August  2014 - Reports
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Arsenal 3 Manchester City 0         Community Kick Up The Arse
Sunday 10th August 2014 : Stuart Wilson for GYKO at Wembley Stadium

After nine years without a trophy Arsène Wenger now has two in two games as a breezy performance marked by three excellent goals secured a Community Shield victory against a weakened Manchester City. It is the first time Arsenal have won the shield in a decade and comes three months after their last official match resulted in victory on the same pitch in the FA Cup final against Hull City.

Quite what it means remains to be seen. City looked like a team still in hibernation while Arsenal, as they must with Champions League qualifiers against Besiktas coming up, seemed a step more advanced in their preparations.

Indeed, if confirmation were needed that this is little more than a semi-contest for a semi-trophy that fades from the memory come the first whistle of the season proper, then it is worth sparing a thought for last season’s winners. Twelve months ago victory in the Community Shield was hailed as the first step in the David Moyes Revolution at Manchester United (also, as it turned out, the only step).

This is not to belittle Arsenal’s achievement in beating the champions convincingly with a fine attacking performance that provided above all a reminder of the qualities of Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere, who looked fit and mobile and passed the ball well in central midfield.

This was an engaging, agreeably carefree kind of match from the start on an August afternoon that kicked off with the sun breaking through after a thunderstorm and the Wembley turf emitting a kind of luminous green steam. Wenger’s line up contained all three significant outfield summer signings – Mathieu Debuchy, Calum Chambers and Alexis Sánchez – while City included both Fernando, the £12m summer signing from Porto, and Willy Caballero in goal.

In the opening minutes Sánchez combined nicely with both Yaya Sanogo and Ramsey, who showed a willingness to run in behind Gaël Clichy at right-back as Arsenal set about trying to make their extra man count in midfield. City lined up here in the now fashionable 4-4-2, with Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic playing as a pair of genuine centre-forwards, albeit without the same tenacious commitment to tracking back that made the system work for Atlético Madrid last season.

Most of Arsenal’s early pressure came down the right side, with Sánchez taking the chance to run at Aleksandar Kolarov and Debuchy eager in support. Chambers also looked composed in central defence: one early challenge on Yaya Touré, easing off the ball a man who generally yields only to some form of hydraulic-lifting equipment, will have given him great heart.

For all that, neither team had managed a shot on target before Arsenal opened the scoring in the 21st minute via a combination of slick play by Cazorla and some loose City defending. There seemed no obvious chance of a goal when Cazorla picked up the ball from Sanogo 30 yards out but Dedryck Boyata’s mistimed lunge allowed the Spaniard to roll the challenge and find some space on his left foot. Clichy could not get there in time and Cazorla shot low across Caballero and into the far corner.

Cazorla had rescued Arsenal’s Cup final in May and here he sparkled again, producing a reverse pass inside Clichy to set Sanogo in on goal. Sadly the finish from the Frenchman belonged to an entirely separate footballing universe, another scuff from what seems to be an inexhaustible reserve of shins, pokes, flails and miss hits.

Sanogo is hugely willing and will improve, but he is still learning how to play at this level in a team that are undeniably short in his position.

Seven minutes before half-time there were huge cheers around Wembley when the referee Michael Oliver used his vanishing spray for the first time, producing a neat, hand-drawn circle – mark of the true artist – around the ball, only for Touré’s execution to fall some way short of his art work. And just before the break Arsenal doubled their lead with a goal of real craft on the counter-attack. Sánchez carried the ball forward and fed Sanogo who produced exactly the right pass inside to Ramsey at exactly the right moment. From there two expert touches made the goal: a jink inside Matija Nastasic and a low, hard shot into the corner.

At half-time an occasion that so often feels as though it never really got going felt as though it was all but over, with City not so much uninterested as undermanned and undercooked. Indeed, the champions looked like what they were: a team with nine first-team players missing including the captain, main goal scorer and chief creator in David Silva.

