December 2011 - Reports
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West Brom 0 Manchester City 0      Bore Draw
Monday 26th December 2011 : Dean Kirkpatrick for GYKO at the Hawthorns

The days were bound to come when ambition would begin to torment Manchester City. This club must have understood that freewheeling days are not guaranteed. West Bromwich Albion not only held out but might have taken a win as their opponents failed to score for the first time in this league campaign. There is nothing remarkable about leaders experiencing a setback but it will still have been galling for City that they lacked the edge and flair that have been such features of the side. They now stand ahead of Manchester United on mere goal difference.

City next head for the Stadium of Light and while Sunderland have just been held to a draw there by Everton the revivalist spirit under Martin O'Neill is sure to resurface when Roberto Mancini's side take the field. In essence the City footballers are receiving a schooling in the difficulties that can beset the elite. West Brom were undoubtedly galvanised and others, instead of dreading City, will have added confidence after Chelsea showed how the league leaders could be defeated.

There has, of course, to be a sense of proportion and there is plenty of scope for City to reassure themselves. Away fixtures against Manchester United and Chelsea have been completed, with City leading the Premier League despite falling to defeat at Stamford Bridge. On a more practical level there ought to be gladness that matters did not take an even greater turn for the worse at The Hawthorns.

West Brom, displaying greater adventure following the interval, might have done severe harm since Jerome Thomas was close to a goal when his 20-yarder hit the post after 73 minutes. In the 57th minute Shane Long had been far more culpable for heading off target from a Thomas cross. There was no doubt by then that City sensed the peril they were facing.

In its way that mood was disconcerting. West Brom, after all, have still recorded only two league wins on their own pitch. City could feel justified in sitting deep and absorbing pressure applied by a team lacking that costliest of assets, the deadly predator. Roy Hodgson, the West Brom manager, had no cause to complain of frustration on a day for his side acquitted themselves with distinction.

While City gradually took the game to the hosts, West Brom never looked intimidated. City would have understood that resistance to them would grow in this campaign as a squad with so many costly players started to make its talent tell. West Brom defended for much of the afternoon yet seldom looked on the verge of collapse. It was inevitable that City would sate themselves with possession but little was done with it.

City, at first playing with two strikers in Sergio Agüero and Mario Balotelli, intended to force the issue. That was a peculiar decision by Mancini considering their usual system has regularly wreaked havoc. There were irrelevant events, such as Yaya Touré losing his footing to keel over while chasing the ball on the wing.

That moment typified the sense that Mancini's players were not their true selves. That had been apparent as early as the 25th minute when David Silva sent the ball over the bar after a cut-back from Agüero. Hodgson had been certain to drill West Brom in the particularly stern 4-4-2 system that contained City. That should have been no surprise for a visiting team that must spend much of its footballing life in this sort of situation.

It was informative, too, that West Brom, when they wished to, could sit as deep as they wished so far as a generally happy crowd were concerned. Other sides had been far less recalcitrant against City at home. Mancini was bound to reconsider his tactics and by the second half the line-up was in its usual 4-2-3-1 shape with Agüero at centre-forward.

There was no immediate impact and, although Balotelli did hit the bar, West Brom developed ambition. City were never likely to fade entirely, though, and a last ditch-challenge from Gareth McAuley foiled Agüero in the 65th minute when he seemed set to score. On so many previous occasions City's firepower would have been remorseless until the opposition's defences were reduced to rubble.

Mancini's side could have taken the three points and the setback here could be regarded as a minor one. However, it does come relatively soon after their defeat in the league at Stamford Bridge. Such results are all part of the ebb and flow of the sport but City had appeared to be above the fray in the Premier League. That effortlessness has waned slightly.

That could have been anticipated; it is Mancini's immediate duty to steady City with reminders that a goalless draw or a defeat are normal events in a season. The great question, though, is whether this City line-up can deal with the fallibility that has begun to creep up on it.

Teams:

West Brom Foster, Jones, Olsson, McAuley, Shorey, Brunt, Scharner, Mulumbu (Dorrans 80), Thomas, Long, Odemwingie (Jara Reyes 88).

Subs Not Used: Fulop, Dawson, Thorne, Cox, Fortune.

