Swansea City 1 Manchester City
1 Just Enough
Sunday 15th May 2016 : Bryn Jones for GYKO at
the Liberty Stadium
Manuel Pellegrini said an emotional goodbye to
Manchester City on Sunday with the job of securing Champions League
football for next season as good as done. There is still the
mathematical possibility of Manchester United beating Bournemouth
19-0 or more when their match is replayed, which would lift United
into fourth and relegate Manchester City into next season’s Europa
League. But it is not likely.
The events at Old Trafford coloured the whole day, as they did at
football grounds across England. The possibility was even discussed
here of delaying the match so as for this game to finish at the same
time as United’s, although when that game was cancelled this was one
started at 3pm.
The fact that even now only 379 games of this Premier League season
have been played means that Manchester City could not quite drive
home with their place in the August play-off round of the Champions
League formally confirmed.
But there was still a tangible sense of the job having been
completed when the game ended at 1-1. It was a match rather fitting
of their whole season: too open at the back, not enough control in
midfield and not quite sharp enough up front. But they got the job
done, and when Pellegrini threw his suit jacket into the away end he
looked like a man satisfied with how he has left the club he took
over in 2013.
Pellegrini was emotional and there were also farewells for City
players who may not be retained by Pep Guardiola this summer. Yaya
Toure came on in injury time to see the draw through to its
conclusion and this will surely be the end of his glittering time in
Manchester. Pep Guardiola will not have been watching this game,
given his spent the afternoon celebrating his third straight
Bundesliga title with Bayern Munich. But when he watches the DVD he
will have seen a set of players who will certainly benefit from his
firm guidance next season.
Manuel Pellegrini chose the same 11 players who drew 2-2 with
Arsenal last Sunday, and the game went the same way. City had
numbers and intent going forward but, with no Yaya Toure or David
Silva in midfield, there was not enough control or patience against
a side good enough to open them up.
Manchester City flew forward from the start and took the first
chance that they created. Kevin De Bruyne broke down to the left
by-line and pulled the ball back, Sergio Aguero’s shot hit
Kristoffer Nordfeldt and the rebound was tapped in by Kelech
Iheanacho. The goal was initially disallowed for offside, only to be
reallowed by Mike Dean as Angel Rangel was lying on the ground near
Once ahead, Manchester City pushed for a second, but lacked the
precision to score it. Jesus Navas played in Aguero who shot into
the side-netting. Iheanacho shot over, De Bruyne shot at Nordfeldt,
then so did Aguero, who should have done better. The visitors lacked
control but were always dangerous on the break and when De Bruyne
volleyed a brilliant pass out to Navas, he could have expected a
return ball, rather than Navas curling an ambitious shot wide.
But Swansea City, even without three of their best players, were
good enough to obvious gaps in Pellegrini’s side. Andre Ayew was
dangerous as a mobile front man and was well-supported by Jefferson
Montero on the left. The Ecuadorean winger was unfortunate to have a
headed equaliser disallowed for only slight contact with Bacary
Sagna at the far post.
Swansea had to ride their luck at the back, but in Leroy Fer, Leon
Britton and Jack Cork they had a midfield to out-number Fernando and
Fernandinho. So it proved, just before the break, when Swansea
equalised. Nicolas Otamendi charged out of defence and fouled
Britton. Ayew took the free-kick, it hit Fernando and flew into the
top corner. Joe Hart had no chance.
Conceding was what Manchester City deserved, for missing their
chances and allowing too many to Swansea. It gave them the prospect
of an anxious second-half, knowing that a defeat would open fourth
place back up for Manchester United back when their match against
Bournemouth was replayed.
At first, Pellegrini pushed on, with the same open formation. This
meant that Manchester City still created chances, but their forwards
still looked disjointed in the final third. Iheanacho, whose touch
deserted him after his opening goal, scuffed City’s two best
openings while Aguero, almost too keen to score as he pursued the
Golden Boot, snatched at another good chance.
There were only 18 minutes left when Pellegrini finally brought on
an extra midfielder, as Samir Nasri replaced the mis-firing
Iheanacho and gave City a way to keep the ball. They moved
comfortably through the game’s final stages, knowing that fourth was
as good as secured. Swansea did not have much motivation to disrupt
them and when the game ended both teams treated it as a win, the
City players going over to their fans first, celebrating fourth,
before the Swansea players had their own lap of appreciation after
stabilising their own season to finish mid-table. Both teams will
hope for more next year.
Swansea City: Nordfeldt, Rangel, Fernandez, Amat, Kingsley, Britton,
Cork, Fer, Routledge (Barrow 58), Montero (Gomis 82), Ayew
Unused subs: Vickers, Naughton, Fulton, Gorre, Emnes
Manchester City:Hart, Sagna, Otamendi, Mangala, Clichy, Fernando,
Fernandinho, Navas, De Bruyne, Iheanacho (Nasri 72), Aguero (Yaya
Toure 90) Unused
subs:Caballero, Sterling, Kolarov, Demichelis, Bony
Bookings:Iheanacho, Otamendi, Sagna
Referee: Mike Dean
Manchester City 2 Arsenal 2
Sunday 8th May 2016 : GYKO at the Etihad
This riveting draw takes Manchester City’s bid to qualify for the
Champions League out of their hands and gives that advantage to
Manchester United. The numbing disappointment of this was evident at
the end as the home support rapidly left and Khaldoon al‑Mubarak,
the chairman, and chief executive, Ferran Soriano, stood stony
faced. It also meant that when Manuel Pellegrini and his players
re-emerged 15 minutes later the Chilean endured the embarrassment of
giving a farewell speech to a near-empty Etihad Stadium.
In Pellegrini’s final home match as manager, City knew that beating
Arsenal would pile maximum pressure on United who would have to win
at West Ham United on Tuesday or see their own top‑four challenge
Instead, a breathless end-to-end affair closed with the Sky Blues on
65 points and Arsenal 68 with next Sunday’s final games to go. If
West Ham are beaten, United will lift themselves to 66 points and
become favourites to edge out their cross-town rivals for fourth
Towards the end, the usually lethal Sergio Agüero steered a
left-foot volley wide and later Pellegrini threw on Yaya Touré and
Wilfried Bony – who hit the bar three minutes from the close – but
it was to no avail.
City had required only eight minutes to take the lead and two to let
it slip. They pressed the visitors back as Kevin De Bruyne took an
opening corner from the left, then the first free-kick from the same
Each of these yielded nothing but when play switched to the right
this changed. Jesús Navas was one of four players in City’s XI who
survived from Pellegrini’s opening home game in August 2013 – a 4-0
defeat of Newcastle United – along with Joe Hart, Fernandinho and
Agüero. The Spaniard is maligned for lacking devilry but the scooped
ball to Fernandinho to turn Arsenal’s defence belied this. From here
the Brazilian headed down and back towards Agüero. The Argentinian
made a mug of Mohamed Elneny with a touch that created the chance
and his left foot did the rest, beating Petr Cech for a 24th Premier
League strike this season.
It was precisely the start City wanted. Yet within seconds they
ceded the advantage and could only blame themselves. The corner from
which Olivier Giroud would beat Hart was a gift, after Clichy
decided to head a cross back to the goalkeeper only to wrong-foot
him and come close to registering an own goal, the ball going wide
to the right.
