August 2016 - Reports
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Manchester City 3 West Ham United 1    Well 'ammered
Sunday 28th August 2016 : GYKO at the Etihad

This game featured much less of the Manchester City full‑backs moving inside, a ploy of Pep Guardiola’s that was first sighted when Sunderland were defeated in the season opener at the Etihad Stadium.

Instead, the Catalan secured a third consecutive Premier League victory by implementing a more old‑fashioned strategy. First, Raheem Sterling slotted home after a Nolito pull-back, then Fernandinho thumped a header past Adrián from Kevin De Bruyne’s free-kick before Sterling dispatched the ball into an empty net at the death.

At his unveiling in early July Guardiola had insisted that it would be “presumptuous” to think he could fashion a change in English football. Cut to that 2-1 victory against Sunderland and the sight of Bacary Sagna and Gaël Clichy becoming midfielders when City attacked suggested the City coach was being modest.

Guardiola’s message had been to forget any notion of him being a revolutionary. “To come to the country which created football and believe you have to change something would be a little bit presumptuous,” he said.

Yet come this match, City’s fifth outing under the Catalan, the question being asked was how Slaven Bilic, the West Ham United manager, would deal with a tactic that has become an eye‑catching part of City’s approach under Guardiola and one which is new to most managers on these shores.

Bilic fielded three centre-backs and two wing-backs in order to create a five-man defence. In theory this put greater emphasis on Pablo Zabaleta and Clichy when West Ham attacked, while their coach might have instructed the wing-backs, Arthur Masuaku and Michail Antonio, to track the full-backs if they wandered inside.

The problem for Bilic was his team were 1-0 down inside seven minutes and then two behind after 18, as Sterling and Fernandinho grabbed their first goals of the season, putting the Croat’s gameplan under early, intense pressure.

The ploy of moving the full-backs inside was seen soon after kick-off, with mirroring strands of play: as Guardiola’s men roved along the left, so Zabaleta moved from the right channel towards the centre circle; later, when the ball was with a player in a sky-blue shirt along the opposing corridor, it was Clichy who ran inside.

Of this demand from Guardiola Zabaleta, who is in a ninth season at City, said: “It’s true we see full-backs running down the wings, maybe getting to the byline and then crossing the ball before tracking back to defend. But we are having a different role this season and sometimes playing more central and being part of the buildup while quickly returning to the right position when we lose the ball. “It’s fantastic to learn a new way of playing under a manager that has been very successful at Barcelona and Bayern Munich and I hope he can do the same thing here.”

At Bayern, Guardiola used the ploy most notably via David Alaba and Philipp Lahm in Bayern’s 3-1 victory against Manchester United in a Champions League quarter‑final tie in April 2014. The approach was also utilised by Armin Veh’s Hamburg, as Zé Roberto dropped in from left-back to midfield during the 2010-11 season.

Guardiola claimed on Friday that once the whistle sounds on matchday all he does is “move my hands”. There were certainly copious amounts of this action from the manager here, as at times he resembled a hyperactive semaphore devotee.

At one point Guardiola wildly gesticulated to Willy Caballero to stand midway inside his half as a sweeper; at another he strode from the technical area waving an imaginary yellow card when Masuaka appeared to foul De Bruyne. This was quickly put away when the referee, Andre Marriner, took out his pen and booked the No30.

If the ploy of moving the full-backs inside was largely eschewed what was witnessed, particularly after the break, was City being pulled into a test of character and sheer desire to claim three points the ugly way.

Opposing managers may study this game to see how their teams can strive to stymie the Guardiola blueprint. By the same token, though, he will have learned far more during these 90 minutes than in any of the other games City have played under his charge.

Entering this game, the aggregate score was 12-2 to City in what had been four walks in the park for his players. By the close, Sterling had rolled in a cool finish from a difficult angle to secure all three points for the hosts. As with Manchester United and Chelsea, it means City have nine points from three matches and are flying.

And they now know they can win without always having to innovate. Manchester United are their next opponents. José Mourinho is also a shrewd tactician. The meeting at Old Trafford on 10 September holds fascinating promise.

