April 2014 - Reports
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Crystal Palace 0 Manchester City 2     City's Night at the Palace
Sunday 27th April 2014 : Bryan Connor for Get Your Kits out at Selhurst Park

All the defiant chest-thumping in Chelsea celebration and gnashed frustration on the Kop had inevitably drawn the focus but, by the final whistle here, arguably the weekend's most ominous statement of intent had been delivered in a corner of south London. Manchester City are still third in the table, peering up at the teams who collided at Anfield, but the title is theirs to lose.

This victory was efficient in its delivery but menacing in its timing. Crystal Palace's resurgence over an immaculate month of results, five wins having carried them into mid-table and guaranteed a longer stay at this level, had left the fixture appearing awkward though, in overcoming their hosts so comfortably, City merely reminded the division of their underlying qualities. They were expansive in flashes to establish their lead, strong and aggressive in maintaining it, and assured in denying Palace any hint of recovery. They have ruthlessly wrested back control in the championship race.

Win at Goodison Park on Saturday and they will be top for the first time since Chelsea visited the Etihad Stadium in late January, if only until the London club host Norwich the following day and then, back at Selhurst Park on Monday, Liverpool seek to restore their own momentum at Palace's expense. That game at Everton appears City's most daunting, with the home meetings against Aston Villa and West Ham that follow far more appealing. Win all three and, barring Liverpool running up a cricket score in each of their final two fixtures, City will reclaim the trophy.

Such success had felt unthinkable a few weeks ago when points were shed so wastefully at Anfield and at home to Sunderland. Theirs has been an oddly inconsistent season – for all that they have scored goals at will and boast the second stingiest defence – though, as José Mourinho has regularly reminded anyone who cares to listen, they had always boasted the strongest squad. It may be that Mourinho is proved right and the depth of quality at Manuel Pellegrini's disposal ultimately proves decisive.

Yaya Touré returned here after a fortnight's absence with a thigh complaint and was a colossus, assisting and then scoring the first-half goals to grant the visitors their breathing space. Fernandinho could rest up on the sidelines for more than an hour, watching on as Javi García anchored effectively, James Milner and Pablo Zabaleta wounded the hosts down one flank and Sergio Agüero buzzed disconcertingly around the home centre-halves.

Undoubtedly knowledge of the result on Merseyside had spurred them on, though this was merely the natural order being imposed. Palace have been much improved in recent weeks but there is still a gulf in class that can be exposed when better opponents find their rhythm.

"For us to have won today, every one of my players had to be at their best, and even then you're hoping to catch City on a bad day," said Tony Pulis. "I don't think half of my players played at their maximum, and they'd accept that. Playing against some teams, it's not a level playing field. We've been beaten by the most expensive club side in world sport."

It still helped the visitors that they breached their hosts so early. Palace relish soaking up pressure and biting at pace on the break and, even against the elite, they have rarely been punctured during the initial spells of matches. Yet here they were still warming into the contest when they were prised apart. Touré was granted too much time in a pocket of space outside the penalty area, the Ivorian capitalising on the lack of a challenge to conjure a centre which reflected his pedigree. Edin Dzeko duly leapt between Scott Dann and Adrian Mariappa to nod his fifth league goal in eight outings down and in. Those goals have been timely given that Álvaro Negredo's form has departed in the opposite direction.

The concession posed the home side problems, their immediate dilemma whether to chase parity or retain a level of patience. They competed ruggedly thereafter without really unsettling Joe Hart, only to be undone again just as the interval approached. Touré's exchanges with Dzeko and Samir Nasri bypassed flustered Palace players, with the midfielder bursting away, holding off Damien Delaney's challenge en route, before cutting inside Dann and dispatching a glorious shot beyond Julián Speroni and into the top corner.

"Touré being fit was a really big disappointment for me," said Pulis with a smile. "He's a wonderful player who can do things that can cause havoc. To think he's been out for [two] weeks and can play like that …" The midfielder's celebration, and the fist-pumping of team-mates and coaching staff alike, reflected the wave of conviction that was suddenly sweeping the visitors along. Even at the interval, their work here was done.