From the ensuing kick City compounded this sloppiness by failing to
mark Giroud. The Frenchman’s header past Hart was convincing but the
nearest to City player to him, Fernando, only reacted afterwards: in
anger, perhaps at himself.
After the game it was confirmed that Vincent Kompany’s thigh problem
will ensure he misses Belgium’s 2016 European Championship campaign
and the start of the Pep Guardiola era.
Twenty-one minutes in Danny Welbeck suffered his own injury. The
striker went down after trying to tackle Bacary Sagna, and having
sustained a suspected lateral meniscus problem of his right knee his
availability for England at Euro 2016 is now under threat, too. What
the No23 left behind was an entertaining if uneven match as each
side struggled to establish any rhythm.
An illustration of the helter-skelter fare came when Fernando
claimed the ball near the centre spot and sent it skimming towards
Agüero, who burned off Laurent Koscielny. Cech came hurtling out but
his challenge left him on the floor and, with Agüero still in
possession, Arsenal were fortunate the score remained even.
The second half began as a listless affair until De Bruyne took
charge. Héctor Bellerín will not wish to see video analysis of how
he allowed the Belgian to outmuscle him near halfway. From here De
Bruyne still had work to do, and he did it – leaving Bellerín
trailing as he drove at a back-pedalling Arsenal, cut inside and
banged a right-foot finish past Cech, inside the right post.
This had Pellegrini and the Sky Blue faithful roaring. It stunned
the visitors and wrestled the initiative City’s way. However,
Arsenal came back to enjoy a period of dominance and they came close
to equalising via Theo Walcott.
A 59th-minute replacement for Alex Iwobi, the England player got in
behind but a clumsy touch meant the ball ran away from him. Then,
Arsenal did score. Nacho Monreal was involved along the left before
Alexis Sánchez took over. He fashioned a slick one-two with Giroud
and let fly a shot that beat Hart for his 13th league goal this
Beforehand Pellegrini was thanked by the owner, Sheikh Mansour.
Writing in the programme, Al-Mubarak said: “Manuel has [won] two
domestic trophies, a memorable Premier League title, and our best
finish to date in Europe’s premier competition. Significantly, he
has ensured these achievements have been reached by attacking,
entertaining football. Our club will always be grateful.”
The emotion may seriously dampen if City finish only in fifth. This
would also mean Guardiola managing a club in the Europa League for
the first time in his glittering career.
Hart (C), Sagna, Mangala, Otamendi, Clichy, Fernando (Toure 78mins),
Fernandinho, Navas (78mins), De Bruyne, Iheanacho (Sterling 68mins),
Unused subs: Caballero, Angelino, Demichelis, Delph
Bookings:Otamendi 90mins, Fernandinho 90mins
Arsenal:Cech, Bellerin, Gabriel, Koscielny (C), Monreal, Elneny,
Ramsey, Welbeck (Wilshere 24mins), Iwobi (Walcott 58mins), Sanchez,
Unused subs:Ospina, Gibbs, Coquelin, Cazorla, Campbell
Real Madrid 1 Manchester City 0
Wednesday 4th May 2016 : Daniel Westwood for
GYKO at the Bernabau
Perhaps the most harrowing part for Manchester
City amid all the regrets and raw disappointment is the way large
parts of this game seemed to pass them by. Manuel Pellegrini’s team
came up short in most areas but it was their lack of punch, their
blandness in attack and the way that key players failed them on the
big occasion that were the most startling. Vincent Kompany injury
again highlights Manchester City’s damning weakness
There is no shame to lose to Real Madrid and, ultimately, it was a
goal of considerable fortune, deflected into his own net by
Fernando, that means San Siro will be full of Madridistas on 28 May.
Yet City should not push the hard-luck line too much when they could
not even muster a shot on target. They managed only one in the first
leg, a 91st-minute free-kick, and it was perplexing to see a team
normally renowned for attacking flair opting for the pea-shooter as
their form of artillery.
Pellegrini argued afterwards that his team had not deserved to lose
but they certainly did not do enough to win on a strangely subdued
night for Sergio Agüero, Kevin De Bruyne and their other attacking
players. Agüero did not manage a single shot on target for the fifth
Champions League tie in a row.
Yaya Touré had the excuse that he was not fully fit, lasting only an
hour, but nobody should be too surprised by the inability of Jesús
Navas to leave a favourable impression on a big match. The late
onslaught from Pellegrini’s team that might have been anticipated
never materialised and, however much their departing manager tried
to dress it up, the harsh reality was that City left the party in a
way that should never be regarded as satisfactory, quietly closing
the door behind themselves.
Instead Milan can brace itself for an all-Madrid final, just as it
was at Lisbon in 2014, and it was an awkward moment afterwards when
Pellegrini said he did not believe that Zinedine Zidane’s team had
accumulated 15 attempts at goal, even though it was on the official
Uefa statistics sheet and did not seem unreasonable in the
For City, there was the moment towards the end of the first half
when Fernandinho’s shot skimmed off a post and, late on, a
long-range shot from Agüero that landed on the roof of the net.
Those apart, however, the most expensively assembled team in English
football rarely attacked with real conviction.
Nor could it be said they had lost to one of the more formidable
Real teams. Luka Modric was outstanding in the home side’s midfield
but Cristiano Ronaldo did not look entirely recovered from a
hamstring injury. Zidane’s side are certainly not as devastating as
the days when he was in the team rather than on the touchline, but
City reacted badly to losing Vincent Kompany to his unending injury
issues and it took them far too long to shake their heads clear.
Pellegrini had said something similar beforehand about his own team
but what he had not anticipated was that Kompany’s involvement would
last only 10 minutes. Kompany is a fine captain – at least when his
body allows – but his injuries are becoming as synonymous with the
modern-day City as inflatable bananas were with the old one. In
total, there have been 33 in his seven and a half years at City and
the latest one came with the worst timing of all.
All the same, it was strange to see the way City allowed that early
setback to disrupt their rhythm. They were punished in the 20th
minute when Dani Carvajal advanced from his full-back position and
Gareth Bale was in space, waiting for the pass. Cutting in from the
right, Bale’s intention was to clip a cross to the far post but the
ball took a nick off Fernando and that deflection was decisive. The
ball flicked over Hart, spinning beneath the point of crossbar and
post, and though Bale was announced as the scorer Uefa later ruled
it should be classified as an own goal.
It was desperately unlucky for City but, equally, Pellegrini must
have been startled by his team’s attempts to rescue themselves. An
away goal would have dramatically changed the complexion of the
night and as long as that was possible, that knowledge was never far
from the minds of the home crowd.
