August 2011 - Reports
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Tottenham 1 Manchester City 5    Another Riot in Tottenham
Sunday 21st August 2011 : Alan Westwood for GYKO at No Heart Lane

Samir Nasri spoke of sending out a "signal" to the other contenders but this felt far more emphatic than that. Their first two games had already been won to establish an upbeat tone for the campaign ahead but Manchester City's true statement of intent was delivered here. To beat Swansea City and Bolton Wanderers is one thing. To dismantle, even humiliate, Tottenham Hotspur is quite another.

A first league victory in this corner of north London for 20 years returned City to the top of the formative Premier League table, albeit briefly, but it was the manner of the success that will reverberate through the division. The visitors were irrepressible, sparring through the opening half-hour before ripping Tottenham to shreds. City were supposed to be a team restricted by an overly cautious approach though, in tearing into Spurs, they did not so much release the handbrake as rip it out and fling it from the vehicle altogether.

This club had felt confident enough in their strength in depth to loan Emmanuel Adebayor to Tottenham, the team who had denied them a place in the Champions League some 15 months ago, and even supplement his wages. The reality is, as Harry Redknapp implied in the aftermath, that they are now competing on a completely different plain. This summer's signings have hoisted them further clear of the pack. In Edin Dzeko, so anaemic after being prised from Wolfsburg in January, they now boast a player who is threatening to make a £28m fee seem like a snip.

The Bosnian scored four here and now has seven goals in four appearances, including the Community Shield, this season. Behind him the blur of forward-thinkers utterly flummoxed a Spurs team denied a fit natural defensive midfielder from the outset.

The lack of a shield allowed the debutant Nasri to join David Silva and Sergio Agüero in revelling in this fluid attacking line. The Frenchman had trained three times with his new team-mates but has already tapped into their philosophy.

Tottenham's bright start was deceptive. At no point did the home side come to terms with the subtlety in their opponents' approach-play. The result was a rout and Tottenham's heaviest home defeat in eight years. Dzeko's first three goals were all immaculately constructed, the first two reliant upon Nasri assists. The France international worked space in exchanges with Gaël Clichy and Agüero to centre for the opener just after the half-hour, then floated a cross for the second as half-time approached.

Dzeko, on each occasion, eked space from Younes Kaboul to convert. The power mustered by the Bosnian in his header as he leaped up and back was particularly impressive. "He gets in there," said the assistant manager, David Platt. "The way he manipulates the football, gets into position, even scores dirty goals – we'd seen signs of it last season but he's come to terms with the pace of the game here now."

In between that brace, Spurs had passed up an opportunity to level with Peter Crouch heading Gareth Bale's marvellous cross wide. The England striker was abused by fans seated near the tunnel as the teams retired at half-time as frustration boiled over, yet neither the mood nor the performance lifted thereafter. Luka Modric, never in the right frame of mind to flourish despite the odd flash of quality, departed a little after the hour mark by which time City were four up and the contest killed off. There was to be no competing with them on this occasion.

Yaya Touré's low centre offered Dzeko his hat-trick when the striker tapped in from on the goal-line as Spurs defenders were by-passed at will while Agüero got his own reward by teasing away from Michael Dawson and finishing from an unkind angle. Kaboul's headed riposte was unexpected only as it appeared the stuffing had been knocked out of the Londoners. The loss of Rafael van der Vaart with a hamstring tear rather summed up their plight. The team will recover its poise but, at present, is rather limping along.

These will be a frantic last few days of the transfer window at White Hart Lane, with Scott Parker and Craig Bellamy likely to join Adebayor at Spurs. Lassana Diarra and Gary Cahill could also still arrive from Real Madrid and Bolton respectively with steel required. "The place needs a little bit of a lift now, and I've told that to the chairman," said Harry Redknapp. "I feel we have to freshen the place up a bit. We'll get one or two more in."

City, in contrast, feel their transfer business is done. Dzeko's fourth, curled in from distance, merely confirmed their dominance. Carlos Tevez was never even required to spring from the bench. This was less a warning signal and more a full-scale alert; this team's challenge has never felt more persuasive.


Teams:

Tottenham Friedel, Corluka, Dawson, Kaboul, Assou-Ekotto, Lennon (Defoe 53), Modric (Livermore 66), Kranjcar (Huddlestone 46), Bale, Van der Vaart, Crouch.

Subs Not Used: Cudicini, Pavlyuchenko, Bassong, Walker.

Booked: Assou-Ekotto, Van der Vaart.

Goals: Kaboul 68.

Man City Hart, Zabaleta (Richards 64), Kompany, Lescott, Clichy, Toure Yaya, Barry, Silva, Nasri, Aguero (Savic 75), Dzeko.

Subs Not Used: Pantilimon, Milner, Johnson, Tevez, Balotelli.

