November 2011 - Reports
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Arsenal 0 Manchester City 1   A kick up the Arse
Tuesday 29th November 2011 : Lionel Weisman for GYKO at the Emirates

Sergio Aguero came off the bench to fire Manchester City into the semi-finals of the Carling Cup with a 1-0 win at Arsenal.

Both teams had made sweeping changes, but despite plenty of industry from Arsene Wenger's young side - with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain again producing an impressive display - it was big-spending City who had the edge as £35million Argentina striker Aguero slotted home with seven minutes left following a sweeping counter-attack.

The Barclays Premier League leaders will now turn their attentions to securing safe passage into the latter stages of the Champions League next month after the depth of Roberto Mancini's squad again paid dividends.

There was a tribute to late Wales manager Gary Speed, with the away fans spontaneously singing his name followed by applause.

Samir Nasri, on his first return since an acrimonious £24million summer transfer, was booed.

The former Gunners midfielder's first touch was resoundingly booed, before chants of "you only left for the money" rang out around Emirates Stadium.

City winger Adam Johnson's 25-yard effort dipped just over before Arsenal broke down the left through Oxlade-Chamberlain, who fed Marouane Chamakh before the ball was pushed out for Francis Coquelin to whip it back across the six-yard box.

Park Ju-young, who scored in the last round against Bolton, arrived on cue at the far post, only for reserve keeper Costel Pantilimon to make a brilliant reaction save to his left.

The 6ft 8in City keeper was called into action again on 27 minutes when the Romanian - on a one-year loan from Poli Timisoara - made another acrobatic one-handed stop to push away Oxlade-Chamberlain's fierce 20-yard strike which was heading for the top corner.

Laurent Koscielny was alert to knock the ball behind just as Nasri looked set for a tap-in.

Oxlade-Chamberlain continued to be Arsenal's main attacking threat down the right - so much that Mancini made an early change on 32 minutes when he replaced Aleksandar Kolarov with Aguero and switched formation. The Serbian captain looked less than impressed as he slumped into the visitors' dugout.

Arsenal were lively again at the start of the second half, as Oxlade-Chamberlain made more inroads down the right, this time an angled drive beaten away by the City keeper.

Mancini became more animated on the touchline as the visitors failed to make the most of possession, especially when on the break.

Edin Dzeko hooked Zabaleta's cross behind as the Blues maintained their threat before Koscielny made a couple of timely last-gasp tackles.

When Arsenal did work the ball forwards into the City penalty area, Chamakh could only crash an angled drive into the sidenetting.

On 67 minutes, Park was replaced by Ivory Coast frontman Gervinho.

The change gave the Gunners some extra urgency in attack to supplement Oxlade-Chamberlain's tireless running.

Dzeko glanced what was a decent chance wide, before Owen Hargreaves was replaced by Abdul Razak.

Arsenal also made a change for the final 10 minutes of normal time, bringing on Thomas Vermaelen for full-back Ignasi Miquel.

Gervinho scampered away down the right and his low centre was knocked behind away from Yossi Benayoun.

City broke quickly and this time produced a finish worthy of their multi-million pound attack to win the tie with seven minutes left.

Dzeko's long ball split the Arsenal defence, before Johnson brilliantly played in Aguero - and the Argentinian coolly slotted past Lukasz Fabianski.

Arsenal sent on Russian playmaker Andrey Arshavin for Oxlade-Chamberlain in the closing stages as the home side searched for an equaliser, but there was to be no fightback.

Teams:

Arsenal
Fabianski, Djourou, Koscielny, Squillaci, Miquel (Vermaelen 80), Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arshavin 87), Coquelin, Frimpong, Benayoun, Park (Gervinho 67), Chamakh.

Subs Not Used: Mannone, Eastmond, Ozyakup, Yennaris.

Man City Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Toure, Onuoha, Savic, Hargreaves (Razak 79), De Jong, Johnson, Nasri, Kolarov (Aguero 32), Dzeko.