Man City Hart, Zabaleta, Toure, Kompany, Clichy, Toure Yaya, Milner (Dzeko 82), Nasri (Barry 59), Silva, Aguero (Johnson 74), Balotelli.

Subs Not Used: Pantilimon, Lescott, Savic, De Jong.

Booked: Toure Yaya.

Att: 25, 938

Ref: Lee Mason (Lancashire).
 

Manchester City 3 Stoke City 0       Hapless Stoke Dispatched 
Wednesday 21st December 2011 ; GYKO at the Etihad

For the first time since 1929 Manchester City are top of the league at Christmas, and playing with a vibrancy that suggests they also expect to be there come the end of the season. They have dropped only two points at home throughout 2011 and won this match with so much to spare their supporters could be forgiven for daring to wonder what joys are to follow after the turn of the year.

Roberto Mancini's team managed to be both rampant and reserved, faced by obliging opponents who did not muster a single attempt on target throughout the entire evening. The league leaders have now scored three or more times in 12 of their 17 fixtures and could almost certainly have made it an even greater ordeal for Stoke City if they had been in the mood.

As it was, there was the clear sense of a team holding something back while still operating at a far superior level. Sergio Agüero added another two goals to his collection, Adam Johnson reminded us of his eye for the spectacular with a wonderfully taken effort and, 3-0 ahead early in the second half, it was almost a surprise they stopped there.

It was about as one-sided as it gets at this level although, as a gauge of their title credentials, it should also be pointed out that Stoke had a legitimate case to be recognised as the poorest team to visit the Etihad this season. They were certainly the least imaginative, as if it had slipped their mind they had just won four league games in a row. The home team were superior in every department and still managed to save something for the gruelling schedule of fixtures that follows.

In the process, they also demonstrated the kind of patience and know-how that will be vital in the months ahead when, if they are to win the league for the first time since 1968, they will have to deal with plenty more sides that come to this stadium with the explicit intention to pack defence and suffocate their opponents. "It's the same that we have seen at Manchester United over the years," Mancini said. "All the teams that play at Old Trafford play with fear and don't attack because they know United are a top team, and it's probably the same for us now here. It's a good thing, a compliment, but sometimes it's better to get a good, open match. For the first 20 minutes it was difficult to find the solution."

For the next 70, however, they were completely in control. Stoke, after a solid start, folded after Agüero opened the scoring and hoisted the white flag in a manner totally out of keeping with what would ordinarily be expected of a team managed by Tony Pulis. "We haven't punched our weight tonight," he said later, "but sometimes you just have to admit when the opposition is far better than you."

The breakthrough for Mancini's men came just before the half-hour when David Silva threaded the ball into Yaya Touré's path and, for the first time, the home players were not outnumbered in the Stoke penalty area. The outstanding Vincent Kompany, advancing forward from defence, was denied by Thomas Sorensen's parry and Agüero followed up to score from close range.

The second goal arrived within seven minutes and from that point an air of inevitability descended. This time, it was simply a case of wretched defending and a demonstration of Johnson's ability to strike the ball from outside the penalty area. His shot flew past Sorensen from 20 yards, but it will not have escaped Pulis's notice that the chance was presented by Dean Whitehead's poor pass from inside his own penalty area. Jonathan Walters could not get the ball under control and the finish was emphatic.

Perhaps the most impressive part was that Mancini's side could win so convincingly while a level or two below their best. The simple truth was they did not have to play to their maximum. Another flowing move culminated in Samir Nasri's low cross setting up an unmarked Agüero to make it 3-0 from five yards and, after that, it was fortunate for Stoke that their opponents were also trying to conserve energy.

"Our supporters can have a happy Christmas now," said a smiling Mancini, and his mood did not seem too affected by the sight of Micah Richards limping off after an hour. "It's this," he said, tapping the glass of water on his desk. "He's fragile, every game."

Teams

Man City Hart, Richards (Savic 59), Kompany, Lescott, Clichy, Barry (Milner 83), Toure Yaya, Johnson, Silva (Balotelli 68), Nasri, Aguero.

Subs Not Used: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Toure, De Jong.

Booked: Richards, Johnson.

Goals: Aguero 29, Johnson 36, Aguero 54.