Silva did come on at the start of the second half and City were briefly energised, Jesús Navas taking a fine long pass from Touré and crossing deep for Jovetic to head the ball down. Wojciech Szczesny palmed the bouncing ball away at his near post. It proved something of a false dawn as Oliver Giroud made the score 3-0 after 60 minutes. What a goal it was, too. Taking a pass from Wilshere, the Frenchman, who had looked barely fit in his previous appearances, carried the ball forward and hit a dipping shot that deflected over Caballero from 20 yards.

For all the mildness of the occasion Arsenal will take great heart from victory here, not least from the performances of Ramsey and Cazorla and a hugely promising debut from Chambers, who looked a genuine presence at this level.

Far sterner tests await, though, than this weakened City, who had 58% possession and more shots on goal overall but still looked like a team simply stretching their legs.

Arsenal: Szczesny, Debuchy, Chambers, Koscielny (Monreal 46), Gibbs, Arteta, Ramsey  (Campbell 86), Wilshere (Flamini 68), Cazorla 7 (Rosicky 70, 6); Sanchez 6.5 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 46, 6.5); Sanogo 6.5 (Giroud 46, 7)

Subs: Martinez.

Goals: Cazorla 21, Ramsey 42, Giroud 60

Man City: Caballero, Clichy, Boyata, Nastasic, Kolarov  (Richards 76) Navas 5 (Sinclair), Toure (Milner 60), Fernando, Nasri (Silva 46), Dzeko (Zuculini 60), Jovetic

Subs not used: Hart, Rekik.

Booked: Fernando      Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland)           Att: 71,523

Newcastle United 0 Manchester City 2        We're Off Again
Sunday 21st August 2014 : Phil Brandon for GYKO at St James Park

Perhaps the most worrying part for the teams hoping to outdo Manchester City is that the champions have continued from where they left off last season, while also leaving the clear impression there is better to come. Manuel Pellegrini’s team are still trying to restore some order from the summer, with players returning at different times, Sergio Agüero short of fitness and Gaël Clichy temporarily standing in as a makeshift right-back. And yet they still managed to win without a single shot to trouble Joe Hart in goal.
      

It was their 11th straight victory against Newcastle and a reminder of their collective strength even on a day when there were only fleeting glimpses of the attacking qualities that made them such prolific scorers last season. Not everything has clicked straight away but there was still plenty to admire about their structure and knowhow, withstanding some concerted pressure from the home side and then picking them off with their extra quality.

Agüero had been on the pitch only eight minutes when he sealed the win in stoppage-time and there was a touch of brilliance about the moment they took the lead, via David Silva, six minutes before the interval. This might not have been the slickest City display – “solid” was the word Pellegrini kept using – but what a stunning reminder that goal was about the gulf that exists between the sides competing for the top prizes and the ones huffing and puffing below.

Edin Dzeko has had a distinguished career but it is debatable whether he has ever produced a moment as exquisite as the back-heel with which he took out two defenders and left Silva with his chance to gather the ball inside the penalty area and score with a low diagonal shot past Tim Krul in Newcastle’s goal.

Dzeko, the creator, and Silva, the clinical finisher, appeared to have swapped their usual roles. It was a stunning piece of team play and penetrative attacking whereas the problem all afternoon for Newcastle was that they just did not have the ingenuity to get behind City’s defence and create clear chances. The home side can at least take encouragement from the way they subdued their opponents for long parts of the game and, for now, the crowd appear willing to show a measure of restraint when it comes to their relationship with Pardew and his observation in his programme notes that this is a “new Newcastle”.

When the two sides met in Manchester on the opening day of last season it was a 4-0 thrashing for the north-east club. Yohan Cabaye had just gone on strike and Pardew’s popularity waned to the point that Newcastle finished the season with the crowd in open mutiny.

This latest defeat was nothing like as galling and he was entitled afterwards to praise their efforts. Rémy Cabella was the brightest player on the pitch in the first half and another of their summer signings, Jack Colback, quickly won over his new set of supporters, with his crisp challenges and competence on the ball.

