August & September  2015 - Reports
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Borussia Monchengladbach 1 Manchester City 2     Germans Gunned Down
Tuesday 29th September 2015 : Hans Gruber for GYKO at Borussia Park

Manchester City continue to confound. They appeared to be heading for a night of frustration and a mere draw until the final minute. Then, the misfiring Sergio Agüero won a penalty after being felled by Fabian Johnson. Up the striker sprang to slot past Yann Sommer and Manuel Pellegrini’s team had got out of jail on a major scale.

It meant that despite not performing as they should from front to back – the outstanding Joe Hart apart – they ended with three points and their Group D qualifying campaign is up and running.

The XI Pellegrini fielded was about the only one he could choose. The injuries to Vincent Kompany and Eliaquim Mangala, the first choice centre-backs, meant Nicolás Otamendi and Martín Demichelis were again paired. The captain’s failure to recover was the biggest miss as Kompany had been in imperious form before limping out of the opening group game against Juventus.

Then, a 1-1 score turned into a 2-1 loss and City had again failed to get off to a flying start in the competition. As with last year’s opening match defeat at Bayern Munich, this placed heightened emphasis on the second match. Twelve months ago Pellegrini’s side had drawn with Roma, this time victory was the aim.

This was achieved, but only just. As Hart said: “We always take the scenic route in Europe. We didn’t play well today, we were disjointed as we had been in the last few games. But we deserved to win, we had some really good chances. It may have come late but Sergio Agüero is a cool guy and he will score.”

After Hart’s goal had twice been threatened by balls in behind the defence, City showed the intent Pellegrini promised. Aleksandar Kolarov threaded a pass into Raheem Sterling who in turn squared across Sommer. It found Agüero expertly. Less expert, though, was the striker’s attempt which was hit straight at the keeper as he scrambled along his line.

City can be crisp and slick in their play. They can also be sloppy. Kolarov delivered a corner that illustrated the former. On his return to German soil, Kevin De Bruyne’s air-shot from his delivery illustrated the latter. It was compounded by the Belgian’s slip, which allowed Raffael to launch a counter-attack and the Brazilian raced towards Hart and slipped the ball to Patrick Herrmann, but his effort went wide.

On Saturday Otamendi was part of a defence that conceded four at Tottenham Hotspur. Tonight he conceded an 18th-minute penalty for fouling Raffael, the forward skipping into the area before being brought down. If there was doubt here – Raffael may have waited for the challenge – Clément Turpin, the referee, had none. Otamendi was about to have Hart to thank. The goalkeeper delayed Raffael by taking a drink, and when the Brazilian stepped up, Hart made a fine save diving to his right.

As Borussia Mönchengladbach rued the miss, Hart remained focused. After a corner came to nothing he launched a kick down the right to Agüero. It gave the centre-forward the opportunity to race clear, but for the second time, he spurned his chance.

De Bruyne was the next to miss an opening. He should have continued his run towards goal as Sterling crossed from the left. Instead, the Belgian moved towards Agüero, who was near the penalty spot, and the ball was delivered into the space De Bruyne had vacated.

Hart was City’s best player in the first half, Raffael the home side’s equivalent. As the clock ticked towards the break the keeper made a sharp save from the No11. Then, Raffael waltzed through the City defence, rolled a reverse pass to Hermann, and this time Hart’s stop was even better as he rushed out to narrow the angle.

For the second half Yaya Touré, who had been quiet and was lacking match fitness according to Pellegrini, was replaced by Fernando. The game continued to be the Raffael-Hart show. Seconds after the break the Brazilian was again through on City’s goal and again Hart saved his team.

He was the only member of the rear-guard who was functioning as expected. Borussia seemed able to wander through it at will. There was a corner from which the ball dropped dangerously inside City’s area forcing Fernandinho to desperately charge a shot down.
Borussia Mönchengladbach v Manchester City: Champions League – as it happened
Minute-by-minute report: A wonderfully entertaining game of end-to-end nonsense, City coming from behind to record a victory that sets their

Finally, André Schubert’s side got the opener they had threatened. Julian Korb was allowed to go unchallenged before he crossed from the right. Further slipshod marking meant Lars Stindl was in yards of space, and this time Hart was given no chance and City were in serious trouble.

Could they respond? Would a difficult month end with another defeat? The answers came within 10 minutes. De Bruyne swung over a corner from the right which struck Demichelis’s knee and appeared to cross the line before being cleared. The officials failed to award a goal but Otamendi did finish via Andreas Christensen – the on-loan Chelsea player adjudged to have scored an own-goal – and City were level and relieved. After Agüero rediscovered his poise at the death from the spot, relief turned to joy.

Borussia Monchengladbach:  Sommer, Korb (Traore 78), Christensen, Herrmann (Hahn 74), Wendt, Dahoud (Nordtveit 84), Xhaka, Raffael, Stindl, Dominguez, Johnson        Unused subs:  Drmic, Hazard, Schulz, Heimeroth      Bookings: Stindl, Korb, Dominguez

Manchester City: Hart, Sagna, Otamendi, Demichelis, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure (Fernando 46), Sterling (Zabaleta 90+2), De Bruyne, Silva (Navas 64), Aguero          Unused subs: Caballero, Maffeo, Barker, Evans        Bookings: Otamendi

Referee: Clement Turpin              Att:49,000

Tottenham Hotspur 4  Manchester City 1    Spurs Humble City
Saturday 26th September 2015 : Harry Roberts for GYKO at White Hart Lane

For a couple of seconds, Harry Kane felt the crowd go quiet and everything turn to slow motion. The only sound was the thump of his heart. It was not an easy chance and the Tottenham Hotspur striker relied upon instinct to steer the half-volley towards goal.

Kane reacted after Christian Eriksen’s 61st minute free-kick had come back off the crossbar and it was one of those efforts that could have gone anywhere. In the weeks gone by it would have flown off target but, this time, it was drifting towards the far, top corner.

Willy Caballero, the Manchester City goalkeeper who played because Joe Hart had been deemed unfit, was beaten and all anybody could do was wait. Kane had waited 687 minutes for his first Tottenham goal of the season. What were another couple of heartbeats?
Kevin De Bruyne and lavish Manchester City left chasing Tottenham’s shadows

The explosion of joy and relief when the ball sailed in told its own story. Mauricio Pochettino, the Tottenham manager, puffed out his cheeks while up in the stands, Roy Hodgson, the England manager, beamed broadly. Kane charged off towards the crowd, the emotion pouring out.