There was huff and puff from Palace for what remained, Speroni doing well to deny Dzeko a third, but this was a win secured in some comfort. City can now concentrate on the trickier trip to Goodison Park and hope Palace rediscover some of their solidity and composure on the counter against Liverpool two days later. Regardless, momentum is with them again. Three wins and, surely, the title is reclaimed.

Teams
Crystal Palace:
  Speroni, Mariappa, Dann, Delaney, Ward, Jedinak, Ledley, Bolasie (Ince 73), Puncheon, Chamakh (Gayle 68), Jerome (Murray 68)   Unused subs: Hennessey, Gabbidon, Parr, Dikgacoi     Bookings: Delaney, Dann, Ward

Manchester City:
Hart, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Kompany, Demichelis, Garcia, Yaya Toure (Fernandinho 66), Milner, Nasri, Dzeko (Negredo 88), Aguero (Jovetic 78)   Unused subs: Pantilimon, Richards, Lescott, Clichy                       Bookings: Zabaleta

Referee: Howard Webb            Att:24,769

Manchester City 3 West Bromwich Albion 1        Routine Win
Monday 21st April 2014 : GYKO at the Etihad Stadium

There is a song that can be heard on nights like these at Manchester City and it takes its tune to the words "we'll fight to the end". They were true to its theme two seasons ago – right to the very last kick of the season and that throaty commentary of Sergio Agüero's "93:20" moment – and now they are clinging to the hope that something similar might be possible again.

They will almost certainly need Chelsea to win at Anfield on Sunday against a Liverpool side that have just won 11 games on the bounce and it would be stretching the truth to say there was any real sense among the crowd that City might be putting together another spectacular comeback in the making.

In truth, the chorus of defiance was sung out of habit more than anything. For now, however, City are doing their bit, seeing off West Bromwich Albion with first-half goals from their three Argentineans and emerging unscathed from a more prosaic second half apart from losing David Silva to injury. The result closes the gap to Liverpool to six points, though City have a game in hand and a superior goal difference.

West Brom remain fifth from bottom, three points clear of the jagged line, and maybe with greater ambition they might have done more to investigate whether City were unusually vulnerable after a disappointing recent run. The problem for Pepe Mel's side was that, against this calibre of opponent, they cannot defend this badly and expect to get away with it.

Agüero set one up for Pablo Zabaleta then scored himself inside the opening 10 minutes and, on both occasions, the defending encapsulated why West Brom are looking anxiously at the clubs behind them. Graham Dorrans briefly gave them hope with a fine counterattacking goal after 16 minutes but Martín Demichelis soothed any gathering nerves and, again, it was a poor goal to give away, coming from a straightforward corner routine.

Pellegrini's side have now moved to 145 goals in all competitions this season. It is a new record for a top-division team, the previous high having been set by Sir Matt Busby's Manchester United, with 143 in 1957.

On the flipside, they have also gone five games without managing a clean sheet. Dorrans took his goal with great expertise, deceiving Gaël Clichy with a clever change of direction and elegantly sweeping the ball past Joe Hart. Yet it did not escape Pellegrini's notice that all this originated from a poor free-kick routine in the opposition half. Liam Ridgewell dispossessed Zabaleta and it was remarkable how open City suddenly were as Stéphane Sessegnon and Matej Vydra led the break.

Mel also reflected afterwards on the moment, at 1-0, when Vydra put the ball past Hart only for the goal to be disallowed for offside against Billy Jones in the buildup. It was, however, a correct decision, albeit exceedingly close, and the manager might have been better dwelling on his team's shortcomings in defence.

The opening goal, after three minutes, was the case in point, starting with Ridgewell's poor header straight to Agüero. Ben Foster saved the striker's shot but Zabaleta was following in and Chris Brunt had not tracked the full-back's run. Zabaleta's stooping header made him the 14th different scorer for City this season.

Agüero's finish to make it 2-0 was a beauty but Foster was badly positioned and there was a mistake from Morgan Amalfitano as well before City's leading scorer took aim, firing in his 27th goal of the season. Foster had taken a step too many to the right, leaving an inviting gap for Agüero to pick out to the goalkeeper's left, and it was the kind of basic mistake that was West Brom's undoing. Demichelis's goal, after Vincent Kompany had applied the first touch to Samir Nasri's corner, was another prime example.