Yet there was never a period of the game when City put their hosts
under sustained pressure. David Silva’s absence always affects the
team’s cohesion but De Bruyne ought to have done more to make up for
the Spaniard’s absence. Navas was always on the edges of the game –
a place he has come to know far too well – while Touré was off the
pace during his hour on the pitch. Afterwards, a Spanish journalist
asked Zidane if he agreed that Touré had looked as old as his shirt
number – 42
Modric had a chance to make it 2-0 early in the second half but,
perhaps suspecting he was offside, could not apply the necessary
finish. Joe Hart kept out Ronaldo with a couple of saves and Bale
turned a header against a post from a second-half corner. Pellegrini
brought on Raheem Sterling and Kelechi Iheanacho but the game
drifted to its finale without any real sense that City might conjure
up some late drama
Real Madrid CF:K Navas, Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo, Kroos,
Modric (Kovacic 87), Bale, Isco (James 67), Jese (Vazquez 56),
Unused subs:Casilla, Mayoral, Danilo, Varane
Manchester City:Hart, Sagna, Kompany (Mangala 10), Otamendi, Clichy,
Fernando, Fernandinho, Toure (Sterling 61), Navas (Iheanacho 69), De
Bruyne, Aguero Unused subs:Caballero,
Kolarov, Delph, Bony
Southampton 4 Iheanacho 2
Sunday 1st May 2016 : Barry Penn for GYKO at
Not the best preparation for Real Madrid, nor the
best message to Manchester United. This was as comfortable a match
for Southampton as it was a wretched one for Manchester City,
depleted and disconnected while Sadio Mané tore them to shreds.
Mané’s hat-trick capped a rampant display from Saints and, while
Manuel Pellegrini can rightly argue about being hung out to dry by
the Premier League schedule, this result will hardly immerse his
squad in confidence before a daunting European semi-final in the
Spanish capital on Wednesday.
“Are you watching, Real Madrid?” chanted the City fans ironically
once Mané had completed his hat-trick, with Shane Long having given
Southampton the lead and Dusan Tadic orchestrating things
beautifully in midfield. Kelechi Iheanacho was the only City player
to emerge with any pride, scoring one goal before half-time and a
stunning late consolation.
The result meant City finished the day four points above Manchester
United, having played a game more, and with their rivals having
three matches left to play after their earlier draw against
Leicester. Louis van Gaal had conceded some ground in the battle for
a top-four place after his side’s match, but this performance means
the race is not quite over yet.
For City, only three players who started here also did in the
midweek first leg against Real Madrid, which ended goalless. Joe
Hart, Nicolás Otamendi and Fernandinho remained, and this
unrecognisable side were sliced through with ease on numerous
occasions. There were too often gaping spaces for Southampton to
exploit in wide areas, with Pablo Zabaleta and – in particular –
Aleksandar Kolarov regularly abandoning their defensive duties.
Tadic caused major problems yet it was Mané who walked away with the
match ball. It was his second Premier League hat-trick – his first
being the quickest in history, last season – and it propelled Ronald
Koeman’s side above Liverpool into seventh.
Of Mané, the Southampton manager said: “He is still a young player
and sometimes they need to be more consistent and that is why we
train and work with all the players. A bit unpredictable but he was
focused and clinical. That was one of my critics to all the strikers
but we are very productive at home with more chances to score more.
“You can talk about the changes of Manchester City but that is not
fair. Give all the credit to Southampton because the performance was
“From the start we caused them a lot of problems with the movement
of Sadio and Shane [Long]. Dusan and [Steven] Davis were fantastic.”
Fraser Forster had palmed away a Raheem Sterling shot after
Iheanacho had outmanoeuvred Virgil van Dijk on the touchline but
Southampton were into their stride early on and within eight minutes
of that chance for Sterling, City were two down and blue shirts in
defence wore vacant stares.
The Saints right-back, Cuco Martina, lofted a ball through for Tadic
in the 25th minute and, with the Serb flying at pace, he deftly
lifted it across goal with a single touch of the left foot and Long
prodded past Hart.
Seconds later City were cut apart again. Once more the opportunity
arose from a lack of cohesion down City’s left, Victor Wanyama
breaking up play in midfield and feeding Tadic, who advanced and
slipped a precise ball between Kolarov and Eliaquim Mangala to Mané,
who emphatically finished past Hart.
Iheanacho clawed City back into the match before half-time and the
19-year-old was the only City player injecting a sense of urgency
into their play. In the 44th minute he fed Samir Nasri out wide
right and headed the resulting ball in past Forster following a
ricochet off Martina at the far post.
Pellegrini was impressed by Iheanacho but admitted it was unlikely
the youngster would force his way into the side for the Real game.
“We start thinking tomorrow about what will be the starting XI for
Wednesday,” said the City manager. “Kelechi today scored two goals
and is doing well in all the games but for the moment I am not
thinking about that.”
In the 57th minute Southampton had a third. Davis whipped in a
corner and, although Van Dijk’s header was tipped excellently on to
the bar by Hart, the rebound hit the turf and fell to Mané at the
far post who swept home.
The Senegalese attacker completed his hat-trick in the 68th minute.
Van Dijk outmuscled Iheanacho in midfield and Tadic fed Mané on the
counterattack, with the finish once again assured.
There was still time for a pearler from Iheanacho on the edge of the
Southampton penalty area, but as the home fans sang: “Gareth Bale,
he’s coming for you,” Manchester City’s heads dropped and hope
Southampton:Forster, van Dijk, Fonte, Bertrand, Martina, Clasie (Romeu
59), Davis (Ward-Prowse 73), Mané, Wanyama, Tadic (Rodriguez 87),
subs:Stekelenburg, Soares, Austin, Yoshida
Manchester City:Hart, Zabaleta, Otamendi, Mangala, Kolarov, Delph
(Navas 64), Fernandinho (Demichelis 60), Nasri, Sterling, Iheanacho,
Unused subs:Caballero, Sagna, Clichy, Fernando, Aguero
Manchester City 0 Real Madrid 0
Tuesday 26th April 2016 : GYKO at the Etihad
The question lingering in the air for Manchester
City as they reflect on a night of few chances and surprising torpor
is whether this might ultimately be remembered as a missed
opportunity bearing in mind the notable absentee from Real Madrid’s
starting lineup. Once again, we saw the evidence that Madrid without
Cristiano Ronaldo are a vase without a flower. Yet City did not do
enough to exploit it, or even come close, and it might be they come
to regret playing with so little attacking impetus.
For now, nobody can say until the two sides have renewed
acquaintances in the Bernabéu next Wednesday, but it was certainly
unusual for City to operate with so little menace and disappointing,
undoubtedly, that they waited until stoppage time before Kevin De
Bruyne’s free-kick, tipped over the crossbar by Keylor Navas,
offered their crowd a sliver of penalty-area drama.
Sergio Agüero chose a bad night to put in one of his least effective
performances of the season and their opponents should be encouraged
by the way they controlled large parts of the second half,
culminating in a number of chances that could have resulted in them
taking a lead into the return leg. Jesé, a half-time replacement for
Karim Benzema, placed one header against the crossbar and it needed
a point-blank save from Joe Hart, the ball thudding off his chest
when a corner was knocked down to Pepe inside the six-yard area, for
the game’s best chance.
Madrid could also reflect on a couple of other corners when City
looked vulnerable to the ball coming into their penalty area. Sergio
Ramos really ought to have scored from the first one, aiming his
header straight at Hart, and the England international saved with
his feet when Casemiro turned another effort towards the goal.
Yet it would be wrong to think this was all the result of an elegant
attacking performance from the Spanish team, or that Zinedine
Zidane’s side were not held back by Ronaldo’s hamstring injury.