MAN CITY (4-1-4-1): Cabellero ; Zabaleta , Stones  (Kolarov 58), Otamendi , Clichy ; Fernandinho ; Sterling , De Bruyne , Silva , Nolito  (Nasri 75); Aguero  (Fernando 87). Booked: Fernandinho. Goals: Sterling 6, 92, Fernandinho 17

WEST HAM (3-5-2): Adrian ; Ogbonna , Reid  (Calleri 77), Collins ; Antonio , Tore  (Byrom 46), Noble , Kouyate , Masuaku ; Fletcher , Valencia  (Lanzini 60). Booked: Masuaka, Fletcher, Noble. Goal: Antonio 58.     

Referee: A Marriner (West Mids).     Att 54,008

Manchester City 1 Steaua Bucharest 0    Simple As
Wednesday 24th August 2016 : GYKO at the Etihad

If this is to prove Joe Hart’s swansong he was given a stylish send-off by Manchester City fans who left Pep Guardiola with zero doubt regarding their affection for the 29-year-old. On 65 minutes the support sang “Stand up if you love Joe Hart” and the Etihad Stadium rose to create a moment that was touching and one the under-pressure goalkeeper may never forget.

It was that kind of night throughout. The actual game was academic given the 5-0 lead City held over Steaua Bucharest from last week’s opening leg in Romania. Hart had finally been selected by the manager for the side’s fourth match of the season, and asked to help seal a place for City in Thursday’s Champions League group stage draw.

This they duly did, and Guardiola’s choice of captain was classy. Hart wore the armband as Yaya Touré also made a first appearance of the season. The Ivorian lined up in an XI that showed eight changes from Saturday’s 4-1 dismantling of Stoke City.

The evening began with Hart offering a thumbs-up to applauding fans following his warm-up and cheers from them when his first touch with a boot proved a sure-footed pass.

As a super-sized banner was unfurled bearing the legend “THIS IS YOUR CITY” with a picture of Guardiola over a streetscape of Manchester landmarks, the Catalan’s full-backs were again adopting a tactic first spotted on opening day here. This featured Gaël Clichy and the 19-year-old Spaniard Pablo Maffeo, a right-back on debut, moving infield to become de facto midfielders when City attacked.

Also notable was the near-constant conversation Guardiola had with John Stones in the opening part of the half. The central defender took instructions on where and when to pass and was told as vehemently to relay similar instructions to defensive colleagues. Stones was also a main channel via which much of City’s play began, stroking long and short passes around in the manner for which he was bought.

After 25 minutes there had been scant action in either goalmouth. Nolito managed one volley on the turn, though it was hit weakly at Valentin Cojocaru in the visiting goal. Later Fabian Delph, who partnered Fernando in midfield, found space and fired a low shot but again it failed to trouble the goalkeeper.

Hart did not deal as smoothly with a Steaua corner. When it was delivered he rose to punch the ball away only to be left flapping as Touré beat him to it. This was the closest Laurentiu Reghecampf’s team had come to clawing back one of the five unanswered goals they required to take this tie into extra time. Three minutes before the interval Hart mis-controlled a regulation backpass, hardly helping to support the idea Guardiola is unfairly maligning him for a clumsy touch.

Joe Hart saluted the crowd following a second half in which a string of songs rang from the stands in appreciation of the Manchester City goalkeeper. Photograph: Carl Recine/Reuters

The Catalan’s drive for perfection meant he would demand a step up in quality for the second half. As Hart wandered to the goal before the south stand he was regaled with “City’s No1” and, wryly, “He’ll pass when he wants”. There did indeed follow some deft control and an offload with his right boot, and he watched as seconds later Stones rose in Steaua’s area. The former Everton man’s header was wide of Cojocaru’s right post, however.