“Maybe I shut up a few people who have been talking over the last few weeks,” Kane said. “A few people said: ‘One-season wonder.’ People will big you up when you do well and when you are not doing so well, they are the ones who talk you down.

“It is frustrating but I use it to get my juices flowing and to prove these people wrong. It is great to score. When you score like I did last season, it becomes a drug and when someone takes it away from you, you want to get it back.

“It was a harder chance than it looked, it came quick towards me and it seemed to be slow motion. I was delighted. Sometimes you need a bit of luck. I probably have not had that this season.”

When the ball found the net, it was confirmation that this was Tottenham’s day. And not that of City. Kane had been marginally offside when Eriksen struck the free-kick but not as blatantly as Kyle Walker when he had crossed for what would be their equaliser. After Caballero blocked from Son Heung-min, Kevin de Bruyne played a loose pass and Eric Dier fizzed home from 25 yards.

Cabellero had a poor game. He failed to set himself before Dier’s effort; he came for but did not reach Érik Lamela’s free-kick which Toby Alderweireld headed in for Tottenham’s second, and he was out-manoeuvred by Lamela for the fourth.

“Two offsides and a set-piece,” Manuel Pellegrini, the City manager, complained, as he sought to play up the freakish nature of the result and absolve his goalkeeper and central defenders. With Vincent Kompany and Eliaquim Mangala out injured, Martín Demichelis and Nicolás Otamendi did not look convincing.

But it was shocking to see how City capitulated after Dier’s equaliser. Previously, they had been in charge. De Bruyne took his goal well, even if he had looked offside to begin a trend while Yaya Touré dragged a 15th-minute chance wide and Hugo Lloris saved from Sergio Agüero, Raheem Sterling and Aleksandar Kolarov.

Tottenham, though, dominated after the interval, with City’s woes compounded by the loss of Touré to a hamstring injury. He becomes a doubt for Wednesday’s Champions League trip to Borussia Mönchengladbach and Pellegrini said that Kompany would probably not make it. David Silva is also out while Agüero did not look fully fit here. Hart, at least, should return.

Manchester City’s perfect start to the season – five Premier League wins, all without conceding a goal – has been overtaken by three defeats in four matches in all competitions and there are questions, rather abruptly, over the quality of the back-up players and the collective mentality.

“Maybe we have shown too much confidence,” Bacary Sagna, the City full-back, said. “We know we have quality players, we know we can be champions but you also have to work well. We had to keep playing as a team, keep some composure and we didn’t have it.

“We were too nice, we lost too many duels and we have to be killers. It was the same against Juventus in the Champions League defeat. We had the chance to score goals and we didn’t. The offside goal [for Tottenham’s equaliser] changed the game but it’s not an excuse. We should have killed the game.”

It was a glorious afternoon for Tottenham, one to reinforce their belief that they can beat anybody on their day and there was a sight for sore eyes beyond Kane’s goal when Lamela was withdrawn to a standing ovation. The club’s record signing has driven fans around the bend but there had been flickers from him in his previous three appearances and it all came together in a driving and decisive performance.

“He’s never let the criticism affect him,” Kane said. “He’s worked hard on his own, after training, so he deserves what he gets. I’m very pleased for him. Hopefully, he can keep building his confidence.”

Spurs: Walker, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Davies, Alli, Dier, Eriksen (Chadli 68), Son (Clinton 77), Lamela (Carroll 87), Kane  
Unused subs:   Vorm, Rose, Trippier, Townsend           Bookings   Dier, Lamela, Kane, Alli, Eriksen

Manchester City:  Caballero, Sagna, Demichelis, Otamendi, Kolarov, Fernando, Fernandinho (Nasri 69), De Bruyne, Sterling, Toure (Navas 56), Aguero (Roberts 86)      Unused subs:  Hart, Evans, Zabaleta, Barker   Bookings: Demichelis

Referee: Mark Clattenburg              Att:35,867

Sunderland 1  Manchester City 4     Machems Mugged
Tuesday 22nd September 2015 : Len Johnson for GYKO at the Stadium of Light

A soothing night for Manchester City; anything but for Sunderland. One caused trauma, the other experienced it but the fallout was not of the drama expected when Sunderland collapsed to 4-0 down 36 minutes in. Dick Advocaat remains the Sunderland manager. It would have been understandable had he been in the dugout reconsidering his summer decision to return to the Wearside club as first-half errors piled on bad luck and City enforced their superiority with some ease.

Advocaat, however, informed his subdued players at half-time that it was about individual and mutual commitment and the 67-year-old Dutchman, for now, is displaying his. Sunderland, it might be argued by Wearside’s supreme optimist, wherever he or she is, won the second half.

Ola Toivonen scored in the 83rd minute, a header from a cross by the on-loan debutant DeAndre Yedlin, but the theme of Sunderland’s season to date is first-half goals. They have now conceded 17 of them in eight matches. Every match is turning into a game of retrieval. This is not a sport at which Sunderland excel and it is back to last season for a clean sheet. Next up it is a trip to Old Trafford on Saturday.

Against a Manchester City side who have lost their previous two games – at home to Juventus and West Ham – there was an opportunity to rattle the visitors early. Believe it or not, Sunderland were almost City’s equals for the first 25 minutes. Admittedly, they were 1-0 down then – Sergio Agüero converting a ninth-minute penalty after Patrick van Aanholt’s clumsy challenge on Jesús Navas.
With Fabio Borini sprightly, though, Sunderland came close to making it 1-1 on 17 minutes. Borini had the ball in the net then but it was ruled out for an alleged foul on Nicolás Otamendi, a 50-50 decision from the referee, Roger East.

Then Toivonen ran on to a centre from Yedlin and had a free header. Toivonen’s effort was straight at Willy Caballero and while Joe Hart’s stand-in had to tip the ball over, it was from the resulting Sunderland corner that City broke away to make it 2-0 and effectively end the contest.