Newcastle did, however, look short of ideas in attack in the moments when Cabella drifted out of the game and their new striker, Emmanuel Rivière, had a difficult introduction. Signed from Monaco, he looked anxious at times and maybe too eager to please. When he had his first sight of goal in the opening half he tried an implausible shot from 40 yards and there were not too many other occasions when he troubled Vincent Kompany and Martin Demichelis in the heart of the opposition defence.

He was substituted with six minutes to go for another debutant, Ayoze Pérez, and the 21-year-old Spaniard almost made an immediate impact, running into the penalty area before taking aim. Fernando, the new minder in City’s midfield, had dashed back to make a telling interception, diverting the ball behind Hart’s goal.

Newcastle will reflect on other moments during the second half when they worked up a head of steam and created at least three reasonable chances to equalise. Paul Dummett headed one over the crossbar from a corner and Yoan Gouffran did not show enough conviction when the ball fell his way during one of several goalmouth scrambles. “We didn’t get a break”, Pardew lamented. “That’s what you need against the top teams. But we didn’t get a break, we didn’t get a ricochet.”

Equally they did not have the same refinement as their opponents when it really mattered. Dzeko showed why City have been keen to add him to the list of players who have recently signed new contracts, with Pellegrini confirming that the announcement should be soon. Stevan Jovetic also looks as if he could have a profitable season if he can steer clear of the injuries that have held back his City career so far. Yaya Touré did not have one of his better games, ambling through parts of the game, but Fernando showed why he has been brought in as an upgrade on Javi García – covering space, closing down opponents and acting as a useful barrier in front of defence.

Newcastle put together 12 shots in total but their finishing was poor, epitomised by the chance Moussa Sissoko put over the crossbar just before Agüero scampered away to score the second goal.

He might be lacking fitness but he still managed to elude Fabricio Coloccini from the substitute Fernandinho’s pass. His first effort was left-footed from a difficult angle and came back to him off Krul. Agüero was on his feet in a flash and the Argentinian’s follow-up shot was with the other foot, expertly picking out the far corner.

Manchester City 3 Liverpool 1       City's Premier Class Act
Monday 25th Sept 2014 : GYKO at the Etihad

The moment that best summed up the difference between Mario Balotelli’s old club and his new one arrived midway through the second half and a few seconds after Sergio Agüero, one of the more formidable strikers in the industry, had run on to the field as a substitute. Agüero’s first touch was to control a through-ball from Jesús Navas and his second put it past Simon Mignolet as though it were the most normal thing in the world. What a way to introduce himself and what a devastating reminder of Man City’s extra quality.

Stevan Jovetic had already provided a couple of his own reminders with the opening goals on the night City joined Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Swansea City in starting the season with back-to-back wins.

Liverpool had actually matched the champions for long periods and Balotelli, from his vantage point in the Colin Bell stand, might still have been left with the impression they are a better team now than in his last spell in English football. Yet this also was the first occasion when it became clear how much Liverpool might miss the penetrative qualities of Luis Suárez. The away side had plenty of the ball.

They made every kind of pass, indeed, apart from the killer one. They had been the better side until Jovetic’s first goal, five minutes before the break, but they never played with the menace that was associated with Liverpool last season and did not threaten Joe Hart’s goal with any sustained momentum until a header from their substitute, Rickie Lambert, came back off the goalkeeper and went in off Pablo Zabaleta seven minutes from the end.

It was typical of Brendan Rodgers’ team that, briefly, they still thought they could complete a late comeback but it was always unrealistic and almost out of the question when Glen Johnson went off with a groin injury, leaving them with only 10 players on the field. Liverpool’s manager had already used his three substitutes and City withheld an initial flurry before seeing out the final exchanges without too much trouble.

Pellegrini’s team have started the season as if they mean business and it must be ominous for their rivals that he admitted afterwards the champions had not fully clicked. Yaya Touré did not look his usual commanding self, much like his performance at Newcastle on the opening weekend. Edin Dzeko had a frustrating night before taking a kick to the thigh, paving the way for Agüero to replace him, and Liverpool must have been slightly bemused that they could find themselves 3-0 behind when few visiting teams to this stadium have so much of the ball.