Stoke Sorensen, Huth, Woodgate (Diao 80), Upson, Wilson, Walters, Palacios, Whitehead, Shotton, Jones (Pennant 74), Jerome (Fuller 68).

Subs Not Used: Begovic, Delap, Etherington, Arismendi.

Booked: Fuller.

Att: 46,321  (700+ Stoke fans)

Ref: Mike Dean (Wirral).
 

Manchester City 1 Arsenal 0    Kick up the Arse
Sunday 18th December 2011 : GYKO at the Etihad

A club on course for the Premier League title must employ a variety of means. Manchester City, beaten at Chelsea in their last outing, could not show all of their previous wealth of creativity against a good and stubborn Arsenal side, but they did prevail deservedly through a David Silva goal and returned to the Premier League summit. Arsenal themselves were determined despite being pinned down for periods. City had twitches late in the match when the ball came off the arm of Micah Richards inside their penalty area, but the contact had been accidental.

There was greater alarm for the hosts when Thomas Vermaelen's fine drive from the edge of the penalty area had to be put over the bar with an outstanding save by Joe Hart in the 90th minute. Despite that, the gravity of this fixture had mostly prevented spirits from soaring. Each team looked as if it was burdened by seriousness. City strove to underline their intent all over again after the woe at Stamford Bridge and Arsenal wanted to show the effectiveness that has characterised them after the troubled start to the campaign.

It ought not to have been a surprise that, at the interval, there had been three bookings but no goals. If Arsenal had two of those yellow cards it reflected the fact that the pressure was on them, if only because City were bent on proving that they could recreate their fluency after that first league defeat at Chelsea. City did that to an extent, but Arsenal had more persistence than anticipated in defence even if the lack of available full-backs required Johan Djourou and Vermaelen, customarily centre-backs, to fill those posts.

It was the contribution of the goalkeeper, Wojciech Szczesny, that did most to leave the match goalless at the interval when he blocked an effort after Mario Balotelli had got behind the Arsenal centre-back Per Mertesacker in the 24th minute. The visitors, unlike City, remain in the Champions League and perhaps the endurance shown in the early exchanges helps to explain that. Arsenal also found moments of encouragement, but much of their energy still went into defending.

The goalkeeping was repeatedly excellent, but City could not be denied indefinitely. After 52 minutes, Balotelli was unmarked on the left and ran free for a drive into the six-yard box that broke free for Silva to escape the close attentions of Vermaelen and put City into the lead from close range.

Samir Nasri, facing his former club, could not quite set up chances, but that hardly mattered. Pablo Zabaleta came close to providing a second goal for City when hitting the post in the 67th minute. City, however, were ultimately relieved just to come through a late onslaught to instantly regain their place at the top of the table from Manchester United.

Teams

Man City Hart, Richards, Kompany, Toure, Zabaleta, Barry, Toure Yaya (De Jong 85), Silva, Aguero, Nasri (Dzeko 85), Balotelli (Milner 72).

Subs Not Used: Pantilimon, Lescott, Johnson, Savic.

Booked: Barry, Aguero.

Goals: Silva 53.

Arsenal Szczesny, Djourou (Miquel 47), Koscielny, Mertesacker (Chamakh 82), Vermaelen, Arteta, Song, Ramsey, Walcott (Arshavin 69), van Persie, Gervinho.

Subs Not Used: Almunia, Rosicky, Frimpong, Benayoun.

Booked: Song, Koscielny, Arteta.

Att: 47,303

Ref: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire).
 

Chelsea 2 Manchester City 1   Capital Punishment
Monday 12th December 2011 : Ian Crosby for GYKO at Stamford Bridge

Manchester City pressed the self-destruct button on Monday night as Chelsea ended their unbeaten start to the Barclays Premier League season and hauled themselves right back into the title race.

City were in cruise control midway through the first half at wet and windy Stamford Bridge, looking every inch champions elect as they tormented their opponents.

Mario Balotelli scored inside two minutes and they should have been 2-0 up - seeing a decent penalty appeal turned down in the process - before simply losing their way.

That allowed Raul Meireles to equalise before half-time after which City simply lost the plot, Gael Clichy picking up two yellow cards in 11 minutes and Joleon Lescott handling in his own box to gift Chelsea their winner.