Madrid still had Gareth Bale but nobody occupies the thoughts of
opposition defenders more than their two-times Ballon d’Or winner
and, without him, they looked conspicuously short of stardust at
times. Ronaldo’s portfolio this season has featured 47 goals in 44
games. He has scored 16, and set up another four, out of Madrid’s 26
goals to reach this semi-final and it was easy to imagine the lift
it gave City’s players when the news filtered through an hour before
kick-off that they would not have to face his improvisational
The regret has to be that they did not take advantage or respond as
might have been anticipated. Their performance never went any higher
than six out of 10 and, ultimately, it leaves Madrid in the stronger
position, albeit a marginal advantage. The aggregate score from
Madrid’s home fixtures in this season’s Champions League – 18-0 –
puts it into context.
Towards the end, with Bale, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos becoming
increasingly influential, there was also the clear sense that Madrid
had worked out they were the superior team. Earlier on, it had not
been so evident and in the first half City could be encouraged by
the frequency with which La Liga’s third-placed team misplaced
passes and the surprising lack of fluency from the record 10-times
European Cup winners.
It was rare to see the side from the Bernabéu playing so scruffily
but that made it even more disappointing from City’s perspective
that they could not move the ball more effectively themselves. For
all De Bruyne’s intelligent probing, the home team did not force a
noteworthy save out of Navas before half-time.
Agüero has had a habit this season of excelling against lesser teams
but lacking dynamism in bigger matches. Jesús Navas is a regular
disappointment at the highest level, rarely making a decisive
impact, and Kelechi Iheanacho found it difficult to get into the
match after replacing David Silva, injured late in the first half.
It became a long slog for City and, though both sides showed a
willingness to attack, it was perplexing to see so many talented
players struggling to have a favourable impact.
For Madrid, it took a long time before they started passing the ball
with any authority. Lucas Vázquez, Ronaldo’s replacement, was on the
periphery of the first half and Bale, like a lot of his team-mates,
spent a lot of time huffing and puffing without managing anything
Bale had plenty of the ball but did not always do a great deal with
it and there were also a couple of reminders that he still has a
habit of going to ground in suspicious circumstances, especially in
and around the penalty area.
He did, however, take a prominent part when Madrid finally started
knocking the ball around in a way more associated with this team.
They controlled large swathes of the second half but, even then,
there were still moments when Madrid’s players gave up the ball in a
way that had Zidane roaring with dismay on the touchline.
Both teams will feel they could have played much more cohesive,
joined-up football but the emphasis was really on City to make the
most of their home advantage.
Agüero, in particular, had a frustrating evening, crowded out by
Pepe and Ramos, and on the balance of play a goalless draw was
probably the most City deserved. Madrid might not be so scary sans
Ronaldo but they still created the game’s better chances and if City
are to reach the San Siro on 28 May it will need a more rounded
performance in the return leg.
Manchester City: Hart, Sagna, Kompany, Otamendi, Clichy, Fernando,
Fernandinho, Silva (Iheanacho 40), Navas (Sterling 77), De Bruyne,
Unused subs:Caballero, Mangala, Kolarov, Zabaleta, Delph
Real Madrid CF: Keylor Navas, Carvajal, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo,
Casemiro, Kroos (Isco 90), Modric, Bale, Lucas Vázquez, Benzema (Jese
Unused subs:Casilla, Varane, James Rodríguez, Kovačić, Danilo
Referee:Cuneyt Cakir (TUR)
Manchester City 4 Stoke City 0
Saturday 23rd April 2016 : GYKO at the Etihad
Pablo Zabaleta is a cult hero to the Manchester
City faithful and unsung in the wider football consciousness. Yet
the way he zoomed along the right then selflessly created the third
goal for Kelechi Iheanacho was a moment worthy of marking his 300th
appearance for the club.
The Nigerian’s 10th of a breakthrough campaign allowed his team to
cruise home, and Iheanacho scored a second towards the end after the
substitute Wilfried Bony played him in.
On Tuesday Real Madrid are at this stadium for the Champions League
semi-final first leg and this was ideal preparation. The win lifted
Manuel Pellegrini’s men up to third place on 64 points with three
matches remaining, though Arsenal can leapfrog them if they win at
Sunderland on Sunday.
Pellegrini said: “It was very important to have our mind focused on
this game and not on Tuesday. I always say a big team must be able
to have their minds in both competitions.”
In the buildup Pellegrini said Vincent Kompany had suffered no
reaction following Tuesday night’s 1-1 draw at Newcastle. That game
was a first start following a knee injury yet when the match-day
squad was announced the captain was not in the 18. In explanation,
the manager said: “For Vincent it was a risk to play two games in 72
hours. He is OK, he worked this morning.”
Kevin De Bruyne was stood down to the bench to protect him as
Iheanacho was given a first league start since a 1-0 win at
Sunderland on 2 February.
In the reverse fixture in early December Pellegrini’s side were
taught a lesson, Stoke beating them 2-0. The start on Saturday
suggested a different story. There were chances for each team but
none of the slick passing and domination Mark Hughes’s side enjoyed
at the Britannia Stadium.
Jesús Navas was the key man in the opener. The Spaniard had already
danced inside towards traffic when possession returned to him. Now,
he raced to the byline and hit a low cross which was turned away for
a corner. Navas pinged over a ball that found Fernando and his
glancing header beat Shay Given at the far post.
This was 35 minutes in and just reward for City. They had a second
as the interval neared. What can be missed in Sergio Agüero’s act as
a supreme goalscorer is how sweet a footballer he is. So it was that
the 27-year-old played a killer pass along the right touchline that
would lead to the penalty he converted for a 23rd Premier League
strike of another standout campaign.
When the play eventually reached Stoke’s area, Iheanacho was pulled
down by Ryan Shawcross and the referee, Robert Madley, pointed to
the spot. Up stepped Agüero to give Given no chance to his right.
At the break Hughes might have reminded his players of the maxim
about taking chances with particular reference to Shawcross. During
the first half the captain was handed a free volley from a corner,
but missed to Joe Hart’s right.
Given’s inclusion at 40 made him the first in Stoke colours to
feature in the league in his fifth decade since Sir Stanley
Matthews. But the goalkeeper was withdrawn at half-time because of a
groin injury and Jakob Haugaard took his place. The Dane was in
action immediately, tipping away Iheanacho’s long-range attempt.
After David Silva was withdrawn three minutes before the hour –
Fabian Delph coming on – Stoke brightened briefly. Marko Arnautovic
cut inside from the left and hammered a shot at Hart that the
goalkeeper beat out.
Now, though, came the Iheanacho show, with fine support from
Zabaleta and Bony. There was a scare near the end as Yaya Touré went
down injured and he might have come off. Pellegrini hopes the
Ivorian will be fine. “Yaya, maybe the doctor will see him tomorrow,
he finished with a muscle injury, we’ll see,” said the Chilean.
Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Mangala, Otamendi, Toure,
Fernando (Demichelis 72), Navas, Silva (Delph 57), Iheanacho, Aguero
Unused subs: Caballero, Clichy, De Bruyne, Sterling
Stoke City:Given (Haugaard 46), Bardsley, Shawcross, Wollscheid,
Muniesa, Cameron, Whelan, Imbula, Diouf, Arnautovic (Adam 76),
Unused subs:Teixeira, Crouch, Krkic, Choulay, Shenton
Referee: Robert Madley
Newcastle United 1 Manchester
City 1 Magpies Hold City
Tuesday 19th April 2016 : Alan Bates for GYKO
at St James Park
With Cheik Tioté and Moussa Sissoko back to their
best Newcastle United not only hinted at what might have been had
Rafael Benítez’s appointment come a little sooner but also
highlighted Manchester City’s slapdash tendencies.