West Brom moved the ball nicely at times, with Dorrans continuing to impress. Sessegnon's direct running sporadically caused problems and a moment of erratic handling from Hart earlier in the match might also have encouraged them.

For the most part, however, it was a relatively stress-free second half for City bar that moment, after 68 minutes, when Silva went down in obvious pain. The challenge with Amalfitano was fairly innocuous but Silva has been troubled with an ankle injury for some time. This was his return after missing the 2-2 draw against Sunderland last week and his performance had reiterated his importance to the team's wellbeing. West Brom also lost a player through injury and the early diagnosis was that Ridgewell's ankle sprain will rule him out of their remaining four games.
 
Teams
Manchester City:
Hart, Zabaleta, Clichy, Demichelis, Kompany, Fernandinho, Garcia, Nasri, Silva (Milner 70), Dzeko (Kolarov 89), Aguero (Jovetic 64)      Unused subs: Pantilimon, Richards, Lescott, Negredo    Bookings: Demichelis

West Brom: Foster, Dawson, Jones, Olsson, Ridgewell, Dorrans, Brunt, Amalfitano, Sessegnon (Berahino 76), Vydra (Anichebe 60), Mulumbu (Morrison 84) Unused subs: Myhill, Reid, Yacob, Lugano  Bookings: Dawson

Referee: Phil Dowd

Manchester City 2 Sunderland 2              Cityitus Strikes Yet Again
Wednesday 16th April : 2014 : GYKO at a crest fallen Etihad Stadium

Gerry Cottle's Circus has set up home in one of the Etihad Stadium car parks and there certainly seemed to be that end of season feel about Manchester City here. It should have been an evening when the home side played with a passion, befitting a group of players who have spent too many days looking at the montage of posters fastened to their stadium which commemorate the breath-taking 2012 title win - and who are now ready to write a new piece of history.

By the time City were shaken out of their inertia to do so, Sunderland had set-up a finale like that day two years ago, though the penalty area which Sergio Aguero stamped his mark on has now added a less fortunate name to its legend. Vito Mannone, the goalkeeper whose penalty shoot-out heroics at Old Trafford in February took Sunderland to the Carling Cup final, desperately struggled to wrap a hand around Samir Nasri's 89th minute shot, in a way which sent him flapping through the mud, swatting a hand at it, again and again, before the ball slithered over the line.

An inch more purchase from the goalkeeper's right glove might prove the difference between Sunderland's presence or absence from the Premier League, because Connor Wickham's two goals in ten minutes had certainly left Gus Poyet touching victory. Still six points adrift of safety with Chelsea and Manchester United among five to play, Sunderland look doomed despite their heroics - as Gus Poyet virtually admitted in his estimably charming way.

Pellegrini's despair would have been by far the deeper, though - masked as it was by that implacable demeanour of his. Since Chelsea outthought and outfought City here in mid-February, his side have lost that imperious swagger and that way of making three, four and five-goal hauls a regulation. The injury bulletin their manager revealed again conveyed the impression of a worn-out side. David Silva had missed the game - and City missed him - because of his long-standing ankle problem. Sergio Aguero's long absence with hamstring trouble left him incapable of more than 55 minutes' work. Vincent Kompany looked as unfit for combat as he had with his leg strapped up at Anfield four days ago. Yaya Toure's absence with a groin injury was felt most deeply of all.

Connor Wickham scores his second of the night (Getty) Connor Wickham scores his second of the night (Getty)
The Chilean suggested that it was Sunday's defeat at Anfield which had damaged his players psychologically. “I think we couldn't take out of the mind the game against Liverpool so we couldn't play well,” he said. But the inspirational qualities, missing in Roberto Mancini and sought out in Pellegrini by City's owners, were missing when needed.

Nasri's late equaliser is more valuable than those City fans who issued a chorus of boos at the end may realise. City's best hopes now reside in Chelsea knocking Liverpool out of the title race. If they win at Anfield a week on Sunday and City win their games in hand, they could still edge out Brendan Rodgers' side on goal difference. Yet there can be no misunderstanding about the scale of the calamity which this result represented.