Unfortunately for them it was their defending that let them down last season and this defeat was another reminder that they cannot be so loose at the back. Jovetic’s first goal was a particular ordeal for Liverpool’s new left-back, Alberto Moreno, and Dejan Lovren, another of their summer signings, will not enjoy the replays of Agüero’s goal. “We have to be tighter than that, get up to people,” Rodgers said. “They were poor goals.”

For Liverpool there was an element of déjà vu about what went wrong. “You can spend as much money as you like, it doesn’t guarantee you anything,” Rodgers added.

Jovetic’s first season in Manchester was almost written off by injuries but his talent has never been in question and it was an emphatic right-foot shot he struck beneath Mignolet for the first goal. Yet Rodgers was entitled to be aggrieved by the defending. Lovren had nodded the ball away from David Silva and the only requirement for Moreno was to get his clearance out of the penalty area. It was a lazy swing of his left boot that allowed the alert Jovetic to pinch the ball.

Until that point City had struggled to get behind the visiting defence. Liverpool started the game with a good structure and, much like their visit to this stadium last season, no sense whatsoever of being overcome by caution. City’s home record over the last three seasons incorporates only three defeats but Rodgers always sets up his side to take the game to the opposition and that meant Zabaleta and Gaël Clichy, City’s overlapping full-backs, were reluctant to break forward as much as usual.

Clichy, in particular, had to worry about the pace and directness of Raheem Sterling but one of City’s great strengths is the way they gang up on the opposition full-backs in wide positions and it was noticeable that when Zabaleta did start venturing forward more regularly it helped Jovetic to his second goal, turning in Samir Nasri’s pass from the right.

For Liverpool Daniel Sturridge was denied a goal for offside early in the second half and could also reflect on their most inviting chance of the opening period, when he eluded Vincent Kompany but could not get his shot past Hart. Philippe Coutinho and Sterling faded and the bottom line was that Liverpool did not have the same threat without Suárez. Balotelli, according to Rodgers, is a “calculated risk”. It is easier now to understand why he has taken it.

Teams

Manchester City:
Hart, Zabaleta, Clichy, Demichelis, Kompany, Fernando, Yaya Toure, Nasri, Silva (Navas 64), Dzeko (Aguero 69), Jovetic (Fernandinho 79)   Unused subs: Caballero, Kolarov, Sagna, Milner   Bookings: Yaya Toure

Liverpool:  Mignolet, Johnson, Moreno, Loveren, Skrtel, Henderson, Gerrard, Allen (Can75), Coutinho (Markovic 60), Sterling (Lambert 79), Sturridge          Unused subs:  Jones, K Toure, Sakho, Manquillo

Bookings: Can                                       Referee: Michael Oliver          Att:45,471  

Manchester City 0 Stoke City 1      A Tale of Two City's
Saturday 30th August 2014 : GYKO at the Etihad

The last time Mark Hughes oversaw a victory at the Etihad Stadium, he was sacked shortly afterwards. It is safe to say this was not such a bittersweet triumph and, whether or not it constituted revenge, it was certainly a reminder of his prowess to the club that discarded him so unceremoniously.

Hughes is now approaching the fifth anniversary of his 2009 dismissal, minutes after Manchester City beat Sunderland 4-3, and when they had already lined up his successor, Roberto Mancini, and if he was miscast as a manager of a super-rich club with vaunting ambition, this was proof that he has often excelled with a lesser budget and a competitive group of players who savour their status as underdogs.

A superlative result was achieved in spectacular style, Mame Biram Diouf running virtually the length of the pitch to score the only goal.
Nevertheless, earthier values were as important for Stoke City. Brilliantly configured by Hughes, they defended staunchly throughout. Manchester City, who had scored 99 times in just 30 home games under Manuel Pellegrini, were frustrated. As the champions had won 23 of their previous 26 league matches at the Etihad Stadium, this was both a startling scoreline and, for Stoke, a deserved one.