Subs Not Used: Taylor, Richards, Bridge, Suarez, Rekik.

Booked: Hargreaves.

Goals: Aguero 83.

Att: 60, 028

Ref: Lee Probert (Wiltshire).
 

Liverpool 1 Manchester City 1   City all Hart
Sunday 27th November 2011 : Alan Cartwright for GYKO at Anfield


The quest for the Premier League title is as much a trial as an adventure. Even Manchester City, with fathomless means, know there will be days such as this when they are reduced to an almost impoverished condition. Energy reserves among the outfield had been exhausted before the close, but the goalkeeper, Joe Hart, had the spring to pull off a superb save from a header by the substitute Andy Carroll in stoppage time.

Roberto Mancini perhaps anticipated there would be alarms of that sort before the lead in the Premier League was restored to five points with a draw that was only his second of the season in the top flight. In normal circumstances, a club in such a position would be overjoyed. After all, Manchester United had used up a home fixture the previous day when they were held by Newcastle United.

City, though, are denied the right to take comfort in such mundane matters. They have brought that on themselves with the sheer scale of their own ambitions and the funds that propel them. The side, on this evidence, can still be febrile, perhaps best evidenced when the substitute Mario Balotelli was shown a second yellow card in the 83rd minute after catching the Liverpool centre-half Martin Skrtel with his forearm.

The forward had spent just 19 minutes on the field. Mancini might have thought the punishment severe but the indiscipline should still concern him. Life is crammed with incident for City, whether they like it or not. Their midweek defeat at Napoli in the Champions League was draining for the squad and the assumption that they could come to Anfield and lay on a spectacle of sprightly football was unreasonable.

Mancini would have anticipated that energy and keenness would belong mostly to Liverpool. Despite that, it took a particularly silly own goal by Joleon Lescott to put Liverpool on level terms. Even without such idiosyncrasies, City are learning by the day that the reaction to them becomes more intense with each step they take towards the title.

Liverpool chose to be conservative for much of the afternoon. With Lucas Leiva impressing as he covered in front of the back four, they were intent on showing City that there would be no easy route to goal. The nature of the contest made it especially hard for Sergio Agüero to fill the unfamiliar role of lone striker. The goals, both coming before the interval, were not the product of gleaming creativity.

In the 31st minute, City moved in front when Vincent Kompany got away from markers at the near post to meet David Silva's corner kick with a header. If that was simply slipshod defending by Liverpool, the lapse by City that followed two minutes later was absurd. A long-range effort by Charlie Adam was miscued and destined to go well wide until Lescott stuck out a leg and diverted it into his own net.

There was luck in that, but this fixture was never liable to put City are ease. If there is any benefit at all to the setback in Napoli, it lies in the toning down of expectations. In the aftermath of the midweek defeat, Mancini jumped at the opportunity to write off the club's prospects of winning the Champions League this season. Whether or not he was sincere on that matter, he dare not suggest that the Premier League title must also be reserved for some other team.

City faced a daunting occasion, yet Liverpool's record at home has lately offered encouragement. Though Kenny Dalglish's side are unbeaten at Anfield this season, that sequence was made up of four draws and only two wins. The statistics would have been reassuring for City were it not for the craving, among Liverpool fans and players alike, to make this a stressful day for the nouveau riche club.

Nonetheless, Mancini's men stood firm before the compelling ferocity of Anfield, even if Silva might have found the net towards the close instead of seeing the attempt blocked. It would not have been a deserved win for City. Mancini, his usual composed self following the game, was not taken by surprise in any regard.

It must have been on the tip of his tongue to ask whether a point was not a thoroughly tolerable return on the effort put into the contest. Few thought that Manchester United should be downcast when they also recorded a 1-1 result. Apart from that, Mancini would have taken note of the fatigue in his centre-forward, Agüero, among quite a few others.

