April & May 2016 - Reports
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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 the goal.

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.

Teams
Swansea City: Nordfeldt, Rangel, Fernandez, Amat, Kingsley, Britton, Cork, Fer, Routledge (Barrow 58), Montero (Gomis 82), Ayew
Unused subs: Vickers, Naughton, Fulton, Gorre, Emnes           Bookings:Britton

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        Att:20,934

Manchester City 2 Arsenal 2        Sloppy City
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 ended.

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 place.

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 channel.

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 season.

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.

Teams
Manchester City:
Hart (C), Sagna, Mangala, Otamendi, Clichy, Fernando (Toure 78mins), Fernandinho, Navas (78mins), De Bruyne, Iheanacho (Sterling 68mins), Aguero           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, Giroud
Unused subs:Ospina, Gibbs, Coquelin, Cazorla, Campbell        Bookings:Paulista 71mins

Referee:Anthony Taylor         Att:54,425

Real Madrid 1 Manchester City 0    Rolled Over
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 slightest.

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

Teams
Real Madrid CF:K Navas, Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo, Kroos, Modric (Kovacic 87), Bale, Isco (James 67), Jese (Vazquez 56), Ronaldo
Unused subs:Casilla, Mayoral, Danilo, Varane      Bookings: Vazquez

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       Bookings:Fernandinho, Fernando                   Att:80,000

Southampton 4 Iheanacho 2           Saints Mauling
Sunday 1st May 2016 : Barry Penn for GYKO at
St |Mary's

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 fantastic. 
“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 faded.

 Teams
Southampton:Forster, van Dijk, Fonte, Bertrand, Martina, Clasie (Romeu 59), Davis (Ward-Prowse 73), Mané, Wanyama, Tadic (Rodriguez 87), Long          Unused subs:Stekelenburg, Soares, Austin, Yoshida      Bookings:Clasie, Tadic

Manchester City:Hart, Zabaleta, Otamendi, Mangala, Kolarov, Delph (Navas 64), Fernandinho (Demichelis 60), Nasri, Sterling, Iheanacho, Bony
Unused subs:Caballero, Sagna, Clichy, Fernando, Aguero       Bookings:Fernandinho

Referee:Andre Marriner

Manchester City 0 Real Madrid 0    Real Stalemate
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 brilliance.

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 particularly noteworthy.

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.

Teams
Manchester City: Hart, Sagna, Kompany, Otamendi, Clichy, Fernando, Fernandinho, Silva (Iheanacho 40), Navas (Sterling 77), De Bruyne, Aguero
Unused subs:Caballero, Mangala, Kolarov, Zabaleta, Delph           Bookings: Silva

Real Madrid CF: Keylor Navas, Carvajal, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Casemiro, Kroos (Isco 90), Modric, Bale, Lucas Vázquez, Benzema (Jese 46)               Unused subs:Casilla, Varane, James Rodríguez, Kovačić, Danilo      Bookings:Pepe, Carvajal 

Referee:Cuneyt Cakir (TUR)            Att:53,500

Manchester City 4 Stoke City 0       Etihad Stroll
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.

Teams
Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Mangala, Otamendi, Toure, Fernando (Demichelis 72), Navas, Silva (Delph 57), Iheanacho, Aguero (Bony 65)          Unused subs: Caballero, Clichy, De Bruyne, Sterling

Stoke City:Given (Haugaard 46), Bardsley, Shawcross, Wollscheid, Muniesa, Cameron, Whelan, Imbula, Diouf, Arnautovic (Adam 76), Joselu
Unused subs:Teixeira, Crouch, Krkic, Choulay, Shenton

Referee: Robert Madley                 Att:53,000

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 vindicated.

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 Henri Saivet.

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 is possible.

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 curving shot.

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.

Teams
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 Bruyne, Aguero              Unused subs:Caballero, Iheanacho, Otamendi, Demichelis           Bookings:Kompany, Mangala

Referee: Kevin Friend            Att:46,424

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 second.

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 Thibaut Courtois.

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 scoring.

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 summer.

Teams
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                  Att:41,212

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 possibly anticipated.

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’s penalty.

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 left-hand post.

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 midfielders.

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.