The physical pain they experienced from the start revealed that it would not be easy. Wes Brown's leap into Sergio Aguero - two feet off the ground in the seconds before his right foot slammed into Aguero's own - left the Argentine writhing on the turf and Brown lucky to have escaped scot free. Marco Alonso promptly performed an eye-watering air kick into Pablo Zabaleta's shin.

And though City managed to ease into a characteristically early lead - Alvaro Negredo robbing Lee Cattermole and finding Aguero, whose return pass Negredo allowed to run under his boot to set Fernandinho free to score, two minutes in - the first half revealed City's same capacity to make defending less than straightforward that we witnessed at Anfield.

For 45 minutes, Adam Johnson looked as dangerous as anyone on the pitch, delivering an in-swinging corner that John O'Shea leapt clear of the City defence to head wide. Fabio Borini was equally profligate - shooting when he should have squared to Jack Colback, after running to seize a clipped Johnson ball that Martin Demichelis could not drag down.

But there was always valour in Poyet's players. Colback, like Johnson, revealed promise - though hesitated a fraction too long before unravelling a shot when Johnson released him into the inside right channel. And then Wickham stepped up. A few months ago, he had looked like another big money 21-year-old drifting into oblivion, when Poyet pulled him back from a loan spell a Leeds United and said that Sunderland should view him as a new signing. He struggled in his comeback game at Liverpool three weeks ago but the quality of his finish revealed why Steve Bruce paid £8.1m for him - and why Poyet gambled on him in his desperate for the serviceable striker Sunderland had been missing.

It was the substitute, Emanuele Gianccherini, who was Wickham's supplier. The game had 18 minutes to run when he crossed for the striker to tuck in at the back post. Then his cross allowed him to get in ahead of Fernandinho to beat Joe Hart at the near post. Having saved City from embarrassment, Nasri might have scored a second of his own, but he blasted over at the death.

Teams

Manchester City:
Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany (C), Demichelis, Kolarov, Milner, Garcia, Fernandinho (Rodwell 86mins), Nasri, Aguero (Jovetic 55mins), Negredo (Dzeko 67mins)   Unused subs: Pantilimon, Lescott, Richards, Clichy  Bookings: Zabaleta 89mins

Sunderland: Mannone, Vergini, Alonso, Brown, O'Shea (c), Cattermole, Colback, Larsson (Giaccherini 67mins), Johnson, Borini (Scocco 67mins), Wickham   Unused subs: Altidore, Ba, Mavrias, Agnew, Ustari     Bookings: Borini 31mins, Alonso 64mins

Referee: Martin Atkinson          Att: 47,046

Liverpool 3 Manchester City 2    Classic Anfield Clash
Sunday 13th April 2014 : GYKO at the Etihad

These are the moments when Liverpool, to borrow a line from the kaleidoscope of colours on the Kop's banners, are making their supporters dream. When it really mattered, when the heat of the battle was dangerously close to intolerable, they found something extra just as it seemed everything was threatening to unravel. They played like champions and in the next few weeks that is feasibly what they will be.

Manchester City will chase them hard judging by the strength of their second-half recovery, and Liverpool still have to play Chelsea, who will be aggrieved by any suggestion that the title is all but confirmed for Anfield. Yet all the momentum is with Brendan Rodgers's team after this epic, coruscating match in which they still had the competitive courage to record their 10th straight win despite the jolt of seeing a 2-0 half-time lead wiped out.

What a moment it was for this club, commemorating the 25th anniversary of Hillsborough, when Philippe Coutinho drew back his right foot 12 minutes from the end to fire his shot inside Joe Hart's post. Rodgers was on the pitch in all the euphoria, in a modern-day re-enactment of Brian Kidd's famous celebration at Manchester United for the first of Sir Alex Ferguson's titles. This time Kidd was in the opposite dugout and, for City, it was a moment of real sporting trauma bearing in mind everything that had preceded it in the second half.
Battle for the title Battle for the Premier League title Photograph: Guardian

They had looked the more probable winners after David Silva had initiated the comeback, turning in James Milner's cut-back for the first goal and then supplying the cross from which Glen Johnson unwittingly skewed the ball into his own net. Milner's arrival as a substitute had changed the complexion of the game and Silva was outstanding in those moments when for the first time there was a sudden, damp silence to break the din.