The manager has been through all the rhythms and biorhythms that can be sensed in a race for a title. He ran up three Serie A titles at Internazionale. The true consequences of this match lie elsewhere. Liverpool's endeavours will have encouraged other challengers. Dalglish may not anticipate a prize of that sort this season but he has given heart to all the other clubs who face City.

Teams

Liverpool Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Jose Enrique, Henderson, Lucas, Adam, Downing, Suarez, Kuyt (Carroll 84).

Subs Not Used: Doni, Maxi, Coates, Spearing, Carragher, Kelly.

Booked: Carroll.

Goals: Lescott 33 og.

Man City Hart, Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy, Toure Yaya, Barry, Milner, Silva (Toure 90), Nasri (Balotelli 65), Aguero (Dzeko 82).

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

Sent Off: Balotelli (83).

Booked: Kompany, Barry, Balotelli, Milner.

Goals: Kompany 31.

Att: 45, 071

Ref: Martin Atkinson (W Yorkshire).

Napoli 2 Manchester City 1    All over now!!
Tuesday 22nd November 2011 : Ken Brooke in Napoli for GYKO

Manchester City are staring at the possibility of leaving the Champions League, just as they were beginning to get acquainted with the competition. They picked a bad time here to misplace the form that has accompanied their rise to the Premier League's summit and are left with the considerable task of having to beat Bayern Munich, the four-times winners, to stand any chance of qualifying.

Even then, it may not be enough. Whatever happens at the Etihad Stadium on 7 December, Roberto Mancini's team will be condemned to the Europa League if Napoli go to Villarreal and win. City may hope for a favour in the final round of Group A fixtures given that Bayern are already through but, equally, the Germans seldom take these assignments lightly, particularly if it means eliminating the team currently at the top of English football. The more pertinent fact may be that Villarreal, without a point, have nothing to play for. "I hope they play a serious match," Mancini volunteered afterwards.

It represents a difficult position, to say the least, for a club with City's ambitions and, for that, they will reflect on a hugely disappointing night. They were beaten by Edinson Cavani's two goals, the Uruguayan opening the scoring in the 17th minute and then re-establishing the lead early in the second half. Mario Balotelli equalised in the 33rd minute but there were only flashes of City's best form and, despite a late onslaught on the home goal, they failed to cope adequately enough with the challenges that were set in this whistling, firecracking, bearpit of a stadium. City's only victories in the Champions League have come against Villarreal and, though Mancini argued he was "not disappointed" with the performance, there is no question they have come up short throughout the competition, going behind in four of their five matches.

The first lesson is about the importance of asserting control. City began the game encouragingly, knocking the ball around nicely and playing with the calmness that might be associated with a team that have accumulated 42 goals in their first dozen league fixtures. But then they became careless and unusually dishevelled, a spell culminating in the kind of soft goal that will make Mancini wince when he sees the replays.

By this point Marek Hamsik had already headed a presentable chance into Joe Hart's arms and Ezequiel Lavezzi had shot narrowly wide after a lovely exchange with Cavani. Hart then tipped Gokhan Inler's long-range shot over the crossbar and it was from Lavezzi's corner that Napoli scored. Cavani flicked the ball goalwards at the near post and the closest defender, Aleksandar Kolarov, was unable to clear before it ricocheted off Hart's knee into the net.

As the volume went up, City needed time to regain their composure and they were grateful that Napoli would be just as obliging with their defending for Balotelli's equaliser. David Silva, increasingly prominent towards the end of the first half, was presented with the ball inside the penalty area and the Spaniard reacted to Salvatore Aronica's loose clearance with a quickly taken shot that the goalkeeper, Morgan De Sanctis, could only parry. Balotelli, playing despite a fever and later seen vomiting on the pitch, turned the ball into an exposed net.

Suddenly the decibel level went down a few notches and, with the interval approaching, City became as the more composed team. Silva was at the hub of it and when he played in the overlapping Kolarov just before half-time De Sanctis could not hold the shot again. This time, however, there was no one in a City shirt to get to the rebound.