 Teams
Manchester City: Hart, Sagna, Otamendi, Mangala, Clichy, Fernando, Fernandinho, Navas, Silva (Delph), De Bruyne (Yaya Toure), Aguero (Iheanacho 90+2)          Unused subs:Caballero, Bony, Kolarov, Zabaleta       Bookings:Fernandinho

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             Att:53,039

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 brightest.

“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 for Tuesday.”

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 goalkeeper.

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 resulting opportunities.

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 encouragement.

 Teams
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     Bookings: Gardner

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 themselves.

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 Sagna leg.

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 difficult ask.

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 second half.

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 finish.

 Teams
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,            Bookings:Luiz, Matuidi

Manchester City:Hart, Sagna, Otamendi, Mangala, Clichy, Fernando, Fernandinho, Navas, Silva (Bony, 88), De Bruyne (Delph, 77), Aguero (Kolarov, 90)           Unused subs: Caballero, Zabaleta, Demichelis, Iheanacho       Bookings:Clichy, Fernando, Mangala, Navas

Referee:Milorad Mazic

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 said.

“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.

 Teams
Bournemouth: Boruc, Smith (Elphick 66), Francis, Cook, Daniels, Ritchie, O'Kane, Surman, Gradel (Gosling, 85), Grabban, King (Pugh, 45)

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      Bookings: Fernando

Referee: Robert Madley

 

Manchester City Fixtures  2015-2016

ICF 28-05-2015   Toronto FC Manchester City w 1 - 0  
ICF 18-07-2015   Melbourne City FC Manchester City w 1 - 0  
ICF 27-07-2015   Vietnam Manchester City w 8 - 1  
ICF 01-08-2015   VfB Stuttgart Manchester City 2 - 4  
EPL 10-08-2015   West Bromwich Albion Manchester City w 3 - 0  
EPL 16-08-2015   Manchester City Chelsea w 3 - 0  
EPL 23-08-2015   Everton Manchester City w 2 - 0  
EPL 29-08-2015   Manchester City Watford w 2 - 0  
EPL 12-09-2015   Crystal Palace Manchester City w 1 - 0  
CL 15-09-2015   Manchester City Juventus L  1 - 2  
EPL 19-09-2015   Manchester City West Ham L  2 - 1  
LC r3 22-09-2015   Sunderland Manchester City w 4 - 1  
EPL 26-09-2015   Tottenham Manchester City L  4 - 1  
CL 30-09-2015 19:45 Borussia Monchengladbach Manchester City w 2 - 1  
EPL 03-10-2015 15:00 Manchester City Newcastle United w 6 - 1  
EPL 17-10-2015 15:00 Manchester City Bournemouth w 5 - 1  
CL 21-10-2015 19:45 Manchester City Savilla w 2 - 1  
EPL 25-10-2015 14:00 Manchester United Manchester City d  0 - 0  
LC r4 28-10-2015 19:45 Manchester City Crystal Palace w 5 - 1  
EPL 31-10-2015 15:00 Manchester City Norwich w 2 - 1  
CL 03-11-2015 19:45 Sevilla Manchester City w 3 - 1  
EPL 08-11-2015 13:30 Aston Villa Manchester City d  0 - 0  
EPL 21-11-2015 17:30 Manchester City Liverpool L  1 - 4  
CL 25-11-2015 19:45 Juventus Manchester City L  1 -  0  
EPL 28-11-2015 15:00 Manchester City Southampton w 3 - 1  
LC r5 01-12-2015 19:45 Manchester City Hull City w 4 - 1  
EPL 05-12-2015 12:45 Stoke City Manchester City L  2 - 1  
CL 08-12-2015 19:45 Borussia Mönchengladbach Manchester City w 4 - 2  
EPL 12-12-2015 15:00 Manchester City Swansea w 2 - 1  
EPL 19-12-2015 19:45 Arsenal Manchester City L  2 - 1  
EPL 26-12-2015 15:00 Manchester City Sunderland w 4 - 1  
EPL 28-12-2015 19:45 Leicester Manchester City d  0 - 0  
EPL 02-01-2016 15:00 Watford Manchester City w 2 - 1  
LC SF 1st Leg 06-01-2016 18:00 Manchester City Everton L  2 - 1  
FA C R3 09-01-2016 15:00 Norwich City Manchester City W 3 - 0  
EPL 13-01-2016 19:45 Manchester City Everton d  0 - 0  
EPL 16-01-2016 15:00 Manchester City Crystal Palace W 4 - 0  
EPL 23-01-2016 17:30 West Ham Manchester City d  2 - 2  
LC SF 2nd Leg 27-01-2016 19:45 Manchester City Everton W 3 - 2  
FA C R4 30-01-2016 15:00 Aston Villa Manchester City W 4 - 0  
EPL 02-02-2016 19:45 Sunderland Manchester City W 1 - 0  
EPL 06-02-2016 12:45 Manchester City Leicester L  3 - 1  
EPL 14-02-2016 16:15 Manchester City Tottenham L  2 - 1  
FA C R5 22-02-2016 tbc Chelsea Manchester City L  4 - 1  
CL QF 24-02-2016 19:45 FC Dynamo Kyev Manchester City W 3 - 1  
LC Final 27-02-2016 16:30 Liverpool Manchester City W 1 - 1 on penalties  
EPL 01-03-2016 20:00 Liverpool Manchester City L  3 - 0  
EPL 05-03-2016 17:30 Manchester City Aston Villa W 4 - 0  
EPL 12-03-2016 12:45 Norwich Manchester City D  0 - 0  
CL  15-03-2016 19:45 Manchester City FC Dynamo Kyev D  0 - 0  
EPL 19-03-2016 16:00 Manchester City Manchester United L  0 - 1  
EPL 02-04-2016 15:00 Bournemouth Manchester City W 4 - 0  
CL QF 06-04-2016 20:05 Paris Saint Germain Manchester City D  2 - 2  
EPL 09-04-2016 17:30 Manchester City West Bromwich W 2 - 1  
CL QF 12-04-2016 19:45 Manchester City Paris Saint Germain W 1 - 0  
EPL 16-04-2016 17:30 Chelsea Manchester City W 3 - 0  
EPL 19-04-2016 19:45 Newcastle United Manchester City D  1 - 1  
EPL 23-04-2016 12:00 Manchester City Stoke W 4 - 0  
CL  SFinal 1st leg 26-04-2016 19:45 Manchester City Real Madrid D  0 - 0  
EPL 01-05-2016 16:15 Southampton Manchester City L  2 - 4  
Cl  SFinal 2nd leg 04-05-2016 19:45 Real Madrid Manchester City L  1 - 0  
EPL 08-05-2016 16:00 Manchester City Arsenal D  2 - 2  
EPL 15-05-2016 15:00 Swansea Manchester City D  1 - 1  