City will look back with anguish on the chances Silva and Edin Dzeko passed up when the score was 2-2. They will also harbour legitimate grievances about a penalty appeal in each half and the referee, Mark Clattenburg's, failure to show Luis Suárez a second yellow card. Jordan Henderson was sent off in stoppage time for a studs-up lunge on Samir Nasri but Suárez, already booked, should have gone for a blatant dive.

Yet Manuel Pellegrini's team suffered because of the way they played in the opening half an hour, when most of the damage was done, and the gamble they took on Vincent Kompany's fitness, when his jarred knee could probably be held up as exhibit A in trying to explain why they defended with this much generosity. Kompany was still being assessed in the pre-match warm-up and was simply unable to exert his usual influence. He was at fault to varying degrees for all of Liverpool's goals and the third of them, when his sliced clearance went straight to Coutinho, was a personal ordeal.
Link to video: Liverpool 3–2 Manchester City: Manuel Pellegrini holds on to Premier League title dream

Pellegrini could cite other mitigating factors on a day when Sergio Agüero was restricted to a substitute's role and Yaya Touré lasted only 19 minutes before being forced off with a groin injury. All the same, Liverpool's quick, attacking football overwhelmed their opponents in the early exchanges and, in a match of this significance, it was startling to see the way City crumpled.

Their manager had talked beforehand about the team with the "cold mind" winning the game. Yet Liverpool played as though filled with adrenaline and, again, Rodgers had assembled his team in a way to outfox one of their key rivals. Raheem Sterling's energy and directness, playing at the front of the midfield diamond, frequently exposed the absence of a classic defence-minded player in front of City's back four. Sterling's first instinct was to drive towards goal, playing as though absolutely immune to nerves, and it made him a constant menace for two centre-halves with the mobility of Martín Demichelis and a half-fit Kompany.

The tone was set after six minutes when Suárez brought down the ball, eluded Gaël Clichy with a Dalglish-esque jutting out of his backside and read his team-mate's run. Sterling darted behind the City defence, then delayed, and in one movement to the right took himself away from Kompany, as well as the oncoming Hart, before turning the ball into an exposed goal.

The breakthrough came so early it invigorated Liverpool, bringing almost unremitting pressure on the City goal. After 26 minutes, Hart kept out Steven Gerrard's header after Liverpool's captain had been left in an absurd amount of space from Coutinho's corner. City had not taken their warning. Gerrard swung over the resultant corner and Martin Skrtel was away from Kompany before flashing his header into the net.

City did not clear their heads until late in the first half and they did at least show great togetherness from that point onwards. It was a second half of relentless drama and, for a while, there was the distinct possibility that City, inspired by Silva, could complete the recovery.

Instead, there was one mistake too many from Kompany. Coutinho's finish was wonderfully taken and, at the final whistle, Gerrard had his team-mates in a scrum, making it absolutely clear they had to do exactly the same at Norwich next weekend.

Teams

Liverpool:
Mignolet, Johnson, Flanagan, Sakho, Skrtel, Gerrard (C), Henderson, Coutinho (Moses 89mins), Sterling (Lucas 90+4mins), Suarez, Sturridge (Allen 64mins) 

Unused subs: Jones, Toure, Agger, Aspas     Bookings: Suarez 5mins, Henderson (sent off) 90+3mins

Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany (C), Demichelis, Clichy, Toure (Garcia 18mins), Fernandinho, Navas (Milner 49mins), Nasri, Silva, Dzeko (Aguero 67mins)

Unused subs: Pantilimon, Lescott, Negredo, Kolarov      Bookings: Garcia 20mins, Fernandinho 45mins, Zabaleta 77mins

Referee: Mark Clattenburg       Att :44,601
 

Manchester City 4  Southampton 1     Classy Saints were mugged
Saturday 5th April 2014 : GYKO at the Etihad


Manchester City remained on track for their title showdown with Liverpool at Anfield next week in spite of being outplayed for the first half. Even Manuel Pellegrini admitted Southampton were the better team before the interval, while Mauricio Pochettino chose his words carefully after complaining that "dumb refereeing decisions" helped to swing the game City's way.

"Two decisions killed the game," the Southampton manager said. "I don't think you can award a penalty like that after just two minutes and for the second goal the City player was clearly offside. It is better that I don't repeat what I said to the referee at the end, but the only consolation we can take is that for 45 minutes we were superior to a team that might go on to win the Premier League."