Yet what has sometimes been overlooked during City's free-scoring start to the season is that they have not been defending with the parsimony of last season. Four minutes into the second half, Napoli put together a wonderful exchange of penetrative passing, culminating in Andrea Dossena picking out Cavani inside the penalty area. The Uruguayan's first-time shot was struck expertly, combining power and precision in equal measure.

Two-one down, City had to commit more men forward, making for a compelling final half hour. Mancini was entitled to reflect on his team's late pressure – "We didn't deserve to lose," he said – but they were also vulnerable to the counterattack. Lavezzi broke clear only to be denied by Hart and, shortly afterwards, Hamsik tricked Kolarov, advanced into the penalty area and flashed a shot against the post.

Then Balotelli had a couple of chances to salvage the draw that would keep City second in their group. The first was saved. The second was headed over the crossbar. The final whistle blew and City were left to contemplate whether their first season in the Champions League might be nearing its end.

Teams:

Villarreal Diego Lopez, Mario, Rodriguez, Musacchio, Catala, De Guzman (Angel 76), Marchena, Valero, Wakaso (Bordas 76), Perez (Joan Oriol 84), Joselu.

Subs Not Used: Cesar, Gullon, Tomas, Fofo.

Booked: Wakaso, Catala, Musacchio, Marchena, Perez.

Man City Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Savic, Clichy, De Jong, Toure Yaya (Aguero 74), Milner, Silva (Johnson 65), Nasri, Balotelli (Kolarov 82).

Subs Not Used: Pantilimon, Lescott, Dzeko, Barry.

Booked: Balotelli.

Goals: Toure Yaya 30, Balotelli 45 pen, Toure Yaya 71.

Att: 24, 235

Ref: Pedro Proenca (Portugal).

Manchester City 3 Newcastle United 1   Newcastle Pay the Penalty
Saturday 19th November 2011 : GYKO at the Etihad

Manchester City are the only unbeaten team left in the Premier League; in fact, they are unbeaten for a new club record of 15 consecutive top-flight games. Their goal difference has now moved, ludicrously, into the 30s and they accomplished their latest victory in front of their biggest crowd of the season at this ground.

With hardworking Newcastle United not quite capable of raising their game to bridge the gulf in class, the only bad news at the Etihad Stadium was a half-time announcement that the chips had run out and were off the menu on the catering concourses. That produced a chorus of boos and groans, a rare sound at City nowadays, though clearly a club that has just posted the biggest loss in English football history has to start making economies somewhere.

"I told the players they would have to play well to win this game and that is what they did," Roberto Mancini said. "It is always difficult when you play after the international break and Newcastle are a strong side, they played very well. I am happy with the performance because the team keeps improving, but now we have a Champions League game on Tuesday and we know what to expect from Napoli. They are in good form and we will have to play even better to get the result we want in Italy."

Without David Silva in the first half, City were more pedestrian and less inspired than we have seen them of late, though Newcastle still played a dangerous game by leaving Demba Ba as a token presence up front and inviting the home side to do all the attacking. When the visitors almost took the lead after half an hour, with their first real goal attempt of the game – Joe Hart saving from Ba after Hatem Ben Arfa had bamboozled Joleon Lescott – it briefly appeared their cautious strategy might work. Yet, in that first half-hour, City enjoyed more than 70% of possession and, as the chances began to mount up, it was inevitable goals would arrive.

Then they did, two in four minutes. A couple of timely interceptions from Newcastle's centre-backs had already been required to snuff out chances on the six-yard line for Mario Balotelli, before Tim Krul had to tip a header from the Italian over his bar after James Milner's cross.

Just when Newcastle must have been thinking about reaching half-time without conceding, their otherwise impressive defensive organisation was undone by two mistakes in quick succession by Ryan Taylor. First, the left-back blocked Yaya Touré's shot with an outstretched arm to give away a penalty that Balotelli stroked past Krul with ease, then he missed his chance to clear Samir Nasri's through-ball and surrendered possession to Micah Richards in an area where the City player could hardly fail to take advantage.