Frank Lampard was the scorer, coming off the bench to smash home a penalty which ended new manager Andre Villas-Boas' run of defeats against other big teams and propelling his side to third place, seven points behind their opponents.

Victory capped a week to remember for Chelsea - who beat Valencia on Tuesday to seal their place in the Champions League last 16 - while defeat sealed a week to forget for City, who crashed out of the same competition on Wednesday.

They remain favourites to win their first title for 44 years but will have to cut out the indiscipline which has seen them pick up three red cards in their last six Premier League games.

There was no recall for Lampard for what was another potential do-or-die night for Chelsea and Balotelli must have been fearing the same fate after breaking a pre-match curfew.

But the Italian's latest antics failed to deter Roberto Mancini from picking a man who had scored on his previous four Premier League starts this season and took just two minutes to do so again.

The goal owed everything to the brilliance of Sergio Aguero and a slip from Branislav Ivanovic.

Aguero received the ball on the right with his back to goal, carried it inside from the right and played in Balotelli, who shrugged off the wrong-footed Ivanovic, rounded Petr Cech and nonchalantly stroked the ball home.

City were tearing into Chelsea, forcing errors in their opponents' half, and although the hosts looked to have got a grip when Meireles' drive was deflected over in the 10th minute, they should immediately have been 2-0 down.

Ashley Cole gave the ball away, allowing Aguero to race goalward and leave the recalled Jose Bosingwa in a heap before drilling wide.

Bosingwa got away with dangling his leg in the box, prompting David Silva to go down, with referee Mark Clattenburg waving away the appeals.

Clattenburg also failed to spot an altercation between Yaya Toure and Juan Mata which might have seen either player carded, before Didier Drogba forced the first save of note from Joe Hart in the 25th minute.

City's workrate had dipped and they paid the price when former academy graduate Daniel Sturridge brilliantly laid on Chelsea's equaliser.

The ball was sprayed to the forward out on the right and he tricked his way past Clichy and crossed for the arriving Meireles to crash into the net on the volley.

No-one ran to the bench to celebrate, putting paid to suggestions Chelsea's players had been asked to.

Clattenburg's yellow card was soon out, with Meireles and Vincent Kompany both booked before half-time and Clichy just after for hauling back Sturridge.

The left-back then tripped the onrushing Ramires two minutes before the hour mark to earn a deserved second booking and leave City down to 10 men.

Chelsea poured forward but Oriol Romeu - who had become increasingly influential - was carded for felling Balotelli before Kolo Toure was sent on for Aguero.

Chelsea introduced Lampard for Meireles in the 73rd minute shortly before Ramires became the latest player to see yellow for an ugly tackle on Balotelli.

Silva was then replaced by Nigel de Jong and Drogba was booked for going through the back of Pablo Zabaleta.

Chelsea eventually made the breakthrough seven minutes from time, after Lescott handballed. Lampard smashed the penalty straight down the middle and sent Stamford Bridge into ecstasy.

Florent Malouda replaced Mata, Edin Dzeko came on for Lescott and Sturridge was withdrawn for John Obi Mikel - but the game was already up for City.

Teams

Chelsea Cech, Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Terry, Cole, Ramires, Romeu, Meireles (Lampard 73), Sturridge (Mikel 88), Drogba, Mata (Malouda 84).

Subs Not Used: Turnbull, Torres, Ferreira, Kalou.

Booked: Meireles, Romeu, Ramires, Drogba.

Goals: Meireles 34, Lampard 83 pen.

Man City Hart, Zabaleta, Lescott (Dzeko 85), Kompany, Clichy, Milner, Toure Yaya, Barry, Silva (De Jong 75), Aguero (Toure 64), Balotelli.

Subs Not Used: Pantilimon, Johnson, Savic, Nasri.

Sent Off: Clichy (58).

Booked: Kompany, Clichy.

Goals: Balotelli 2.

Ref: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).
 

Manchester City 2 Bayern Munich 0   Out on a High
Wednesday 7th December 2011 : GYKO at the Etihad

Manchester City's maiden Champions League campaign came to an end despite a convincing 2-0 win over an under-strength Bayern Munich on Wednesday night. David Silva and Yaya Toure struck as City produced a fine attacking display to keep their slim hopes of qualifying from Group A alive, but Napoli's defeat of Villarreal undid them. The results mean City will now be competing in the second-tier Europa League in the new year and the latter stages at the Etihad Stadium were played out in a muted atmosphere.