After the corner had been cleared, near the halfway line Agüero found Kevin De Bruyne who found Sterling who refound De Bruyne. It was as quick as that. Sunderland’s players were spectators.

Now in the home area, De Bruyne saw Vito Mannone had left a gap at his near post. De Bruyne drilled in a low shot. Mannone slapped the turf. Mannone had been one of the heroes of the 2014 League Cup run, when Sunderland lost to City in the final at Wembley, but this was altogether different. Nine minutes later, as City made it 3-0, the Italian was grimacing again.

Flapping at a Bacary Sagna cross, Mannone could only palm away the ball. It ran to Raheem Sterling. His shot beat the keeper but hit the post. When your luck’s out, though, it’s out: the rebound cannoned off Mannone’s back and deflected in: own goal.

Advocaat’s predecessor Gus Poyet frequently bemoaned the number of own goals. Sunderland managed three in that 8-0 humiliation at Southampton last October. That’s a reminder that this is not a unique situation for the club.

Three minutes on from that misfortune, with home defenders again bewildered, Sterling ran on to a simple, if effective, De Bruyne pass and bent a shot around Mannone into the far corner. It was 0-4 and some fans made their way to the bar.

Opposite Advocaat, Manuel Pellegrini was a satisfied man. This was about getting Juventus and West Ham out of City’s system and allowing De Bruyne and Sterling time together on the pitch.

Missing Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Wilfried Bony among others, Pellegrini had named a very strong team. The way the game unfolded, he was able to watch De Bruyne and Sterling gel with Agüero. Agüero had two reasonable chances before his penalty and should have made it 5-0 close to the interval – a combination of John O’Shea and Sebastián Coates scrambling the ball clear after Mannone had been beaten again.

Advocaat introduced Lee Cattermole for Jack Rodwell at half-time but it was a token change. City had no need to search for more goals and with Tottenham at White Hart Lane on Saturday lunchtime on their minds, they were content to knock the ball around.

Pellegrini was able to bring on the £12m 18-year-old signed from Fulham, Patrick Roberts, for his debut. The teenager was neat and busy.

Towards the end, Borini had a shot saved by Caballero and then Toivonen scored his first goal for Sunderland. Unfortunately for him, and Sunderland, it was a footnote in a drama that ended more than an hour earlier.

Sunderland:  Mannone, Yedlin, Van Aanholt, Coates, O’Shea, M’Vila, Rodwell (Cattermole 46), Johnson, Lens, Toivonen, Borini 
Unused subs: Pantilimon, Brown, Larsson, Gomez, Defoe, Fletcher    Bookings: Rodwell, Coates

Manchester City: Caballero, Sagna, Otamendi, Demichelis, Kolarov, Fernando, Toure (Evans 89), Navas (Roberts 55), De Bruyne, Sterling, Aguero (M Garcia 74)      Unused subs: Wright, Maffeo, Fernandinho, Barker       Bookings: Demichelis 

 Referee   Roger East

Manchester City 1 West Ham United 2    City Flops
Saturday 19th September 2015 : GYKO at the Etihad

Slaven Bilic’s West Ham are turning into away specialists. Three of their four victories this season have been on their travels, and as the wins have come at the Emirates, Anfield and now the Etihad, no one could accuse them of going about it the easy way.

This was not quite as gobsmacking as the first two, except that Manchester City did happen to be top of the league with a 100% record before kick-off, and did not actually play that badly. West Ham spent much of the second half penned back defending their penalty area doughtily while their opponents played pinball around them. On another day, perhaps with David Silva, City might have managed to salvage something.

They certainly had enough possession in inviting areas, but the visitors held out to take the points thanks to the lead they took in the first half, before the league leaders had fully awoken to the danger.

“We didn’t nick it,” Slaven Bilic said. “If City had managed an equaliser I would be the first to admit they deserved it, but we had our goal chances too. This was different to our other wins. We knew we would have to score here, because with all respect to Liverpool and Arsenal, this is the best team in the league.”

West Ham are up to second but Bilic is not setting any targets. “Only the big clubs have targets,” he said. “We are just going to try to play good football and win all our games. Where it will take us I don’t know, but it should be a good journey.”

City’s perfect start to the Premier League season included five clean sheets in their opening five wins, yet it took West Ham just a fraction over five minutes to put a dent in that record. Taking a pass from Dimitri Payet and turning towards goal, Victor Moses was allowed to size up his options from 25 yards before beating Joe Hart with a low drive. It was not the start City would have been hoping for after losing in the Champions League here in midweek, especially as they had already lost Silva to a calf injury sustained in the warm-up. Jesús Navas was hastily promoted to the right wing before kick-off and Kevin De Bruyne made his first City start in the centre of the advanced midfield trio behind Sergio Agüero.

The Argentina striker had missed most of the Juventus game with a knee problem but started here and could have put his side back on level terms just three minutes after West Ham took the lead. Agüero seemed to have done all the hard work in pouncing on Aaron Cresswell’s mistake and reaching the ball before Adrián, who had raced out of his area in an attempt to intercept, yet with the goalkeeper stranded and only a couple of defenders guarding the line the City forward still contrived to miss the target.

City responded as they knew they must, with Yaya Touré beginning to exert himself in midfield and De Bruyne showing up well under close pressure, though little was created and West Ham extended their lead just past the half hour when the home side were unable to defend a corner. Winston Reid met Moses’s cross from the right with his head, Pedro Obiang did well to turn the ball back across the face of the goal, and with the defence ball-watching, Diafra Sakho seized his chance to poke in from close range.

City were adamant that the ball had not fully crossed the line when the corner was given in the first place, though that could hardly be offered as an excuse. “We conceded two easy goals,” was Manuel Pellegrini’s terse verdict.

Agüero was having something of an off-day, falling over when De Bruyne found him in space, shooting wastefully high on a couple and finding only Adrián’s arms when Bacary Sagna set him up with a cross to the near post from the right. He made some amends on the stroke of the interval, however, striding purposefully forward before squeezing out the pass from which De Bruyne scored his first City goal. The £55m Belgian did not hang about, beating Adrián with a crisp shot from just outside the area to reduce the interval deficit to a single goal.

