LONDON -- Such are the riches on tap at Manchester City, they really could have afforded to whiff on almost any new signing they make. And yet such is the relative paucity of attacking options available to Pep Guardiola -- at least compared to past iterations of this team -- that it felt rather necessary on Saturday that Jeremy Doku settled in swiftly.
That he indisputably did, leading City's comeback to a 3-1 victory, despite conceding first to West Ham's James Ward-Prowse in the 36th minute. The highest compliment you could pay a player with only a few dozen starts in Europe's top five leagues is that he looks a City player from the off. It was better than that. In only his second appearance, Doku was City's outstanding attacker as they battled back and made it five wins from five to begin their Premier League title defense.
A brilliant goal seconds into the half crowned the day for City's phantom menace, but he had been the one forward West Ham couldn't negate long before his brilliant first goal, a purposeful drive at the left shoulder of Vladimir Coufal followed by an elegant shot bent into Alphonse Areola's far corner. Had his team mates done more with the supply he had given them in the first half, the 21-year-old might not have had to dig them out of a hole in the first place.
It didn't particularly matter how many defenders West Ham sent to aid Coufal on their right flank, Doku found a way to create chaos. As two closed in on him in the 15th minute he squeezed the ball through the gap, finding Josko Gvardiol with enough space and time in the box to assess his options. A low cross found Erling Haaland unmarked at the back, but, to the bafflement of 60,000 at the London Stadium, the world football's most fearsome finisher contrived to bend the ball away from an empty goal at all of seven yards out.
If that was not baffling enough he repeated the trick later in the first half when Doku went directly to his No.9. From an extremely tight angle Haaland did well to even divert the ball towards goal, Nayef Aguerd on hand to hack the ball to safety. Given that by that time West Ham had already claimed the lead, James Ward-Prowse finishing off a slick Coufal-led counter after a rare loose touch by Doku, you could have convinced yourself at the break that this might be one of those days for Pep Guardiola. All the factors were there: inspired defensive displays from the likes of Aguerd, Kurt Zouma and Alphonse Areola, loose finishing from Haaland, vulnerability to the robust counters of Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen.
Golazo Starting XI Newsletter
Get your Soccer Fix from Around the Globe
Your ultimate guide to the Beautiful Game as our experts take you beyond the pitch and around the globe with news that matters.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox.
There was an error processing your subscription.
Those concerns evaporated when City cycled the ball out to Doku with their first possession of the half. Isolated against Coufal he hit the afterburners, his defender back pedalling as he opened his body and bent it into the far corner, a goal to put you in mind of the invigorating directness that Raheem Sterling or Leroy Sane once brought to this side.
Yet again City are showing an eye for blemishless talent, no wonder when you have been able to build out a front office almost as blessed with superstar talent as the Etihad pitch. If further evidence of scouting excellence were required it came from the star in claret and blue, Lucas Paqueta functioning as a one man possession and progression plan for the Hammers. From his inside left channel he was free to glide towards the ball, an array of feints and flicks taking him through pressure to the sort of spots where he could craft openings. But for the betting enquiry that hangs over him he may well have been a City player today, should that be resolved in his favor he will have done his future prospects no harm at all today.
From Doku's goal onwards there was a sense that City, a little awkward even in a first half where they racked up plenty of shots, had got back into their groove. An impressive West Ham side had their moments on the break and David Moyes might acknowledge after the fact that he erred in preserving Michail Antonio's fitness by withdrawing him just after he had slipped Lucas Paqueta through for one of a flurry of chances created by the hosts on the hour.
Without the outball Antonio provided, West Ham found themselves pegged ever further back. In such circumstances it is too much to ask that the backline goes blemish free and they were punished 14 minutes from time when Aguerd misjudged Julian Alvarez's lobbed pass, allowing Bernardo Silva to sneak in behind and poke the ball past Areola.
Haaland might have claimed that goal for himself, but demurred to add the finishing touch. He knew more chances would come and with four minutes to go he swept home Silva's cross to add a gloss to the score that City had perhaps not merited as a collective. Doku certainly did however, the livewire that brought power back to City after a slow start. Already he looks like £55 million well spent.