At the final whistle it felt like two points lost for a Newcastle
team who at least confirmed that if they are to be relegated they
will go down with all guns blazing but, significantly, Benítez’s
players are in touching distance of Sunderland and Norwich, one and
two points behind respectively.
If that pair have reason to be nervous Real Madrid – City’s
Champions League semi-final opponents next week – should be quietly
confident. As exceptional as Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Agüero are,
Manchester United, too, have cause for cautious optimism that Manuel
Pellegrini’s sublime yet at times sloppy side may yet be leapfrogged
in the quest for a Champions League place.
It might have been worse for City had Georgino Wijnaldum, newly off
the home bench, polished off a late chance to win a thoroughly
compelling game that Benítez’s side had seemed likely to lose once
Agüero’s 100th Premier League goal put them behind.
With Sissoko, Tioté and Andros Townsend to the fore, Newcastle
battled as a, for once, truly united team, Vurnon Anita scored an
unlikely equaliser, and Benítez’s team selection was again
The Spaniard has always liked to rotate and sure enough, he was at
it again here. Refreshingly, Steve McClaren’s successor had no
compunction about leaving the best part of £45m on his bench either
in the shape of Wijnaldum, Jonjo Shelvey, Aleksandar Mitrovic and
That quartet watched their side very nearly enjoy an ideal start
when Townsend advanced down the right and deceived Aleksandar
Kolarov with a lovely slice of skill before crossing invitingly for
the on-rushing Papiss Cissé. The striker made a decent connection
but his header skimmed the bar, landing on the roof of the net.
Yet for all their encouraging commitment, Newcastle were initially
up against it, looking vulnerable every time the excellent De Bruyne
took possession. City’s then seemingly inevitable breakthrough came
from a free-kick awarded for Townsend’s foul on Kolarov. The
otherwise disappointing left-back delivered an incisive dead ball
and Newcastle offered Agüero a free header. Barely believing his
luck the striker – a good yard offside – registered his 22nd goal of
the league season.
It should never have stood but it was still incredible to think only
City have spent more on players than Newcastle this season. The St
James’ investment has been bereft of balance, however, with Benítez
having inherited such a mixed bag he was forced to field Anita, a
midfielder, out of position at right-back.
Jamaal Lascelles’s inexperience at this level showed when the centre
half – who nonetheless possesses real promise – attempted to play
the ball out from the back and instead passed straight to De Bruyne,
whose shot proved uncharacteristically wayward.
Suitably reprieved, Newcastle began waking up to City’s
fallibilities. Vincent Kompany, back from injury, was not exactly on
top form for City, while Fabian Delph and friends had few answers to
Sissoko’s surges and power. Deployed in his preferred
central-attacking role and again named as captain, the France
midfielder, like Tioté, shone. After one of his interceptions –
featuring the pickpocketing of Kolarov – Sissoko charged 50 yards
only to spare Joe Hart by shooting too early.
Appropriately Sissoko helped inspire the resounding choruses of
Blaydon Races that greeted Anita’s leveller. He had not scored for
more than two years but when Sissoko drifted to the left and
cleverly switched play by lifting a crossfield pass to the right,
the scene was set for the Dutchman to become the hero. Accepting the
ball, Anita proceeded to dodge Kolarov before cutting inside,
transferring possession on to his supposedly weaker left foot and
unleashing a low shot through a tangle of legs and in off the inside
of the far post.
With Delph and Kolarov weak City links, Newcastle could glimpse
tantalisingly possibility. Fulfilling it depended on retaining the
new-found shape and organisation Benítez has drilled into them –
they were playing like a side starting to believe salvation really
Such optimism remained extremely fragile. Agüero saw a penalty
appeal against Chancel Mbemba turned down (almost certainly
correctly) after being very smartly played in by De Bruyne and Karl
Darlow was required to make a superb save to keep out Jesús Navas’s
Despite City’s considerable attacking menace Darlow had actually
been surprisingly underemployed. If Hart was hardly hyperactive
either the England goalkeeper must still have been mightily relieved
to see Pablo Zabaleta make a superb clearance from Townsend’s cross
just as Mitrovic, on as a substitute, seemed likely to apply his
forehead to it.
Wijnaldum’s failure to keep his head cost Newcastle victory. After
Kolarov fluffed a clearance, a shooting chance materialised but
neglecting to keep his cool, he shot straight at a grateful Hart.
Newcastle United: Darlow, Anita, Mbemba, Lascelles, Dummett, Tioté,
Colback, Townsend (Wijnaldum 81), Sissoko, Pérez (Aarons 90+2),
Cissé (Mitrovic 55) Unused
subs: de Jong, Shelvey, Saivet, Woodman
Bookings: Anita, Perez
Manchester City:Hart, Zabaleta, Mangala, Kompany, Kolarov, Fernando,
Delph (Sterling 68), Toure (Fernandinho 73), Navas (Bony 84), De
Unused subs:Caballero, Iheanacho, Otamendi, Demichelis
Referee: Kevin Friend
Chelsea 0 Manchester City
3 Chelsea Pensioned Off
Saturday 16th April 2016 : Peter Robinson for
GYKO at Stamford Bridge
Since being sold by Chelsea to Wolfsburg in 2014,
De Bruyne has been named the most outstanding player in the
Bundesliga and moved to the Etihad for a club record £58m. His
absence from Manuel Pellegrini's team saw the visitors endure their
darkest run of form this season, and his return has sparked the side
back to life and into the semi-final of the Champions League.
At Stamford Bridge, De Bruyne was the most influential player on the
pitch and it wasn't even close. He claimed an assist for the opener
and produced a sublime, crucial touch in the build-up to Aguero's
Chelsea had more possession and Pedro, Willian and Ruben
Loftus-Cheek furrowed at the other end, but De Bruyne was doing far
more with far less as City played a brilliant counter-punching game.
It wasn't all plain sailing for the visitors, however. In what was a
thrilling opening 10 minutes, both sides displayed the fatal flaw
that has turned their Premier League campaigns into such disasters -
teams with title aspirations can't afford to be so bad defensively.
It took only three minutes for the Chelsea guard to be breached, De
Bruyne taking advantage of a sloppy Cesc Fabregas pass to cut-back
to Aguero, who was only denied a goal thanks to a last-gasp block
from Gary Cahill. Within 90 seconds De Bruyne had a shot saved by
Nicolas Otamendi completely misjudged a long ball towards Diego
Costa but the returning striker couldn't quite get the ball under
control. He managed to lay off to Pedro, whose goal-bound shot was
blocked by a relieved Otamendi. Ruben Loftus-Cheek gave a sniff of
his bright future with a sharp drive at goal after a superb turn
beyond Otamendi, before Gary Cahill's half-volley looked to be
heading in until Eliaquim Mangala headed over.
But it was De Bruyne who was in control, given free reign of
Stamford Bridge in a manner he was never allowed when a player and
here. He should've opened the scoring when a simple pass from Yaya
Toure cut the defence in two, but aimed his shot straight at
Courtois. Not long after, Samir Nasri was allowed to drift into the
area but Courtois, again, did enough to keep it goalless. That
resistance didn't last much longer.