City could count themselves slightly fortunate that Sakho had not widened West Ham’s lead moments earlier. He evaded Aleksandar Kolarov’s challenge to leave himself with only Hart to beat, then waited a fraction of a second too long and allowed Eliaquim Mangala the chance to get back and rescue the situation.

That turned out to be Mangala’s last involvement, for he failed to appear for the second half, with Martin Demichelis taking the field to join his compatriot Nicolás Otamendi in central defence. City looked sharper after the break, with Touré rolling an early shot just wide and Adrián preventing what would have been an own goal from Reid, under pressure from Agüero.

Raheem Sterling, almost anonymous in the first half, looked livelier in the second period but kept being caught in possession.

Although Sakho had a brief chance after staying onside and sliding a shot wide of the target, West Ham were living dangerously by the hour mark. When Touré turned a tired looking defence he seemed certain to score, yet with the whole of the goal to aim at he drilled his shot past a post. De Bruyne was practically running the game by this stage, showing marvellous touch and vision, generally to find Navas in particular incapable of delivering a decent final ball.

Lacking any other wing options Pellegrini sent on Wilfried Bony for Sterling for the final quarter, doubling the central threat but increasing the reliance on Navas to produce a telling cross. He did not manage it. Agüero and Bony were becalmed in the middle, so it fell to Otamendi to produce a late fingertip save from Adrián, and West Ham had their win. They deserved it too, for a committed all round display.

City have effectively done a Chelsea in reverse. José Mourinho now has the back-to-back wins he demanded last week to steady a lurching ship. Pellegrini and his players, after a month of plain sailing, are suddenly looking at back-to-back defeats. While Pellegrini claimed De Bruyne’s outstanding debut “didn’t matter, because winning was more important”, supporters are unlikely to judge the matter quite as harshly. City crowds like their heroes, and the Belgian looks to be made of the right stuff.

Manchester City:  Hart, Sagna, Otamendi, Mangala (Demichelis 46), Kolarov (Iheanacho 84), Toure, Fernandinho, De Bruyne, Sterling (Bony 66), Navas, Aguero         Unused subs:  Caballero, Maffeo, Fernando, Roberts      Bookings: Kolarov

West Ham United: Adrian, Reid, Tomkins, Jenkinson (Collins 85), Cresswell, Noble, Obiang, Moses (Antonio 60), Lanzini (Jelavic 69), Payet, Sakho        Unused subs: Randolph, Carroll, Zarate, Collins, Oxford      Bookings: Lanzini, Obiang

Referee:  Robert Madley

Manchester City 1 Juventus 2         Undone by the Old Lady
Tuesday 15th September 2015 : GYKO at the Etihad

For Manchester City, the sense of history repeating itself must feel suffocating. They have been exhilarating in the Premier League but then the Champions League anthem plays, the insecurity floods back and suddenly they look vulnerable. It has become a recurring theme and in their fifth season of trying to find the right formula they still look conspicuously short of being a team who understand European football at the highest level.

It certainly must have been startling for Manuel Pellegrini to see the way his team crumpled during those moments when a winning position became a losing one and the same old nagging doubts returned to make it feel like City have plainly not learned a great deal from previous ordeals in this competition. Juventus were simply too streetwise and too experienced, playing with the tenacity and knowhow that took them to last season’s final, while breaking the resolve of a team who have just established a club record of winning 11 consecutive league games.

Juventus may not have won a single match in Serie A this season but the team who have reeled off four scudetti in a row produced a wonderfully robust response to the injustice of Giorgio Chiellini’s own goal, when a foul ought to have been awarded against Vincent Kompany. If City are looking for some guidance about how to cope with the Champions League they could start by looking at the balance and structure of Massimiliano Allegri’s team.

Juventus chased the ball down with great urgency but also knew how to slow the pace against a team who like it fast and frenetic. It was mix of stout defending, some exceptional goalkeeping from Gianluigi Buffon and, when it really mattered, ruthless finishing from Mario Mandzukic and Álvaro Morata.

City could reflect on several chances that would have changed the complexion of the match but Raheem Sterling, with two of them, had still to develop a clinical edge. City never look as threatening when Sergio Agüero is unfit – the Argentinian was restricted here to a late substitute role – and it was rare to see their attacking quartet play with so little cohesion. The link-up play we have come to expect was only sporadically there. Yaya Touré and David Silva struggled to exert their usual influence and Samir Nasri cannot expect to keep his place when he is so subdued. Wilfried Bony provided a couple of the game’s outstanding moments, deceiving Leonardo Bonucci with a nutmeg and setting up a later attack with a brilliantly executed dummy, but when he had a sight of goal from the first of those moments his finishing was wild. “I don’t think this result is just because of Raheem,” Pellegrini lamented, reflecting on the difference between the sides’ finishing and fooling no one by saying his team had controlled the match.

For Juventus, Juan Cuadrado showed more in one match than he managed during five listless months at Chelsea. Paul Pogba demonstrated why City thought strongly about trying to sign him in the summer and their two goalscorers worked indefatigably. Kompany’s calf injury compounded a bad night for City, conceding their first goals in over 10 and a half hours of play and leaving themselves with the now familiar game of catch-up. If nothing else, it is not a new experience for them.

City had opened the scoring 12 minutes into the second half, just at the point of the match when it seemed like Allegri’s team were taking control, and it was a goal laced with controversy. Chiellini was outraged, and justifiably given the way Kompany had been using the defender’s back to gain a few inches, pinning him to the ground. Chiellini could not get out of the way and Silva’s corner struck him flush in the face, bounced off his nose and flew past Buffon.

A couple of minutes later, Buffon produced a double save that had Allegri describing him as the best goalkeeper there has ever been. The first was to keep out Sterling but it was the speed to get off the ground and turn away Silva’s follow-up effort that was breathtaking. Buffon would later tip away a curling effort from Touré that was heading towards the top corner, but it was the double save that had the greatest impact bearing in mind what happened in the 70th minute.

Pogba, denied an 11th-minute goal because of a marginal offside decision, delivered the cross from the left and Mandzukic had peeled away from Eliaquim Mangala, jutting out one of his long legs to turn the ball past Joe Hart for the equaliser. It was a neatly worked goal and Morata’s finish was an even more accomplished piece of centre-forward play. By this stage, Kompany had left the pitch and Morata was sharper than the substitute, Nicolás Otamendi, after a long ball forward had struck Aleksandar Kolarov on the back of his shoulder. Morata was brilliantly decisive and curled an elegant left-foot shot into the net, starting outside the far post but bending in to complete the recovery.