Eight minutes after the interval Reghecampf made a move, taking off Adnan Aganovic and Ovidiu Popescu for Adrian Popa and Nicolae Stanciu, the latter a player who is interesting Premier League clubs. It did not help Steaua as City promptly roved towards Cojocaru’s goal and opened the scoring. This was regulation stuff as Jesús Navas stood the ball up and Delph headed expertly past the keeper. It was the midfielder’s third goal for the club and took City to a 6‑0 aggregate lead.

It also meant Guardiola could make his own substitutions and rest two key men. Off came Nolito for the 19-year-old José Tasende – also known as Angeliño – and Stones for Tosin Adarabioyo, 18 – both were making their bows in the competition.

The City manager stopped Stones as he strode past to have yet another word regarding tactics and in-game strategy, during what was now a glorified training session. There was also chat with Aleksandar Kolarov about similar matters during a stop in play moments later.

Then came the home faithful taking to their feet to applaud Hart, the keeper appearing to touch the City crest and showing understandable emotion. Hart’s concentration held still, though, as at one point he, fresh from a vote of confidence from England manager Sam Allardyce, raced out to hoof the ball to safety, and in another ensured his defence marshalled a rare Steaua attack.

A late injury to Kelechi Iheanacho – he pulled up when chasing a ball down, and Guardiola later said he does not know how serious the problem is – was the only sour note. Unless you are Hart, of course, who acknowledged the stands at length after the final whistle. Despite the sentiment, deep down he will be hurting.

Man City (4-2-3-1): Hart ; Maffeo , Stones  (Adarabioyo  ), Kolarov , Clichy ; Fernando , Toure ; Navas , Delph , Nolito  (Tasende 57 ); Iheanacho (Fernandinho 76). Goal: Delph 56.

Steaua (4-2-3-1): Cojocaru ; Mitrea, Tamas , Momcilovic , Popescu  (Popa 53); Hamroun , Muniru Sulley  (Achim 62); Aganovic  (Stanciu 53), Enache , Bourceanu ; Tudorie .

Referee: P Gill (Poland).     Attt  40,064

Stoke City 1 Manchester City 4     You Wouldn't Bet 365 On It
Saturday 20th August 2016 : Steven McCann at the Bet365 Stadium for GYKO

It may no longer be called the Britannia Stadium but this was one of those days that served as a reminder that the home of Stoke remains an intimidating venue for visiting opponents. The crowd is boisterous, the conditions are gusty and the team in red and white are no mugs. Yet none of that could stop Manchester City from recording a victory that maintains their perfect start under Pep Guardiola and suggests they are indeed intent on making their mark on all fronts this season.

The visitors came through a frantic and full-blooded affair that was a throwback to the days when Tony Pulis was in charge of Stoke and those occasions, like last season, when City found themselves overwhelmed at the ground now known as the bet365 Stadium. But here City played with poise, grit and a level of ruthlessness that enabled them largely to dominate proceedings and make it 11 goals scored in three matches.

Sergio Agüero has six of those having added two goals here to the one he got against Sunderland on the first day of the season and the hat-trick he scored in the 5-0 blitz of Steaua Bucharest in midweek. The opener was a penalty, one of two awarded by the referee, Mike Dean, who was simply enforcing to the letter the directives issued prior to the new campaign for officials to be tougher on grappling inside the area. Ryan Shawcross was penalised for the incident that led to Agüero opening the scoring, with Raheem Sterling the man punished prior to Bojan Krkic converting for Stoke shortly after half-time.

Dean has developed a reputation for trying to make himself the centre of attention yet he made the correct call on both incidents and the only black spot in regards to his performance was his failure to award Stoke a penalty after Aleksandar Kolarov clearly fouled Joe Allen inside the City area shortly before half-time. That could have proved a decisive moment but ultimately the visitors deserved their victory, one decorated by two late close-range goals from the substitute Nolito.

“We suffer five minutes after they score but after that they didn’t create many chances and we had a great performance,” said Guardiola. “It is impossible to come here and for 90 minutes control the game but we created a lot and we saw again amazing team spirit.”

There was a clear resilience running through the visitors’ ranks and perhaps no single moment typified that better than when Jesús Navas charged back into his own area on 58 minutes to prevent Marko Arnautovic from having a shot on goal. A player not renowned for his battling qualities was suddenly transformed into Tony Adams.