The visitors had looked at their most potent on the counter and the
goal was no different, coming from a Chelsea corner. De Bruyne's
one-two with Toure was slightly fortunate but by then he had sprung
free. Powering down the right, he found Aguero who stepped inside
and fired at goal, the ball deflecting off of Cahill to open the
The Blues came out with renewed purpose in the second half and it
was the bright Loftus-Cheek who would have most pleased the Chelsea
fans. The 20-year-old couldn't quite stretch far enough to prod home
after good work by Pedro down the left, then failed to control a
wild effort after showing great strength to muscle past Mangala.
But the vast gulf in quality between what Chelsea have and what they
once had was soon on show. Costa was still claiming a penalty when
the ball dropped at the feet of De Bruyne, who showed a deft touch
to knock the ball past Cesar Azpilicueta. As with the first goal, it
took less than 20 seconds for a Chelsea attack to finish with a
Manchester City goal.
It would only get worse for Chelsea who were again sliced open by a
rampaging Fernandinho. Courtois had no choice but to take down the
midfielder and was sent off for his trouble; Aguero completed his
hat-trick from the penalty spot.
Roman Abramovich, arms folded deep within each other and with an
empty seat to his right, will know there is much work to do this
Chelsea: Courtois (Begovic 80), Azpilicueta, Cahill, Ivanovic, Baba
Rahman; Mikel (Begovic 80), Fabregas, Willian (Traore 69),
Loftus-Cheek, Pedro (Kenedy 69) Diego Costa
Unused subs:Miazga, Matic, Pato, Falcao
Bookings: Mikel, Azpilicueta, Courtois (sent off)
Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta (Sagna 67), Otamendi, Mangala,
Kolarov, Yaya Toure, Fernandinho, Navas, Nasri (Delph 74), De
Bruyne, Aguero (Iheancho 85)
Unused subs:Caballero, Demichelis, Fernando, Bony
Bookings:Zabaleta, Otamendi, Nasri
Referee: Mike Dean
Manchester City 1 Paris Saint
Germain 0 City Tower Above Paris
Tuesday 12th April 2016 : GYKO at the Etihad
It has taken a long time but now, perhaps, this is the point of
Manchester City’s adventures when they can start embracing the
Champions League in a way that has seldom been the case since they
set out on the long, complicated journey to establish themselves
among Europe’s superpowers.
Manuel Pellegrini’s team played with a level of
know-how that has seemed beyond them for much of the season and
their reward from a hugely satisfying night is one that means an
awful lot to this club judging by the scenes of jubilation after
Kevin De Bruyne scored the goal that soothed the crowd’s nerves and
effectively extinguished PSG’s hopes of reaching the semi-finals.
De Bruyne’s accuracy with a curling, precise
finish from just outside the penalty area meant the French champions
needed two goals in the final 14 minutes. Unfortunately for Laurent
Blanc’s team this was a night when City reminded us that contrary to
the impression they may have left at other times this season, they
have not entirely forgotten the art of defence. Their progress was
always likely to depend on it and having come in for sustained
criticism throughout most of the season, Nicolás Otamendi and
Eliaquim Mangala chose a good night to demonstrate they could handle
a high-pressure fixture more competently than many supporters
City have not defended with more assurance at any
other point this season and when they went forward they had the
game’s outstanding attacker on a pitch containing players with the
reputations of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani and Ángel Di María.
Sergio Agüero missed a 30th-minute penalty but he
was a constant menace and though the Premier League table shows
there are still imperfections, Pellegrini’s men should at least be
confident they have the attacking personnel to threaten any of the
teams in Friday’s draw. City have been waiting for a result of this
nature and now it has finally arrived after an awkward five-year
relationship with the competition. Their hope must be that it
invigorates the entire club.
Nobody should assume that one good night’s work
means City no longer need to worry when the captain Vincent Kompany
is missing, but they did at least show that it might not have to be
quite such an issue. De Bruyne’s refinement, including one exquisite
first-half pass, is another reason for confidence. Joe Hart produced
some fine saves, in particular when Cavani ran clear a few minutes
after the goal, but there was no stage when it became a sustained
onslaught and it would probably have been a more stress-free
occasion had the referee, Carlos Velasco Carballo, shown PSG’s
goalkeeper, Kevin Trapp, a red card for the challenge that led to
Agüero had gone round Trapp before being taken
down and the Spanish official plainly thought the angle the ball was
heading meant there should be some leniency. It was a borderline
decision but Trapp got away with a yellow card and Agüero spared him
for a second time when he aimed the ball beyond the goalkeeper’s
For a player of his refinement it was an
undistinguished effort, 18 inches past the frame of the goal. Yet
Agüero was still the player, more than anyone else, who carried
City’s hopes. Even when he landed heavily a few minutes later,
jarring a knee so badly that a stretcher was brought on, he was
quickly back to hassling his opponents. He was clearly in
discomfort, walking gingerly during breaks in play, but the
Argentinian looked absolutely determined to leave a favourable
impression. He and De Bruyne offer City hope that they can trouble
even the most accomplished opponents.
Blanc accepted afterwards that City had deserved
to go through and expressed his disappointment. They were denied a
couple of times by offside decisions and perhaps it was inevitable
there would be occasions when the French champions struggled for
their usual fluency. Thiago Motta was injured late in the first half
and his withdrawal, combined with Blaise Matuidi being suspended and
Marco Verratti’s absence through injury, meant they had to get
through the majority of the night without the three first-choice
This was also the first time Blanc has used a
three-man defence this season but their downfall should not be
attributed to the switch to a 3-4-1-2 system. His front players
simply did not have the wit or gumption to examine whether City,
without Kompany, might be at risk. “We thought City’s defence might
be vulnerable,” Blanc said. “They were very solid, very compact,
they surprised me.”
Pellegrini had made a bold move of his own given
this was the night Yaya Touré learned for the first time in his six
years at City he is no longer a mandatory first-team pick for the
key occasions. The manager had preferred to start with Fernando
alongside Fernandinho as a means of providing better protection for
Otamendi and Mangala. It was a sensible tactic – overdue if anything
– and one that surely should continue in the semi-finals.
Pellegrini talked afterwards about City
“improving every year” of his reign. He was conveniently overlooking
the team’s domestic form but they did, finally, look like they felt
comfortable on the big nights. De Bruyne’s finish was immaculate,
picking out the bottom corner after Fernandinho’s layoff, and City
were left to bask in the warm afterglow of their finest European
night of the modern era.
Manchester City: Hart, Sagna, Otamendi, Mangala, Clichy, Fernando,
Fernandinho, Navas, Silva (Delph), De Bruyne (Yaya Toure), Aguero
Unused subs:Caballero, Bony, Kolarov, Zabaleta
Paris Saint Germain: Trapp, Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Thiago Motta
(Lucas 45+1), Cavani, Ibrahimović, Di María, Maxwell, Aurier (Pastore
61), Van der Wiel, Rabiot
Unused subs:Sirigu, Kimpembe, Stambouli, Kurzawa, Ongenda
Bookings:Trapp, Pastore, Van der Wiel
Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo
Manchester City 2 West Bromwich
Albion 1 Struggle to beat Baggies
Saturday 9th April 2016 : GYKO at the Etihad
It was not pretty and certainly not memorable but
Manchester City did what they had to if they intend to hang on to
fourth place, managing another win without expending so much energy
as to blight their chances in Europe. They needed to come from
behind to do so, and bring on their key players to help kill off a
resilient West Bromwich Albion, but no one is fooling themselves at
this stage that the Premier League is where City need to shine
“We are always looking up, not over our shoulder” Manuel Pellegrini
said drily when asked it if was possible to catch Arsenal in third.