That was tough on Newcastle, and Taylor in particular, who may have felt he was too close to Touré's shot to get out of the way for the penalty, but had no right to expect leniency having been caught with his arms outspread.

The second half might have been more lively had Ben Arfa scored, instead of hitting Hart's post, after he had done most of the hard work by carrying the ball past Vincent Kompany and Nigel de Jong. Danny Guthrie could have scored, too, but put the ball across the face of goal, at which point City sent on Silva.

Sergio Agüero and Balotelli both went close to extending the lead in the second half, but when Silva replaced the latter, he made an instant impact. Fooling the Newcastle defence with one of his trademark reverse passes, his first touch played Richards into such an expanse of open space that Ben Arfa was obliged to climb all over him and concede another penalty. Agüero scored this one before making way for Adam Johnson. City have another big game in three days and must ration their resources, as well as their chips.

There was still time for James Perch and Ba to fashion a deserved consolation goal for Dan Gosling, but the result was never in doubt, mainly because Newcastle had been unable to covert the chances that came their way.

Teams:

Man City Hart, Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy, Nasri, De Jong, Toure Yaya (Barry 84), Milner, Balotelli (Silva 69), Aguero (Johnson 75).

Subs Not Used: Pantilimon, Dzeko, Kolarov, Toure.

Goals: Balotelli 41 pen, Richards 44, Aguero 72 pen.

Newcastle Krul, Simpson, Steven Taylor, Coloccini, Ryan Taylor, Ben Arfa (Lovenkrands 76), Guthrie, Cabaye (Perch 85), Gutierrez, Ba, Sammy Ameobi (Gosling 79).

Subs Not Used: Elliot, Santon, Smith, Shola Ameobi.

Goals: Gosling 89.

Att: 47, 408

Ref: Chris Foy (Merseyside)

Queens Park Rangers 2 Manchester City 3 
Saturday 5th November 2011 : Ian Shephard for GYKO at Loftus Road

Queens Park Rangers are becoming the side none of the Premier League aristocrats wish to face at Loftus Road. A helter-skelter encounter ended with Manchester City escaping back to the north with all the points when a draw, at least, would have been fairer on Neil Warnock's gang.

Heidar Helguson came agonisingly close to securing a result that would have been as famous as the victory here against Chelsea last month when his late header defeated Joe Hart, but not the bar, and Roberto Mancini's men could depart west London having done what André Villas-Boas's band had not.

"This was our best performance [of the season] given who we were playing," Warnock said. "We got some indifferent press [following] Chelsea, everybody saying it was against nine men. But if you watch the game, for 40 minutes with 11 men we were on top of them as well. So today put that to bed really."

What did he think of the result? "Diabolical. It's a cruel game, you don't get what you deserve sometimes, but that's football. And as well as we've played, we've made three errors in 90-odd minutes against the best team in England if not the world at the moment."

David Platt, City's assistant manager, agreed with Warnock's assessment of QPR's display. "It wasn't tougher than we anticipated, we expected the kind of game we got – you've got to give full credit to Warnock," he said.

"Dare to dream. Dream the impossible and never take no for an answer," had been the exhortation of Tony Fernandes, the QPR owner, to supporters following two weeks in which a 3-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur had been preceded by that 1-0 win here against Chelsea.

After 28 minutes of a pell-mell first half that QPR dominated yet still ended level, the dream came alive again. Joey Barton swung in a free-kick from the right and Jay Bothroyd rose higher than Stefan Savic to head sweetly into the corner beyond Hart.

If the goal had been on the way since kick-off, moments later QPR nearly had the second. Shaun Wright-Phillips was released into acres of space down the left-hand corridor and when his shot was smothered, the ball was relayed to Jamie Mackie: only a finger-tingling save from Hart stopped the forward's rocket from doubling the lead.