Booked: Barry, Zabaleta, Toure Yaya, Savic.

Goals: Dzeko 34, 41, 55, Aguero 60, Dzeko 90.

Att: 36, 150

Ref: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire).

Bolton Wanderers 2 Manchester City 3  
Sunday 21st August 2011 : Brian Booth for GYKO at the Reebok

Manchester City may be unfeasibly rich but the price on their head is also extremely high. Although Bolton Wanderers pride themselves on putting all visitors to a rigorous test, there was a keener appetite to them as they rallied and made Roberto Mancini's side defend at length before the win was clinched. The verve from the victors, who had led 3-1, ought to be appreciated, even if the manager himself will now be intent on restoring some of the usual stringency.

Regardless of the view from either technical area, this was a spectacle to be relished by anyone craving goals, entertainment and an element of uncertainty about the outcome. From the doggedly professional perspective, City allowed too much fun to seep in and the centre-half Joleon Lescott was particularly fallible. In the long term, all the same, Mancini's line-up is only likely to take the Premier League title if there is a commitment to expressiveness.

Players such as David Silva and Sergio Agüero epitomise that but it was the influence of James Milner that was crucial to the win. The England midfielder embodied the balance between diligence and impact that Mancini has to strike in his line-up.

The money and the shrewdness with which City now spend it are starting to make an impression. There was a stylishness to the visitors for a while but they had mislaid a little of their old efficiency. Bolton claimed the last goal of the day with a Kevin Davies header from a free-kick in the 62nd minute.

Still, it was a sign of City's means that Agüero could then be taken off, with Carlos Tevez, who admittedly wishes to leave the club, coming off the bench.

City will not forget the stress they had to undergo against an impassioned Bolton. Owen Coyle, manager of the hosts, was surely irritated by the build-up to this match.

While people swooned at the impact of Agüero's debut from the bench for City in the 4-0 defeat of Swansea, virtually no attention was paid to Bolton's victory by the same score at another promoted club, Queens Park Rangers. For a while the sceptics seemed to have a sound basis for supposing that the visitors would make the most of superior means and demoralise their opponents.

The course of the match was to be more complex but City did move 2-0 in front of Bolton as their build-up steadily improved, with imperious interchanging for a while from the trio of support strikers behind Edin Dzeko.

The opener in the 26th minute was, however, provided by a rare moment of haplessness from the Bolton goalkeeper, Jussi Jaaskelainen, who will surely be too proud to make the excuse that Silva's drive from outside of the area bounced in front of him. The save ought to have been routine.

City were exhilarated then and Barry increased the lead with a handsome 30-yarder but the visitors may have been a little too intoxicated by the impact. Bolton responded almost immediately, with the marking so lax that Ivan Klasnic had a simple task six minutes from half-time to tuck home Martin Petrov's well-placed low ball at the near post.

A third goal came for City two minutes after the interval. Dzeko kept Zat Knight at bay while taking Milner's lobbed pass and firing past Jaaskelainen. Now that he is operating in the centre the scorer's importance has become marked. If City relaxed then, it showed a very poor understanding of Bolton's pride and purpose.

Mancini's side are still trying to school themselves and embrace the expectations of a club that were last the champions of England in 1968.

Over the course of the subsequent decades they ceased even to be regarded as contenders. Although the squad itself has been upgraded so extravagantly, this is still a step into the unknown for many. City have to school themselves in living with the realisation that any opponents will raise their game against them and show a most unusual appetite. Dealing with that environment is a way of life for many clubs but City are coming into that category belatedly.

Mancini himself will feel part of an experiment. He is far from being a novice when it comes to the wealth, expectation and tortuous politics of sport since he was an effective manager of Internazionale. It would be nonsensical, in the context of football history, to put City among the clubs of such eminence but Mancini must feel the stress when the wish is for instant glory.

On their last trip to the Reebok, in May, the 2-0 margin of victory suggested efficiency. City are a better and more expansive side now but each away match is liable to be an occasion. Mancini's side are starting to realise their ambitions and the desire to put them under stress is also climbing.

The encouragement for him lies in the fact that the character and style of play being instilled look natural to his line-up. It was essential to the aspiration that such a process should take place but the speed at which City are turning into sprightly crowd-pleasers is an agreeable surprise.

Teams:

Bolton Jaaskelainen, Steinsson, Cahill, Knight, Robinson, Eagles (Pratley 78), Muamba (Mark Davies 59), Reo-Coker, Petrov, Kevin Davies, Klasnic.

Subs Not Used: Bogdan, Alonso, Blake, Wheater, Blakeman.

Booked: Muamba, Kevin Davies.

Goals: Klasnic 39, Kevin Davies 63.