“The last two seasons we started the same way, losing the first game, and qualified for the next stage,” Pellegrini said. “We are just starting. We never want to lose at home and we never want to lose important points but we have 15 more points to play for.”

Manchester City: Hart, Sagna, Kompany (Otamendi 75), Mangala, Kolarov, Toure, Fernandinho, Nasri (Aguero 82), Silva, Sterling (De Bruyne 71), Bony           Unused subs: Caballero, Demichelis, Fernando, Navas
Juventus: Buffon, Lichsteiner, Chiellini,Bonucci, Evra, Pogba, Hernanes, Cuadrado, Sturaro, Mandzukic (Dybala 78), Morata (Barzagli 85)         Unused subs:Neto, Zaza, Sandro, Lemina, Pereyra

Referee: Damir Skomina    Att:50,363

Crystal Palace 0 Manchester City 1      City in Raid on Palace
Saturday 12th September 2015 : Des Wilkins for GYKO at Selhurst Park

This was evidence Manchester City’s match-winners are not all household names whose lofty reputations precede them. This bruising contest had lurched into stoppage time when Samir Nasri eked out rare space in the Crystal Palace penalty area and spat away a shot which Alex McCarthy could not hold. From the confusion within the six-yard box emerged Kelechi Iheanacho, a teenager introduced as a substitute seconds earlier, to clip home his first senior goal and establish this club’s best start to a top-flight campaign in more than a century.

At the final whistle Iheanacho flung his No72 shirt into the joyous away support, the lucky beneficiary perhaps glancing at the name emblazoned across the back just to check who had pilfered his team’s winning goal. The 18-year‑old Nigerian had previously featured for a few minutes as a late replacement for Raheem Sterling against Watford in August. Having been signed from Taye Academy in Owerri in 2014, he does not even qualify for the B list for City’s Champions League campaign, which begins against Juventus on Tuesday. “He’s a very important player for the future for us,” said Manuel Pellegrini. “He’s one of the reasons I didn’t bring in another striker when we sold Edin Dzeko.”

Palace might have thought the worst had passed when Iheanacho, the star of his country’s victorious involvement in the Fifa U17s World Cup two years ago, had replaced Wilfried Bony, particularly given Sergio Agüero had long since departed with a knee injury.

“I had to look at his shirt to check who he was,” said Alan Pardew. “But then City have so many players. It’s a problem going forward. People forget that not only are they building a very strong first XI, but they’re snapping up a lot of young players from around the globe making it very difficult for everyone else.”

It came at a cost. Agüero had not seen out the opening quarter, felled by Scott Dann near the halfway line as City sprang on the counter and Palace bemoaned the non-award of a penalty for Fernandinho’s trip on Yohan Cabaye. There was contact to the Argentinian’s right knee and he landed awkwardly on the same limb. It took him five minutes before he opted to hobble off to sit, scowling, in the dugout with his involvement against Juve in doubt.

Sterling was loitering a few rows further back and David Silva absent altogether. Those are Pellegrini’s immediate concerns, though he was impressed by the debut of Kevin de Bruyne, the leaders’ £54m record signing. The Belgian was tidy enough. He will click back into the rhythm of this frenetic division in the weeks to come.

That strength in depth will alarm those who aspire to claim this title. This is the first time City have won their first five top-flight games of a season since 1913 – they have won 11 in a row stretching back to the last campaign – and the gulf from the champions gapes at 11 points five games into Chelsea’s slapdash defence.

City had to grind out this latest success, initially scorched by the pace of Yannick Bolasie, Wilfried Zaha and Bakary Sako and grateful to Joe Hart’s flying save to deny Jason Puncheon after the interval. Palace had started the day in second place and with Cabaye imperious and James McArthur just as impressive at the Frenchman’s side they are no longer pushovers.

Yet once Yaya Touré’s lunge at McArthur had prompted a spat between Pardew and Pellegrini on the touchline – the home manager subsequently offered a handshake to acknowledge he had encroached into his opposite number’s technical area – City steadily imposed some order. They were much improved after the interval when Palace’s lack of a natural target man was exposed and should have led when Cabaye lost possession to Nasri following a period of home pressure. He found De Bruyne who darted down the line and swept a pass in-field for the galloping Jesús Navas, outpacing Puncheon and Martin Kelly, to collect through the centre. The winger rounded McCarthy but presented with an open goal could only scuff a left-foot shot into the side-netting.

Palace were relieved when Mike Jones did not spot Cabaye’s trip on Nasri in the penalty area, only for the 18-year-old from Nigeria’s Imo State to claim the spoils.

“Everybody in the league will look at City and say that was a great result for them given the way we’ve been playing,” said Pardew, whose side had triumphed at Stamford Bridge just before the international break. “They’ve put themselves in a great position. Chelsea and the others have it all to do now to make up the gap, but this will be a very unpredictable year in this division.”

Therein lies the chasing pack’s hope but, already, City boast breathing space.

Crystal Palace: McCarthy, Kelly, Dann, Hangeland, Souare, McArthur, Cabaye; Zaha, Puncheon (Lee-Chung-yung 83), Sako (Gayle 68), Bolasie (Jedinak 80)   Unused subs: Hennessey, Mariappa, Mutch, Campbell    Bookings: Dann, Hangeland

Manchester City:Hart, Sagna, Mangala, Kompany, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, Navas, Nasri (Demichelis 90+4), Bony (Iheanacho 89), Aguero (De Bruyne 25)    Unused subs: Caballero, Garcia, Otamendi, Roberts     Bookings:   Yaya Toure, Mangala, Nasri

Referee: Mike Jones          Att:25,000

Manchester City 2 Watford 0       Hornets shot down
Saturday 29th August 2015 : GYKO at the Etihad

The month of August will close with Manchester City flying and hardly wanting the impending international break. Four wins, four clean sheets, 10 goals scored, a club record 10th consecutive league win, and 12 points accrued is one story of their start. The other is a ripping yarn of sublime football in all departments, from defence, midfield and attack, which is shredding teams at will and is particularly entertaining to watch.