“The win was the main thing today, and staying clear of injuries.
Kun [Sergio Agüero] had a kick at the end but will not be a problem
City have a potentially season-defining meeting with PSG in the
Champions League in midweek and Pellegrini made a conservative
selection, restricting Kevin De Bruyne and Yaya Touré to the bench
as they eased back after injuries and leaving out David Silva to
rest an ankle problem. He still insists the plan is to take maximum
Premier League points between now and the end of the season, and
everyone at the club is aware of the danger of allowing Manchester
United to sneak past them and leaving Pep Guardiola looking at
Thursday night football when he takes over in the summer, though
once again City’s defence was too easily breached as the visitors
raced into a fifth-minute lead.
First City gave the ball away on halfway, then failed to prevent
James McClean’s overhit cross being rescued in leisurely fashion by
Stéphane Sessègnon on the edge of the penalty area then, with
Aleksandar Kolarov not quick enough to close down the shot, Joe Hart
was comprehensively beaten at his near post. It took City only a
dozen or so more minutes to level, Agüero marking his 200th
appearance for the club with a goal from the penalty spot after
Sessègnon was adjudged to have tripped Kolarov, though that was
hardly the point. City will not progress very much further in Europe
if they keep putting themselves under unnecessary handicaps, while
Hart knows the new manager is already considering bringing in a new
City’s defensive cohesion was so ramshackle at times that at one
point just before the interval Agüero came all the way back to show
there was nothing particularly difficult about bringing the ball
safely and securely upfield, earning a knowing round of applause
from the home fans in the process. Agüero showed some neat touches
up front too, which was only to be expected. Unfortunately, they
only served to point up the rather more leaden contributions of his
strike partner Wilfried Bony. The former Swansea player is having
one of those spells where nothing will go right, and frustration
from the crowd is increasingly evident, though most people would
suffer in direct comparison to Agüero. Bony did not do too badly at
the less glamorous aspects of his job, such as winning the ball in
the air and holding it up in forward positions. It was not his fault
if Samir Nasri and Jesús Navas did not manage to do much with the
Sessègnon had much more idea of what to do with the ball in wide
areas, as he showed when getting the better of Kolarov again at the
start of the second half to send over a cross. Albion had lost some
of their attacking edge when Salomón Rondón pulled up midway through
the first half but they still kept trying. Appeals for a penalty
when Sandro backed into Eliaquim Mangala from a Sessègnon cross were
predictably and probably correctly turned down. Tony Pulis did a
little war dance of disappointment in his technical area but the
Albion manager would have been properly incandescent had such a
decision been awarded against his own side. “I thought it was a
penalty,” Pulis said. “And I think all the teams trying to get into
the Champions League positions will be disappointed with the
decision as well.”
City kept trying too, with Agüero bringing a save from Ben Foster
just before the hour, though exactly on the hour Pellegrini decided
the game needed rescuing from tedium and sent on Touré and De
Bruyne. The effect was not quite immediate: City had to wait five
more minutes before taking the lead, though as a consequence of the
substitutions West Brom quickly found themselves pinned back. The
game stopped being a shapeless midfield contest and turned into a
battle of wits between slicker City passing and defenders suddenly
obliged to up their concentration. De Bruyne made the breakthrough
on the right, supplying Navas for a cross that led to an Agüero shot
being blocked before Nasri tucked away the loose ball.
Albion were not done. Saido Berahino had a couple of chances to beat
Hart including one that looked suspiciously offside, yet failed to
test the goalkeeper on either occasion. Perhaps the best chance of
all was 10 minutes from time when Craig Dawson’s low cross went
right across the face of goal with Berahino inches from a touch to
tap in at the far post. Agüero tested Foster at the other end and
saw the visiting goalkeeper save with his legs, before the striker
picked out Nasri with a deft pass only to see the winger’s attempted
curler fly just wide.
Nasri, making his first start in over six months, was quite
effective in the closing stages, though it was never a comfortable
win. City hearts were in their mouths when McClean fired narrowly
wide at a stoppage-time corner but the points were safely gathered
in the end. United will have to wait another week to be offered any
Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Mangala, Otamendi, Kolarov,
Fernando, Delph (Toure 60), Navas, Nasri, Aguero (Clichy, 89), Bony
(De Bruyne 60)
Unused subs: Caballero, Fernandinho, Demichelis, Iheanacho
West Brom: Foster, Dawson, McAuley, Evans, Chester, Fletcher, Sandro,
Sessegnon (Leko, 80), McClean, Berahinho, Rondon (Gardner 21)
Unused subs: Myhill, Olsson, Yacob, McManaman, Anichebe
Referee: Michael Jones
Paris Saint Germain 2
Manchester City 2 Paris in Spring Time
Wednesday 6th April 2016 : Colin Walker
for GYKO at Le Parc des Princes
Manchester City have a golden chance of reaching
the Champions League semi-final after a memorable display driven by
a refusal to be cowed by a Paris Saint-Germain side who at one point
threatened to kill the tie.
Instead City go into next Tuesday’s second leg level and holding two
away goals as they seek to knock out PSG. A statistic to further
cheer City is that 79.4% of clubs who draw 2-2 in an away leg in
European competition progress but what should really give them
confidence is that the faultlines in their defence are mirrored by
those in PSG’s.
City’s equaliser came from the failure of Serge Aurier and Thiago
Silva to clear a Bacary Sagna cross as Fernandinho drove the ball
home after 72 minutes.
The sight of David Luiz pulling down Sergio Agüero virtually from
the kick-off cheered the visiting fans. It meant the unpredictable
Brazilian was booked and because he was already carrying a yellow
card he is ruled out of the return leg. City were off to a flyer.
While Kevin De Bruyne failed to clear the first man with the
subsequent free-kick, when the ball broke back to the Belgian
moments later he let go a 20-yard shot that, though high, was a
warning to PSG.
So too, was the corner forced by Jesús Navas as the French champions
of the past four years were pinned back. Now though, PSG asserted
Before the game Eliaquim Mangala stated his respect for Zlatan
Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani and Ángel Di María but claimed none of
the trio frightened him. The defender might also have mentioned
Blaise Matuidi as it was the midfielder who gave Mangala and City a
first scare by bursting into the area before being felled by the
Frenchman. The referee, Milorad Mazic, decided it was not a penalty,
which looked the wrong call. Yet the official had no hesitation in
awarding a spot-kick when David Luiz was later sent tumbling via a
The blame could be traced back to Joe Hart. The goalkeeper had
punched when he might have caught a Cavani flick-on and that
returned the ball to Di María, who had delivered the initial
free-kick following a Gaël Clichy foul.
This allowed the ball to be pinged back in and then the penalty was
won. Hart could only redeem himself by saving from Ibrahimovic and
he did, diving low to his right to beat the ball out, and here was
one blow made against the No10. He suffered a second almost
instantly. As would be the story of the half, City’s defence was
parted too easily when a ball was threaded down the middle and in
roved the Swede on Hart. As Ibrahimovic took his time Hart refused
to race all the way out, sticking to the edge of the area. The ploy
worked. Ibrahimovic tried to curl the ball beyond Hart, to his left,
and lifted it way too high, much to his disgust, and the stunned
disbelief of PSG fans.