As the 45 minutes neared its end, Bothroyd had an easier chance than his earlier strike to further the advantage, as City again failed to deal with the aerial ball, which their title-chasing rivals will note. Helguson stood up a cross from the right, but Bothroyd's header could only clip the post.

City struggled to establish the smooth rhythm that has been evident under Mancini this season, as QPR continually surged forward, winning tackles and headers and generally ensuring the visitors were pinned on their heels.

This stymied City's geometry, the slide-rule passes going awry from even the usually precise David Silva, and Sergio Agüero at one point clumsily knocking-on the ball when he should have controlled it.

But as any top team can and do, City found a way to score, Edin Dzeko ensuring their travelling support ended the half doing the Poznan. The 25-year-old's 15th goal of the season came after he collected James Milner's pass and walked through the area, before swivelling and beating Paddy Kenny to his right.

Fernandes said that the Chelsea victory was for the fans, who will have particularly enjoyed slipping down their pints in this locality afterwards. Noting how QPR got at their near neighbours that day, Mancini had taken no chances in selection against the Premier League's 12th best team, as he chased an eighth win on the bounce.

The XI the Italian fielded was arguably the strongest available, with only Mario Balotelli and Samir Nasri having a decent argument for inclusion. Those two began on the bench. Vincent Kompany, the captain, was suspended so Savic was handed his first start for the club. But as the teams trotted out for the second half, Mancini needed to consider when he might have to tinker.

This was the measure of the job QPR had so far done. And Hart was instantly required to save his side, beating away a fierce left-foot shot blazed at him by Barton. Yet cruelly, QPR were about to fall behind to an offering of sublime skill from Silva. Dzeko moved along the left and found the Spaniard in front of goal, with Danny Gabbidon in attendance and, after a magical shimmy from Silva that left the defender trailing in a different postcode, he drilled home.

Again, the topsy-turvy nature of the contest was about to have a defining influence. First, QPR were awarded an equaliser that should never have been. Armand Traoré had made several marauding runs down the left and after a further foray he picked out Bothroyd. His effort was goal-bound but it skimmed off Helguson, who was in an offside position and beat Hart, yet Martin Atkinson deemed it fair.

City's response was instant. This time Aleksandar Kolarov was the creator, pinging in a cross from which Yaya Touré made no mistake, heading firmly past Kenny to secure the win.

Warnock was left to complain that Mackie should have gone down in the City penalty area late on, calling him "naive".

On this performance, though, his troops are learning fast.

Teams

QPR Kenny, Young, Gabbidon, Ferdinand, Traore (Hill 90), Mackie (Smith 84), Barton, Faurlin, Wright-Phillips, Bothroyd (Puncheon 76), Helguson.

Subs Not Used: Murphy, Orr, Derry, Andrade.

Booked: Barton.

Goals: Bothroyd 28, Helguson 69.

Man City Hart, Richards, Savic, Lescott, Kolarov, Barry (Balotelli 75), Toure Yaya, Milner, Silva, Aguero (Johnson 68), Dzeko (Toure 88).

Subs Not Used: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Nasri, Clichy.

Booked: Balotelli.

Goals: Dzeko 43, Silva 52, Toure Yaya 74.

Att: 18,076

Ref: Martin Atkinson (W Yorkshire).
 

Villarreal 0  Manchester City 3        City Reign in Spain
Wednesday 2nd November 2011 : Graham Spencer for GYKO at El Madrigal Stadium Spain

The only discomfort Roberto Mancini felt came in the form of the bang on the head that required him to watch a significant part of this game with an icepack held against his crown. "The dugout here is very dangerous," the Manchester City manager winced afterwards, but otherwise this was a pain-free evening for his team, beating the Spaniards for the second time in two weeks to invigorate hope of qualifying for the knockout phase.