Premier League

Pos   Team P W D L GS GA +/- Pts
1 Leicester City FC Leicester City 38 23 12 3 68 36 +32 81
2 Arsenal FC Arsenal 38 20 11 7 65 36 +29 71
3 Tottenham Hotspur FC Tottenham Hotspur 38 19 13 6 69 35 +34 70
4 Manchester City FC Manchester City 38 19 9 10 71 41 +30 66
5 Southampton FC Southampton 38 18 9 11 59 41 +18 63
6 Manchester United FC Manchester United 37 18 9 10 46 34 +12 63
7 West Ham United FC West Ham United 38 16 14 8 65 51 +14 62
8 Liverpool FC Liverpool 38 16 12 10 63 50 +13 60
9 Stoke City FC Stoke City 38 14 9 15 41 55 -14 51
10 Chelsea FC Chelsea 38 12 14 12 59 53 +6 50
11 Everton FC Everton 38 11 14 13 59 55 +4 47
12 Swansea City AFC Swansea City 38 12 11 15 42 52 -10 47
13 Watford FC Watford 38 12 9 17 40 50 -10 45
14 West Bromwich Albion FC West Bromwich Albion 38 10 13 15 34 48 -14 43
15 Crystal Palace FC Crystal Palace 38 11 9 18 39 51 -12 42
16 AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth 37 11 9 17 44 64 -20 42
17 Sunderland AFC Sunderland 38 9 12 17 48 62 -14 39
18 Newcastle United FC Newcastle United 38 9 10 19 44 65 -21 37
19 Norwich City FC Norwich City 38 9 7 22 39 67 -28 34
20 Aston Villa FC Aston Villa 38 3 8 27 27 76 -49 17


 

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