After the bright start City were experiencing why they are
underdogs. The fragile central defensive partnership of Mangala and
Nicolás Otamendi was being given scant protection by Fernandinho and
Fernando, and so PSG could walk through City at will.
Then came three topsy-turvy minutes which closed with the score
standing at 1-1. First, Fernando won possession in the centre circle
and passed to Fernandinho, who strode forward before playing the
ball right to De Bruyne.
City’s most potent attacker benefited from some slapstick David Luiz
defending as he muddled up his feet and missed the chance to
intercept. De Bruyne took the ball and thumped it past Kevin Trapp.
Here was jubilation for City and a key away goal but emotion changed
to dismay when, on 41 minutes, Fernando dawdled over a pass out from
Hart. Ibrahimovic closed the City player down and he tried to clear
his lines only for the ball to ricochet off the centre-forward and
in for PSG’s equaliser.
When the referee blew for the break, a noisy Parc des Princes crowd
had witnessed an entertaining first half and, despite the manner of
Ibrahimovic’s strike, City could take heart. The equation now was
that if PSG could be held then a draw would be a fine result, though
given the holes drilled through City’s rearguard it appeared a
Hart had been one of two changes from Saturday’s 4-0 hammering of
Bournemouth, as Pellegrini decided it was Sagna’s turn at
right-back, with Pablo Zabaleta relegated to the bench.
Given Sagna had conceded the penalty it did not appear the wisest
decision but there was better from him when he lifted his 5ft 9in to
beat Ibrahimovic’s 6ft 6in to a header during the early part of the
PSG’s second goal arrived just before the hour. Again, defending was
City’s downfall. Otamendi missed a Maxwell cross from the left and
Mangala’s header might have beaten Hart but went from a corner. When
it was swung in Cavani headed on, Hart punched out, and Adrien
Rabiot, a former City academy player, finished.
Profligacy proved PSG’s curse. When Ibrahimovic had his next chance
to score he headed against Hart’s bar.
Then came what might prove the contest’s significant moment, Sagna’s
cross finding its way off Aurier and Silva for Fernandinho to
Paris Saint Germain: Trapp, Maxwell, Luiz, Silva, Aurier (Van
der Wiel, 78), Motta, Rabiot (Lucas, 78), Matuidi, Cavani,
Ibrahimovic, Di Maria
Unused subs:Sirigu(GK), Stambouli, Marquinhos, Kurzawa,
Manchester City:Hart, Sagna, Otamendi, Mangala, Clichy, Fernando,
Fernandinho, Navas, Silva (Bony, 88), De Bruyne (Delph, 77), Aguero
Unused subs: Caballero, Zabaleta, Demichelis, Iheanacho
Bookings:Clichy, Fernando, Mangala, Navas
Bournemouth 0 Manchester City 4
Seaside Fun for City
Saturday 2nd April 2016 : John Murphy for GYKO
at Dean Court
If Manchester City could play Bournemouth every
week then the title race would probably have been wrapped up long
ago. A clinical performance inspired by the returning Kevin De
Bruyne saw Manuel Pellegrini’s side end their long wait for a
Premier League away victory and keep alive any faint title hopes
they may still harbour.
City’s decline since De Bruyne tore ligaments in his knee and ankle
in the Capital One Cup semi-final victory over Everton in January
has been stark. Trailing the leaders, Leicester, by three points and
in second place, they have picked up seven points from the seven
matches the Belgium international missed to reduce significantly the
chances of sending Pellegrini off into the sunset with another
championship winners’ medal.
“Kevin demonstrated how good a player he is,” City’s manager said in
his typically understated manner.
The damning statistic before this match was that City were unbeaten
in 16 matches against clubs in the bottom half of the table so it
was hardly surprising to see them race into a 3-0 lead inside 20
minutes thanks to goals from Fernando, De Bruyne and Sergio Agüero
against a side they had thrashed 5-1 in October.
But after a run of four defeats in six matches, it was the manner
Bournemouth were swatted aside here that made an impression as City
prepare for Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final first leg
against Paris Saint-Germain.
Deployed almost up alongside Agüero in a central attacking role, De
Bruyne was into the action from the start as his clever backheel
almost played in David Silva. From the resulting corner, Bournemouth
should have cleared, but it still took an expert piece of
readjustment from Fernando to hook the ball into the net.
The hosts, who were without striker Benik Afobe due to a hamstring
injury, had created the opening chance of the game two minutes
earlier only for Josh King to screw horribly wide when played
through by Lewis Grabban. It was a moment they would live to regret.
City’s second goal was everything that a combined £116m in transfer
fees should buy you. Agüero’s cunning lob played Silva in behind the
defence and his ball to pick out the onrushing De Bruyne to lash
home was simply sublime.
The Belgian – signed for a cool £54m last August – should probably
have doubled his tally shortly afterwards but for once his radar was
off target and the ball sailed over the bar.
It hardly mattered as Agüero effectively sealed the points in the
19th minute when he rose highest to nod home from Jesús Navas’s
cross. A Fernandinho rocket from 25 yards that struck the woodwork
spared Bournemouth more misery in a horribly one-sided first half.
“We played very well especially the first 45 minutes where we
pressed high and scored three beautiful goals,” said Pellegrini.
“That gives you a lot of trust, as a team, and after that as
individual players, when they have the performance they did. That’s
the way I like to see this team play, that’s the style I like us to
play the game.
“The most important thing was that we were focused just on this
game, that’s the best way to prepare for the next game, which is a
very important one in the Champions League.”
Even with games against Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United to
come, Bournemouth should have no worries about preserving their
Premier League status. But while recognising that his side had been
beaten by a superior team, Eddie Howe admitted they must recover
quickly from a second successive loss.
“From my perspective it doesn’t matter what stage of the season you
want to win every game, you owe it to everyone at the club,” he
“I still don’t think we’re safe. I’ve told my players that. We’ve
got work to do. We’ve played Tottenham and Man City and they’ve been
too good for us.”
So disappointed was Howe by his side’s performance in the first half
that the players were sent out for the second half five minutes
early. Yet within 60 seconds of the restart normal service was
resumed as Agüero was unlucky to see his effort saved by Artur Boruc.
De Bruyne then slammed a shot just past the post as City continued
to pour forward.
He was given a standing ovation when replaced by Aleksandar Kolarov
soon after, with Samir Nasri also making his first appearance since
the win over Bournemouth back in October.
Both spurned chances to seal this victory late on before Kolarov
finally found the net in injury time, even if by that stage the
match had been over as a contest for some time.
Bournemouth: Boruc, Smith (Elphick 66), Francis, Cook, Daniels,
Ritchie, O'Kane, Surman, Gradel (Gosling, 85), Grabban, King (Pugh,
Unused subs: Iturbe, Federici, Distin, Murray
Manchester City: Caballero, Zabaleta, Otamendi, Mangala, Clichy,
Navas, Fernando, Fernandinho, Silva (Nasri 65), De Bruyne (Kolarov,
55), Aguero (Iheancho 75) Unused subs:
Wright, Demichelis, Sagna, Bony
Referee: Robert Madley
Manchester City Fixtures 2015-2016