City have now moved ahead of Napoli, defeated 3-2 at Bayern Munich, into second position in Group A and can plan ahead to their assignment with the Italians on 22 November with a renewed sense of confidence. Stadio San Paolo, with almost 60,000 impassioned Neapolitans shoehorned inside, will be a far more daunting proposition than El Madrigal but City are increasingly showing they are intrepid travellers. They will qualify if they can win and after taking a solitary point from their first two games, they deserve credit for keeping their nerve in challenging circumstances.

Villarreal were obliging opponents and will almost certainly finish with the group's wooden spoon, having not taken a single point so far, but there was still something impressively professional and disciplined about the way City ran out easy winners, with two goals from Yaya Touré sandwiching the penalty from Mario Balotelli that gave them a 2-0 first-half lead. After scoring three or more times in eight of their first 10 Premier League fixtures they have now found the trick in Europe, even with Sergio Agüero given the night off until the 74th minute.

This is a team bristling with a rare form of confidence. There was also the sense that City might actually be holding something back, only sporadically touching the heights that have taken them to the top of the Premier League.

The truth is they did not have to be at their very best because Villarreal, currently 13th in La Liga, looked a disjointed side and this was an opportune moment to meet them, with a full-blown injury crisis afflicting Juan Carlos Garrido's squad. They had eight regular players missing, and there was the clear sense that the Spaniards' luck was out. They were, in other words, ripe to be beaten and City did so with a clinical performance.

After a quiet start, the game turned in city's favour on the half-hour, when David Silva worked the ball through to Touré, just inside the penalty area, and the Ivorian eluded the nearest defender, Gonzalo Rodríguez, with an ease that is uncommon at this level of competition. Touré took a touch to steady himself before side-footing the ball past the goalkeeper, Diego López, and from that point onwards there was never any sense that City would relinquish their winning position.

Villarreal had acquitted themselves ably two weeks earlier but here there was never a prolonged spell when Joe Hart's goal was put under sustained pressure and once Balotelli had made it 2-0, the City supporters in the most vertiginous part of the stadium were entitled to conclude that their team were in the process of establishing themselves in an increased position of strength.

Balotelli had flickered only sporadically until this point but the way he slipped the ball through José Catalá's legs to get into the penalty area told of a man playing with great confidence. Mateo Musacchio was guilty of leading with a forearm as he and Rodríguez both tried to beat Balotelli to the ball and, after picking himself up, the striker nonchalantly scored the penalty despite a laser pen being shone into his face from behind López's net.

It was his seventh goal in as many games and the pity is that it provoked a depressing yet now familiar reaction from the Villarreal crowd. Spain my have some of the most refined players on the planet but the nation's football fans continue to undermine it with the frequency with which they are willing to resort to racist abuse.

Mostly, however, the Villarreal supporters were frustrated with their own team. City's dominance continued in the second half and after 71 minutes Balotelli led a counterattack on the left, sweeping a pass into Touré's path as the midfielder strode down the middle. He stepped inside one challenge and finished emphatically.

By that stage David Silva had left the pitch with a bang to the back, but Mancini reported it is "not serious" and said the player should be available to face QPR on Saturday. The manager should also pass a late fitness test. "They need to change the bench here," he said, rubbing his head. "Exactly the same happened when I came here with Inter five years ago."

Teams:

Villarreal Diego Lopez, Mario, Rodriguez, Musacchio, Catala, De Guzman (Angel 76), Marchena, Valero, Wakaso (Bordas 76), Perez (Joan Oriol 84), Joselu.

Subs Not Used: Cesar, Gullon, Tomas, Fofo.

Booked: Wakaso, Catala, Musacchio, Marchena, Perez.

Man City Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Savic, Clichy, De Jong, Toure Yaya (Aguero 74), Milner, Silva (Johnson 65), Nasri, Balotelli (Kolarov 82).

Subs Not Used: Pantilimon, Lescott, Dzeko, Barry.

Booked: Balotelli.

Goals: Toure Yaya 30, Balotelli 45 pen, Toure Yaya 71.

Att: 24,235

Ref: Pedro Proenca (Portugal).
 

 

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