Manager Roberto Mancini had feared such a scenario since defeat to Napoli a fortnight ago but his team could not have done much more tonight. Yet while they may count the cost of a slow start to the campaign, the Barclays Premier League leaders can put the disappointment down to experience and focus on domestic challenges.

The sight of the Bayern team sheet may have offered them hope at the start of the night. The Germans, already qualified for the last 16, were without three stars in Arjen Robben, Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger and left a host of others on the bench. Manuel Neuer, Frank Ribery, Thomas Muller, Mario Gomez and Philipp Lahm were all among the Germans' high-profile substitutes as coach Jupp Heynckes decided to ease up. That left former City defender Jerome Boateng as the only Bayern player to have started all five of their previous group games.

The incentive for City was there and Mancini made just two changes - both in defence - from the side that thrashed Norwich at the weekend with Joleon Lescott and Stefan Savic both coming in. Silva, Samir Nasri and Sergio Aguero were all charged with the responsibility of providing creative spark with Edin Dzeko also providing presence up front. The approach worked as City dominated the game. They created their first serious opportunity after six minutes when Nasri got free down the right and crossed for Aguero but the Argentinian headed over from the penalty spot.

Although they were unfamiliar in personnel, Bayern still showed signs of their usual efficiency as Ivica Olic broke and forced Joe Hart to save low to his right.

City came forward again and Savic, operating at right-back in the absence of the injured Micah Richards, was bundled over by Olic wide of the Bayern area. City thought they had taken the lead as Silva curled the resulting free-kick towards goal and Hans-Jorg Butt let it slip in but the goalkeeper was impeded by Lescott.

Bayern applied some pressure as David Alaba and Anatoliy Tymoshchuk fired over but Nasri also dragged a good chance wide.

City went ahead after 37 minutes when Barry whipped in a good ball and Silva took Dzeko's flick in his stride to strike a superb left-foot shot into the bottom corner from 18 yards. It was no more than the hosts deserved and they could have increased their advantage before the interval as they broke into their considerable stride. Aguero made a brilliant run into the area and slid the ball past Butt only to be denied by a sliding stop from Boateng, who earned boos from the home crowd. Silva then forced Butt to save from a tight angle and Barry shot over on the rebound before Aguero curled another effort wide.

The interval allowed Bayern to regroup and they went close after the restart when Danijel Pranjic shot wide but City soon took a firm grip. Toure instigated another slick move as he fed Aguero before continuing a run into the box. The ball came back to him via another good Dzeko flick and he beat the advancing Butt to toe-poke into the goal.

Bayern showed a further glimpse of their quality as Alaba tested Hart with a dipping half-volley but City quickly recovered as Dzeko shot wide from long range.

With Napoli still being held at this stage, optimism was growing but that soon changed. Barry tested Butt with a fierce 20-yard drive after the hour but word then came through Napoli had gone ahead in Spain. The atmosphere became noticeably more subdued as news of Napoli's opener spread around the ground and for a while the only significant noise came from the large Bayern Munich section.

The sense of anti-climax only deepened when Napoli doubled their lead but City still wanted to go down fighting as Dzeko shot at Butt. Nasri then had a tricky run halted by Butt before shooting wide from 20 yards.

A fine first attempt from City in what was easily the most difficult grouping with their 10 points good enough to take them through in any of the other groups.

Teams

Man City Hart, Savic, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy, Toure Yaya (Balotelli 81), Barry, Nasri, Aguero, Silva (Johnson 83), Dzeko (De Jong 77).

Subs Not Used: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Milner, Toure.

Goals: Silva 37, Toure Yaya 52.

Bayern Munich Butt, Rafinha, Boateng, Badstuber, Contento, Tymoschuk, Gustavo, Olic, Pranjic, Alaba, Petersen (Usami 81).

Subs Not Used: Neuer, Van Buyten, Ribery, Lahm, Muller, Gomez.

Booked: Olic, Gustavo.

Att: 46, 002

Ref: Stephane Lannoy (France).
 

