sheer endeavour of the West Ham players with a series of important challenges.
Having brought on Sergio Aguero to little effect, it was in that exact area that Mancini still had one more card to play.
In last season's run-in, he famously put on a defensive midfielder for a forward in order to successfully release Yaya Toure against Newcastle and further swing the race. Here, the Italian attempted the same move by replacing Carlos Tevez with Javi Garcia.
Typically, though, Allardyce and his team were wise to it. Other than a wayward shot from the edge of the area, Toure couldn't force an opening.
The West Ham manager's tactics had worked superbly, even if he'll never get to deploy them at a club like City. Mancini, meanwhile, may have to keep working on his.