That much is true, and though Pochettino weakened his case by grumbling about a penalty that one of his own players needlessly gave away, for the visitors this match added insult to injury. Southampton gave Manchester City a start by conceding the most stupid of penalties after just two minutes, then diligently clawed their way back to deservedly equalise through a penalty of their own, despite seeing Jay Rodriguez carried off on a stretcher at the height of their dominance. The forward fell awkwardly and damaged his right knee badly enough to jeopardise any World Cup plans the watching Roy Hodgson might have been forming, then in the four minutes added to the first half for the treatment Rodriguez received, City scored twice. Considering the first of those goals involved one of the worst line calls of the season, with David Silva at least two yards offside when he received the ball to set up Samir Nasri, Southampton could consider themselves doubly unfortunate.

Pochettino's team had only themselves to blame for the opening goal, however. When Edin Dzeko went past José Fonte in the area the centre-back hung out a leg for him to trip over in a manner rarely seen outside a playground kick-around. Yaya Touré accepted the opportunity to put City ahead from the penalty spot then disappeared into anonymity with the rest of his team-mates as Southampton began to run the show and the crowd fell into subdued silence.

The excellent Adam Lallana missed a good chance to equalise midway through the first half when he raced through to meet a dinked pass from the equally impressive Rickie Lambert, only for his first touch to let him down in front of goal. Rodriguez showed better control in bringing a high ball down on the halfway line, but without a City player in close proximity his leg buckled on landing and he departed in evident pain.

City were sluggish and uninspired, and though Dzeko hit the bar with a powerful header just before Southampton levelled, he should have done better from Nasri's well flighted free-kick. The penalty Pablo Zabaleta gave away against Jack Cork was not as outrageous as Fonte's earlier infringement, though still an easy decision for Chris Foy to make.

Lambert beat Joe Hart from the spot with a confident accuracy that could only have impressed the England manager in the stand. Then, just as the board went up showing four extra minutes, City found their attacking focus.

Silva may have been demonstrably offside from Dzeko's flick but it was still a better passing move than the home side had put together in the previous 45 minutes, with Touré, Dzeko and Silva linking effortlessly for the last to leave Nasri a tap-in with an unselfish square ball. If that was hard on the Saints worse was to come, when Nasri showed good awareness to free Aleksandar Kolarov for a run down the left and a cross that Dzeko met perfectly on the six-yard line.

The second half was bound to be anticlimactic, though there were a few high points, notably the home supporters paying Southampton a back-handed compliment with a chant of "We're going to buy all your players".

Dzeko saw a shot saved by Paulo Gazzaniga then put the rebound over the bar before making way for Álvaro Negredo, who had a chance of his own on 70 minutes but could not find a way past Fonte. Touré was correctly booked for a dive in the area before City found a way to score a fourth by legitimate means, Jesús Navas sending over such an inviting cross from the right that even though the Negredo could not quite reach it at the near post it still provided a far-post opportunity for recently arrived substitute Stevan Jovetic.

Southampton were lucky to escape a rout in the end, with Negredo shooting at Gazzaniga and Touré striking the foot of a post. They hardly deserved that after bossing the first half, even if they did fall away from that standard before the end, though Pellegrini claimed it was simply a matter of City sorting themselves out in the second half. "We gave them space to turn and receive in the first half, I was much happier with the second," he said. "We had clear chances to score more goals than we did. We may have been lucky with one decision but I don't think you could say it made the difference when we scored again straight away."

Teams

Manchester City: 
Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Kolarov, Navas, Fernandinho (Garcia 46), Toure, Nasri, Silva (Jovetic 77), Dzeko (Negredo 65)  Unused subs: Pantilimon, Lescott, Richards, Milner    Bookings: Fernandinho, Garcia, Yaya Toure

Southampton: Gazzaniga, Chambers, Fonte, Lovren, Shaw, Cork (Wanyama 80), Schneiderlin, Davis (Gallagher 85), Lallana, Rodriguez (Ward-Prowse 26), Lambert  Unused subs: Cropper, Clyne, Guly, Hooiveld

Referee: Chris Foy        Att:47,009

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