Manchester City 5 Norwich City 1     Cruise Control
Saturday 3rd December 2011 : GYKO at the Etihad

From the Premier League leaders, another performance of control and confidence to demonstrate the seriousness of their title aspirations. Manchester City, believe it or not, did not quite reach their most exhilarating levels, but the pressure was near-unremitting as Norwich became the latest club to find out why Roberto Mancini's team have legitimate reasons to believe they can prise the championship trophy, finger by finger, from Manchester United's grasp.

They have now scored three or more goals in 11 of their 14 league fixtures and 48 in total, the latest rout coming courtesy of five different scorers. Sergio Agüero's first-half strike was followed by a four-goal blitz after the break from Samir Nasri, Yaya Touré and two of the substitutes, Mario Balotelli and Adam Johnson.

In the process, Balotelli may have become the first player this season to score, intentionally, with a volley off his right shoulder. Agüero's 13th goal of an illuminating first season in Manchester was a toe-poke between the legs of two Norwich defenders. This is the modern-day City: double-nutmegs, scoring with all parts of their anatomy, leaving their opponents grateful to hear the final whistle. Once again, they demonstrated the qualities of champions‑in‑waiting.

The only grievance for Mancini was his side's continued inability to keep a clean sheet. Joe Hart has now been beaten in seven successive league matches, which constitutes the longest run of Mancini's tenure. Nonetheless, it hardly represents a major cause for concern when they are so relentlessly prolific at the other end. "People automatically assume we are going to score five, six, seven, eight goals in these fixtures," David Platt, deputising for Mancini in press conference duties, said afterwards. "To be honest, we'd just be happy with one, as long as there isn't one at the other end."

Paul Lambert, the Norwich manager, reflected that 5-1 was "a mauling", although he argued the score was not wholly representative of how the game had gone. But Norwich, after an encouraging start, struggled to replicate the confident performances that have resulted in a draw at Liverpool and giving Manchester United a scare at Old Trafford.

Steve Morison's heavy first touch squandered a wonderful opportunity to take the lead, after Kolo Touré and Vincent Kompany had contrived to let him run clear, and the lesson they will take back to Carrow Road is that, at this level, you cannot afford to be so generous to your opponents.

What followed was a chastening experience for the promoted side from the moment Agüero opened the scoring with a brilliant and almost bewildering goal, wriggling one way, then the other, leaving defender Leon Barnett on his backside, then scoring with an old-fashioned toe-poke through the legs of first Andrew Crofts, and then Marc Tierney.

It was a moment of improvisational brilliance from Agüero – outnumbered, starting off with his back to goal with hardly any room to manoeuvre – that typifies City's confidence inside the penalty area. As Platt said afterwards: "It was always going to take a bit of brilliance to open them up and we have that kind of player."

The second goal owed more to good fortune and came straight from a free-kick, Nasri whipping over a cross that the Norwich defenders left for one another and that the goalkeeper, John Ruddy, helped into the net. Yaya Touré scored the third with a lovely curled effort through a congested penalty area and the home side quickly re-established control after Morison, on 81 minutes, out-jumped Gaël Clichy to head in Grant Holt's cross.

Balotelli made it 4-1 from a rebound after Johnson had set him up and Ruddy had blocked his first effort, the ball spinning into the air to give the Italian his chance to improvise with his finish on the goalline. Then Johnson, busy and eager to impress, completed the rout with a precise finish, running in from the right wing.

Teams

Man City Hart, Richards, Kompany, Toure, Clichy, Silva, Toure Yaya, Barry, Nasri (Johnson 69), Aguero (Balotelli 72), Dzeko (De Jong 82).

Subs Not Used: Pantilimon, Lescott, Milner, Savic.

Goals: Aguero 32, Nasri 51, Toure Yaya 68, Balotelli 88, Johnson 90.

Norwich Ruddy, Naughton, Martin, Barnett, Tierney, Bennett (Holt 60), Crofts, Johnson (Fox 77), Pilkington (Hoolahan 60), Surman, Morison.

Subs Not Used: Rudd, Whitbread, Jackson, Wilbraham.

Booked: Surman.

Goals: Morison 81.

Att: 47, 201

Ref: Howard Webb (S Yorkshire).
 

 

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