Predictably, Hughes rejected talk this was particularly gratifying to defeat his former club. “I have no axe to grind,” said the man whom City axed. “I am just delighted for my team and our fans. They have enjoyed a fantastic goal and a great performance.”

The manner of the win was especially pleasing. One suggestion was that Stoke dragged the champions down to their level but that was manifestly unfair on their performance. There was much to admire about their organisation and commitment, the rumbustious running of Diouf, the deft touch of Peter Crouch and the willingness of their defensive colleagues to swarm around a flair player posing dangers.

Meanwhile, Pellegrini’s side laboured in uncharacteristically ineffective fashion. “We didn’t play well in a creative way,” the Chilean conceded. His side were at their seductive best only once, on the stroke of half-time.

Sergio Agüero darted into the penalty area, drawing a crowd of defenders to him, and released Aleksandar Kolarov with a backheel. The left-back took the right option, finding Yaya Touré, who struck the bar.

Otherwise, this was the antithesis of their expert dissection of Liverpool on Monday. Pellegrini’s side were strangely blunt. They were flat, with Stevan Jovetic enduring an anticlimactic afternoon, five days after he was the match-winner with a brace against one of their title rivals. Even the normally impeccable David Silva overhit a pass, which happens about as often as his side lose at home. “These games always happen once a year,” Pellegrini said. “It happened today.”

He believed they should have had a late reprieve, when Touré claimed a penalty as Erik Pieters challenged. To Pellegrini’s irritation, the Ivorian was booked for diving. “It was a clear penalty,” he said. Nevertheless, the referee Lee Mason was consistent in his reluctance to point to the spot. Diouf had been tripped by Kolarov just inside the home penalty area. “I saw the one we should have had in the first half,” Hughes said. “They even themselves out so we would have won anyway.”

The early alarm was a warning sign that Pellegrini’s team were struggling to halt Diouf legally and his first Stoke goal came as an inadvertent result of the hosts’ pressure. One penalty area was packed and the other was almost deserted when Stoke cleared a corner as far as Diouf, lurking just outside the 18-yard box. The Senegalese ran a further 80 yards, brushing off Kolarov and nutmegging Fernandinho, the last defender, before sliding a shot past Joe Hart for a magnificent solo goal. “Outstanding,” said Hughes. Pellegrini was predictably less impressed. “It was too easy the way they scored on a counterattack,” he argued.

It was a goal the beleaguered half of Manchester could enjoy. Manager Hughes and defenders Phil Bardsley and Ryan Shawcross all have Manchester United on their CVs. The scorer Diouf, brought in from Hannover to add an extra dimension to the attack, is a fourth Old Trafford old boy, having spent two and a half years there between July 2009 and January 2012.

“When you are a striker you want to make an impression as soon as possible and that means scoring goals,” Hughes added. “We could see he was going to give us something we didn’t have last year, which was pace and power on the break.”

Meanwhile, Pellegrini shrugged off suggestions City could make a late move for a rather more costly striker, Monaco’s £54m Colombian Radamel Falcao, who was not involved in his current club’s match against Lille on Saturday and has been strongly linked with a transfer away. “Just rumours,” he said. It is his standard response to such speculation, but the result that preceded it was distinctly unusual.

Teams
Manchester City:
Hart, Sagna, Kolarov, Kompany, Demichelis, Fernando (Fernandinho 37), Yaya Toure, Nasri (Navas 63), Silva, Jovetic (Dzeko 63), Aguero   
Unused subs: Caballero, Zabaleta, Milner, Clichy   Bookings:  Fernandinho, Yaya Toure

Stoke City: Begovic, Bardsley, Shawcross, Wilson, Pieters, Whelan, Nzonzi, Diouf, Walters (Odemwingie 46 (Adam 65), Moses (Muniesa 80), Crouch     Unused subs:  Sorensen, Huth, Arnautovic, Bojan       Bookings:  Bardsley

Referee: Lee Mason                Att:45,622

 

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