Raheem Sterling has made a telling difference to this Manuel Pellegrini side. Yet he is the sole summer recruit to have started any of the team’s matches. So what the manager has done to a band of elite yet seasoned footballers who appeared short of ideas and steam in the second half of last season must be applauded.
The XI who started on Saturday were unchanged for a third consecutive outing. Pellegrini has so far made only one change, standing down Wilfried Bony for Sergio Agüero following the opening match, a 3-0 victory at West Bromwich Albion.

Kevin De Bruyne will become City’s fifth major signing imminently. He will complete a highly successful window of trading for Pellegrini. Yet the Belgian may struggle for a place given how City are performing. Fabian Delph, who cost £8m and made his debut as a late replacement, may also wonder how he will establish himself in the team.

In last Sunday’s 2-0 victory at Everton, City required an hour before scoring, via Aleksandar Kolarov. This time, 47 minutes had ticked by. The player who did the trick was Sterling. This maiden strike for his new club was also his first since Liverpool’s 2-0 win over Newcastle United on 13 April.

City had been the dominant side and deserved the lead. A string of passes led to Bacary Sagna down the right. Along with the rest of his team-mates, the Frenchman has begun the campaign as if reborn, and the cross he put in was a delight, landing plum on Sterling’s right boot. Delightful, too, was the run that took the forward into space near Heurelho Gomes’s goal.

A light and clinically directed volley followed that gave the Brazilian no chance and the sense was that a goal glut may ensue.

At the break Pellegrini brought on Samir Nasri for Jesús Navas and afterwards the manager indicated he had been in a patient mood. “It was not frustrating in the first half,” he said. “You can’t expect to win the game inside 45 minutes against a team who defend well.”

Of the strike from Sterling, who cost £49m, Pellegrini said: “Raheem played very well. He worked very hard and I’m sure he’ll score more goals. He’s not just a scoring player, he works a lot in the game and is good at one-v-ones which is something we perhaps needed to improve on. He’s demonstrating that he’s not an expensive player, he’s a good player.”

Nine minutes after that finish City had their second. Yaya Touré had thus far been quietly efficient, turning up the gears at will. From around 25 yards the midfielder pummelled a free-kick into the Watford wall. This rebounded to David Silva and on the half-turn he rolled a slick pass to Fernandinho.

It removed the Watford rearguard, it gave the midfielder a clear shooting chance. This was on the angle, to the right of goal. What followed was a rocket that zoomed past Gomes and City were two ahead.

Those Watford fans who arrived hoping for a damage limitation exercise at the Etihad Stadium would have been heartened by the start to the match. City hogged possession as was to be expected, yet when Quique Flores’ team had the ball there was a zip and confidence to the promoted side’s one-touch, pass-and-move style of football that convinced.

In José Holebas, José Manuel Jurado, Étienne Capoue and Valon Behrami, Flores has a quartet of players from the continent whose experience and technical excellence meant they nor their team were intimidated at a venue where Chelsea had been beaten 3-0 in the home side’s previous outing.

On 22 minutes City moved on to the differing plane they can occupy. Touré took charge, barrelling at the heart of Watford. He was stopped, though it required two Watford players to repel him. The ball squirted to Navas and when Fernandinho received possession he swept a majestic pass out to the left. The move broke down but Watford were warned.

They may have wanted to take heed but they could not materially do so. It is proving tough for all opposition against this City incarnation. In the ensuing minutes Sterling twice cursed his luck at not opening his account.

Each time he was in on Gomes and a corner was the result. The goalkeeper made a particularly impressive save from the second chance, smothering the shot to turn the ball out.

At the close Kelechi Iheanacho made a first City appearance, the 18-year-old coming on for Sterling. As with all of his colleagues, the latter had been supreme. And with Chelsea losing to Crystal Palace – the champions now trailing by eight points – this was close to a perfect day for City.

Manchester City:Hart, Sagna, Kolarov, Mangala, Kompany, Yaya Toure, Fernandinho, Silva (Delph 75), Sterling (Iheanacho 88), Navas (Nasri 46), Aguero      Unused subs: Caballero, Roberts, Demichelis, Maffeo                  Bookings:Kompany

Watford: Gomes, Nyom, Prodi, Jurado, Behrami, Capoue (Watson 76), Ighalo (Layun 72), Abdi (Anya 63), Holebas, Cathcart, Deeney   
Unused subs:   Arlauskis, Vydra, Diamanti, Hoban    Bookings:Nyom, Prodl

Referee: Mark Clattenburg

Everton 0  Manchester City 2      Merseyside Pride
Sunday 23rd August 2015 : Reece Coverley for GYKO at Goodison Park

For once it was not hyperbole from Roberto Martínez when he previewed Manchester City’s arrival at Goodison Park and declared Manuel Pellegrini’s team had announced their championship credentials after two games. The argument remains persuasive after three.

City maintained their flawless start to the campaign with another display of defensive solidity and attacking ingenuity polished by fine second-half goals from Aleksandar Kolarov and Samir Nasri.

Everton posed Vincent Kompany and Eliaquim Mangala greater problems than West Bromwich Albion or Chelsea managed previously but they found the solutions, reducing the impact of Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku as the game wore on to record a third consecutive clean sheet. The hosts also worked tirelessly to contain David Silva’s influence and prevent Sergio Agüero devastating their defence as he did John Terry and co the previous weekend.

Again City’s class told with Raheem Sterling and Yaya Touré producing superb assists for the goals. Crucially, given last term’s indifferent title defence, their appetite to fight for every second ball, every challenge and every point was equally impressive. Agüero typified the industry by dispossessing Gareth Barry in central midfieldto the delight of the travelling support. It is very early days, of course, but City already appear a level apart. Sterling has settled in a manner few who witnessed his final months at Liverpool would have anticipated while Mangala looks more assured than at any point in his brief Premier League career. The prospect of more to come is an ominous signal to their rivals.