Manchester City Hart, Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov, Milner, Barry, Toure Yaya, Silva (Zabaleta 88), Dzeko (Johnson 80), Aguero (Tevez 68).

Subs Not Used: Pantilimon, Clichy, Savic, Balotelli.

Goals: Silva 26, Barry 37, Dzeko 47.

Att: 24, 273

Ref: Mike Jones (Cheshire).

Manchester City 4 Swansea City 0   City Strike Agüerian Gold
Monday 15th August 2011 : GYKO at the Etihad Stadium

Manchester City are off and running and, in the process, the seemingly ceaseless issues surrounding Carlos Tevez no longer seem quite so important. Roberto Mancini's team were rampant throughout the second half and, as debuts go, it is difficult to think Sergio Agüero could have done much more to ingratiate himself with his new supporters.

Agüero was introduced shortly after Edin Dzeko had opened the scoring against a Swansea City side who out passed their opponents for the first 30 minutes before fading badly. Within nine minutes of coming on he had made it 2-0. Still not satisfied, he then created the third for David Silva but it was the moment when he made it 4-0, with full time approaching, that he fully announced his arrival in English football.

Agüero's second goal of the night was struck from 30 yards: a swerving, dipping, brutal shot that speared into the net. The Etihad Stadium has a new hero and, if he continues like this, maybe Mancini's team may yet score the "10 to 15 extra goals" he believes will turn them from Champions League qualifiers last season to a side with realistic aspirations of winning the league.

Mancini eulogised about the £38m signing, reflecting on a "perfect night" that began with City's players warming up in T-shirts bearing the slogan "I Love Manchester." Tevez, in Manchester against his will and off-message for longer than the club will care to remember, was nowhere to be seen. True to form, the club captain – and it is surely only correct that title is removed from him for good – was not even in the stands but this did not feel like a night for recriminations. "I'm not surprised by what I saw tonight," Mancini said. "Agüero has scored a lot of goals in Spain and Argentina – he's a fantastic striker."

By the end, Swansea were grateful to hear the whistle. They had some good spells and can be encouraged by the way they dominated the opening exchanges. Yet, for all their neat and attractive football, they were seldom a genuine threat and Joe Hart made only one noteworthy save all night.

Brendan Rodgers has assembled a side who are capable of keeping the ball under pressure and they will win many admirers but he may yet have to impress on his team that, when they are on top, it is crucial in this league that they make it count.

Instead Mancini's team recovered from a difficult start and, by the closing stages of the first half, Swansea's goal was being subjected to concerted pressure. Silva, almost inevitably, was prominently involved. One diagonal shot brought a splendid flying save from Michel Vorm. Another effort from the Spaniard struck the crossbar. Dzeko looked busy, sharper than he was last season, and was also identified by Mancini for special acclaim. Adam Johnson, chosen ahead of Mario Balotelli, worried the Swansea defence. Yaya Touré found his passing range after struggling early on.

Vorm, a £1.5m signing from FC Utrecht, had an inspired 15-minute period when he kept out everything and Swansea had a bit of luck, too. When Gareth Barry slashed a left-foot effort through a congested area the crossbar shook for a second time but Swansea had lost their early verve and it was no surprise when Dzeko began the rout.

Silva started the move, wriggling away from Leon Britton inside his own half and advancing through the middle. His pass sent Johnson scampering clear, cutting inside from the right before trying to curl a shot past Vorm. The Dutchman got both hands to the ball but turned it straight into Dzeko's path, six yards out for a relatively simple finish.

The match would soon turn into an ordeal for the team embarking on their first top-flight season since 1983. Agüero's debut goal was a simple tap-in at the far post after Micah Richards had sent over a low cross from the right.

Three minutes later Dzeko's pass sent Agüero clear. The Argentinean lifted the ball over the oncoming Vorm and adjusted his body to hook it back from the byline. Silva was waiting on the penalty spot to stroke his shot into an exposed goal.

And then the special moment. Agüero's second goal was unstoppable – "world-class from a world-class player," as Rodgers said – and, in that moment, we had the confirmation that the club of Abu Dhabi wealth and ambition had ushered a new superstar into the Premier League. Carlos who?

Teams

Man City Hart, Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy, Toure Yaya, De Jong (Aguero 59), Barry, Silva (Milner 82), Dzeko, Johnson (Savic 74).

Subs Not Used: Taylor, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Balotelli.

Goals: Dzeko 57, Aguero 68, Silva 71, Aguero 90.

Swansea Vorm, Rangel, Caulker, Williams, Tate, Britton (Allen 65), Dobbie (Routledge 65), Agustien, Dyer (Lita 81), Graham, Sinclair.

Subs Not Used: Moreira, Orlandi, Moore, Gower.

Att: 46,802

Ref: Mike Dean (Wirral).

 

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