This was an absorbing affair that demonstrated the early-season promise of both sides, although only the visitors could sustain it. Everton were pinned back frequently and had to be patient without the ball as City, through the mesmerising double act of Silva and Agüero, wove their intricate patterns on the edge of the home penalty area. Yet Tim Howard, Phil Jagielka and the focused John Stones held firm for an hour and, as in the 3-0 win at Southampton last weekend, Martínez’s side carried a potent threat on the counterattack. Tom Cleverley’s quick feet and thinking allied to Aroune Koné’s tireless running ensured Lukaku was not the only preoccupation for City’s diligent defence.

Agüero began in the same menacing fashion that broke Chelsea last Sunday. Only 80 seconds had elapsed when he forced Howard to save with his legs with a blistering shot from a tight angle. He was again denied by the Everton goalkeeper after peeling away from Jagielka to meet an inviting cross from Jesús Navas with another low drive. Howard also saved from Silva and saw Sterling just miss the Spaniard’s pass across the face of goal, and all before Everton had orchestrated an attack of their own.

Barkley posed the first test to Joe Hart and was instrumental in carrying the game to City whenever Everton broke. The England international’s confidence appears visibly improved after two goals in the opening two games of the season and it was his pass that led to Lukaku sidestepping Hart and converting past two City defenders on the goal line. Unfortunately for the Belgium international, an eagle-eyed assistant referee spotted he was fractionally offside. Seamus Coleman went close, Barkley wastefully skied a dangerous free-kick from 20 yards and Lukaku shaved the crossbar with another set-piece attempt with Hart rooted to the spot.

Pellegrini’s team controlled much of the contest despite Touré being in evident discomfort. The Ivory Coast international required lengthy treatment to his groin in the warm-up and was restricted in his movement – though not his touch – throughout. But in Navas and particularly Sterling, afforded the inevitable Liverpool-ex reception by the Everton faithful, City had the pace to penetrate and force the home defence deep.

The former Anfield man made an influential mark on his Merseyside return. With an hour gone City turned the tables on Everton and hit on the counter. Agüero released Sterling down the left and the winger waited for Stones to commit himself in the area before rolling a perfectly weighted pass into the overlapping Kolarov on his blind side. The left-back, played onside by Jagielka, shaped to cross but steered a fine finish inside Howard’s near post instead. The USA international was beaten far too easily for both City goals.

But for a brief flurry, when Vincent Kompany cleared off the line from a Barry header, Everton failed to produce a convincing response. The game was settled with two minutes remaining when the substitute Nasri played a neat one-two with Touré and, with the struggling James McCarthy guilty of ball watching, raced on to the midfielder’s glorious flick to loft the ball over Howard. It was another impressive statement of intent by the men from the Etihad Stadium.

Everton:Howard, Coleman, Stones, Jagielka, Galloway (Browning 45+1), McCarthy, Barry, Kone (Naismith 64), Barkley, Cleverley (Deulofeu 86), Lukaku                       Unused subs: Robles, Mirallas, Besic, Osman

Manchester City: Hart, Sagna, Kolarov, Mangala, Kompany, Yaya Toure, Fernandinho, Silva (Delph 89), Sterling (Nasri 76), Navas, Aguero (Bony 81)           Unused subs: Caballero, Denayer, Demichelis, Iheanacho       Bookings:Mangala, Fernandinho, Nasri 

Referee: Anthony Taylor                   Att:38,523

Manchester City 3  Chelsea 0               Battered and Bruised
Sunday 16th August 2015 : GYKO at the Etihad

In a tremendous all-round display from Manchester City, it was a toss-up between Sergio Agüero and David Silva, the two central attacking players, as to who was their star performer. Agüero’s acceleration bamboozled Gary Cahill and John Terry in the opening stages, while Silva continually found pockets of space between the lines, relentlessly playing clever passes for onrushing team-mates.

Agüero and Silva’s qualities hardly came as a surprise but both were particularly prominent here – indeed, Silva created a good chance for Agüero within the opening minute, a sign of things to come. Chelsea’s poor organisation and a slightly new attacking format from City contributed to their huge influence on the game.

Chelsea were unusually open without possession, primarily because José Mourinho took the surprising decision to play Cesc Fàbregas in the deep midfield position next to Nemanja Matic. As always, Fàbregas’s poor tactical understanding caused problems: he left too much space behind him and Silva drifted laterally across the pitch into space. Matic tried to follow but could not get close enough to mark Silva out of the game.

Chelsea were simply too open between the lines, and Mourinho must have considered moving Ramires back into that midfield role to provide Matic with more support. Nevertheless, Fàbregas lasted the entire game in that role – and was not even able to compensate for his poor defensive play with moments of magic in possession.

Manuel Pellegrini deserves his share of the credit, however. In previous seasons, City have very rarely played with this much natural width, because both Roberto Mancini and Pellegrini have favoured “drifting” players on the flanks, like Silva and Samir Nasri. Here, however, City had proper dribblers on both sides: Jesús Navas on the right, trying to get down the outside of his compatriot César Azpilicueta, and the left-winger Raheem Sterling taking on the increasingly immobile Branislav Ivanovic. Therefore, City stretched the play and forced the Chelsea full‑backs out towards the touchlines, allowing Agüero and Silva more room to manoeuvre in the centre. Their movement caused constant problems, and it was fitting that Silva orchestrated the opener, with Agüero finishing – the two combining via the marauding Yaya Touré.

Many questions have been asked about Sterling’s suitability for City and in itself this was not a £49m performance. However, if his inclusion changes City’s attacking structure and allows their two best attackers more space, the knock-on effects could be even more significant than Sterling’s own contribution.

City were rarely troubled defensively. Diego Costa attempted to roam the channels but was thwarted by solid performances from Vincent Kompany and Eliaquim Mangala, who enjoyed arguably his best game for Manchester City.

Kompany continues to frustrate with his rash tackling – the booking he received for fouling Costa near the touchline was entirely unnecessary – but that was perhaps part of City’s overall strategy, winding up Costa through physical pressure. This threatened to spill over towards the end of the first half, and Fernandinho’s ugly aerial challenge was dangerously close to a red card, but it’s rare to see Costa provoked without managing to punish his tormenters with quality in the final third – he was unusually subdued, although can legitimately complain about a lack of service.

That suggests other City players did their job effectively. At right-back Pellegrini selected Bacary Sagna rather than Pablo Zabaleta, who had previously struggled against Eden Hazard’s speed, and City rarely had problems in that zone. The left-back Aleksandar Kolarov is a less assured defender, but offered a consistent attacking threat which pushed back Willian, who had probably been Chelsea’s brightest attacking player in their two previous games.

The only problem was in the centre of midfield, where City lost compactness in the second half and replicated Chelsea’s mistake of leaving too much space between the lines. Touré continually pushed forward, while the cautioned Fernandinho was inevitably reluctant to risk a second booking. With Fabian Delph and Fernando both out injured, Martín Demichelis was summoned to play a central midfield role, and helped shut down the game by sitting solidly in front of the defence.

Mourinho protested that 3-0 was not a fair scoreline, because Chelsea mounted a fightback in the second half – but, in truth, with Agüero’s early chances City could have been 3-0 up by half-time anyway.
Manchester City:Hart, Sagna, Kompany (C), Mangala, Kolarov, Yaya Toure, Fernandinho, Navas (Navas, 65), Silva, Sterling (Demichelis, 79), Aguero (Bony, 85)             Unused subs: Caballero, Zabaleta, Clichy, Iheanacho      Bookings: Kompany, Fernandinho, Toure, Mangala

Chelsea:Begovic; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (c) (Zouma, 46), Azpilicueta; Ramires (Cuadrado, 64), Matic; Willian (Falcao, 79), Fabregas, Hazard; Diego Costa          Unused subs:Blackman, Mikel, Loftus-Cheek, Remy      Bookings:Ivanovic, Hazard

Referee:Martin Atkinson          Att 54,331

West Bromwich 0  Manchester City 3                 Boing Boing City
Monday 10th August : Martin Austwick for GYKO at the Hawthorns

Among all the superlatives that Manchester City’s performance deserves, perhaps there should be a note of caution attached given we are only in the embryonic stages of the Premier League season. Too much can be read into one match, the warning goes, but it was still a thrilling way to start. City already look better than last season and it is certainly going to be fun finding out if they can continue to play with so much vibrancy.

When they pass the ball with this kind of expertise they certainly make it tempting to believe they must have an outstanding chance of taking the title back from Chelsea and the frightening thing, perhaps, for their rivals is that Sergio Agüero played only a peripheral role in this victory.

Agüero was restricted to a substitute’s place because of his lack of match fitness but, even without their goal-scorer extraordinaire, City delivered a performance that was utterly compelling.

They were two ahead inside the first 24 minutes and, if anything, it was probably just a surprise there were no more goals once Vincent Kompany added the third just before the hour. David Silva was exhilarating and there was the hard evidence here why City were so determined Yaya Touré should not be cut free when the Ivorian’s agent was noisily speculating about a transfer last season.

His second goal was a beauty and when Touré plays with this almost nonchalant brilliance it makes it feel slightly bizarre his involvement was ever in doubt. Touré looked jaded at times last season, a legacy of back-to-back tournaments in the World Cup and the Africa Cup of Nations but he appears to have been rejuvenated by a lengthy summer break.

Silva tormented his opponents even when Tony Pulis brought on Claudio Yacob in the second half to man-mark him and, presumably, the Premier League’s dubious goals panel will award him the opening goal. Touré strolled around imperiously, making everything look so preposterously easy, and the only minor disappointment for City, perhaps, was that Raheem Sterling could not mark his debut with a goal. The most expensive Englishman in the league ran clear at the end of the first half only for Boaz Myhill to deny him with a fine one-handed save. Ultimately, though, it did not matter a great deal.

Sterling played his part and no one should be left in the slightest doubt he has had a summer upgrade. He and Jesús Navas flitted in dangerously from the wings, stretching the play with their width and speed. Aleksandar Kolarov and Bacary Sagna pushed forward from the full-back positions and Pulis must have been startled how straightforward it was for City during those passages of play when the statistics showed the away side had 80% of possession. West Brom were demoralised by the superiority of their opponents and it must have been a sobering evening for Salomón Rondón, watching from the stand after completing his £12m transfer from Zenit St Petersburg earlier in the day.

The breakthrough came after nine minutes when Navas cut the ball back into Touré’s path and the Ivorian’s shot flicked off two players before trundling past Myhill almost in slow motion. The public announcer was too quick to declare Touré as the scorer. Silva had applied the subtlest of touches as the shot flew under his foot and that little nick took the ball through Craig Dawson’s legs, with the second deflection wrong-footing Myhill.

Touré was substituted before the end because of a slight twinge in his groin but Pellegrini did not seem too concerned it might prevent his midfielder from playing against Chelsea on Sunday. José Mourinho’s team will provide much more robust opponents than West Brom but, on this evidence, the champions may need to put on one of their defensive masterclasses.

It was too much, plainly, for West Brom and Pulis blamed himself for operating with a 4-4-2 formation, in his desire to partner Saido Berahino with Rickie Lambert, rather than having an extra man in midfield.

“It was the wrong choice and sometimes, as manager, you have to accept the responsibility,” he said. “If anyone is criticised, it has to be me.”

His system certainly played into City’s hands and Touré had far too much space for his goal as he advanced into the kind of range, 20 yards from goal, where he can be so lethal on his right foot. Touré’s clever little pass, with the outside of his boot, to set up the one-two with Wilfried Bony, was played perfectly.

His shot was curled into the top corner and even at that early stage, just past the midway point of the first half, it felt like the match had already become an exercise in damage limitation for West Brom. Kompany’s goal came from a Silva corner, going in off the captain’s shoulder, and City looked like a team in a hurry to get their title back.
West Brom: Myhill, Chester, Dawson, Lescott, Brunt, Gardner, Fletcher, Morrison, McClean (Yacob, 46), Lambert (Anichebe, 74), Berahino (McManaman, 80) Substitutes Olsson, Ideye, Anichebe, McManaman, Sessegnon Rose    Unused subs: Olsson, Ideye, Sessegnon, Rose      Bookings: Chester, Gardner, Fletcher, McClean

Manchester City:Hart, Kolarov, Sagna, Kompany, Mangala, Fernandinho, Toure (Demichelis, 80), Silva, Navas, Sterling (Nasri, 74), Bony (Aguero, 63)      Unused subs: Caballero, Denayer, Zabaleta, Iheanacho      Bookings: Fernandinho

 Referee: Mike Dean


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