And while City may not have performed with the swagger they displayed against Bucharest there was still much to admire in the way the team continued to build from the back, the centre-backs John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi splitting and playing the ball into midfield where David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne used it with intelligence and craft. Sterling, meanwhile, continues to dazzle and watching on from the bench yet again, Joe Hart could only contemplate what he will be missing should the goalkeeper, as expected, leave City before the end of the month.

That is not to say Stoke were overwhelmed and for large parts of the first half they matched City’s high-pressing tactics with their own desire to regain the ball and use it progressively, typified best by Allen, who was making his first start for Stoke since arriving from Liverpool.“We saw the energy and understanding of his game,” said Mark Hughes of the Wales midfielder. “I was pleased he was able to excel.”

Stoke’s battling was undone on 27 minutes when Shawcross was spotted grabbing Otamendi’s arm as the Argentinian looked to connect with De Bruyne’s corner. Agüero sent Shay Given the wrong way from the spot – a form of redemption given the striker missed two penalties in midweek – and scored again nine minutes later after glancing in De Bruyne’s free-kick from an unmarked position inside the six-yard area.

The hosts went from fired-up to frustrated and even more so after Dean failed to spot Kolarov’s man-handling of Allen. Yet they were back in the match on 49 minutes after the referee this time spotted an infringement by a City player - Sterling put his hands on Shawcross as he attacked an Allen corner, and while the contact was minimal it was an infringement.

“We know the directives and last year those penalties would not have been awarded,” said Hughes. “As long as the referees are consistent I haven’t got an issue with that but from experience I doubt that will be the case.”

Guardiola described the penalty decisions as “a little strange” yet ultimately he departed from here a happy man. “It is impossible to say what we can achieve but in the short time together, they [the players] show me how intelligent they are,” he said. “They have a lot of quality.”

Stoke: Given, Bardsley , Shawcross , Wollscheid , Pieters ; Whelan , Imbula (Walters 72, ); Bojan , Allen , Arnautovic  (Ramadan, 88); Diouf .

Manchester City: Caballero ; Zabaleta , Stones , Otamendi , Kolarov ; Fernandinho ; Navas  (Nolito 69 ), De Bruyne  (Delph, 88), Silva, Sterling , Aguero (Iheanacho 83)

Attendance:- 27,455              Referee- Mike Dean

Steaua Bucharest 0 Manchester City 5
Tuesday 16th August 2016 : Barry McGuin for GYKO at Stadionul Național

By the end, the only possible disappointment for Manchester City was that they might have to look for a new penalty-taker as well as a goalkeeper. Ultimately, though, did it matter a jot? Pep Guardiola’s team were so superior, so fluent in possession and brilliant on the eye, it turned out Sergio Agüero could miss twice from the spot and it was worthy only of a place in the small print.

Before the superlatives start to flow, perhaps it should be taken into account that Steaua Bucharest were generous opponents for a team with a new manager to impress. All the same, this was the kind of performance that made it absolutely clear why City were so obsessed with the idea of bringing Guardiola to the Etihad Stadium.

City toyed with their opponents in the way that Barcelona did under Guardiola, and Bayern Munich, too. They could have scored many more and the night was summed up by the standing ovation that swept round Romania’s national stadium after Agüero’s second and third goals had completed the scoring. City had outclassed the home side in every department and, six weeks into his reign, Guardiola had overseen a victory that equals the club record in Europe. Agüero had turned a possible ordeal into a hat-trick performance and the crowd wanted to show their appreciation. “Amazing” was the word Guardiola used.

Guardiola’s team certainly succeeded in switching the emphasis away from Joe Hart, left out again in favour of Willy Caballero, and reminding their audience it is usually a good policy to trust this manager. In the process, they made the return leg next Wednesday feel like a formality – even Hart might get a game – and as a measure of their performance it is no exaggeration to say Florin Nita, Steaua’s goalkeeper, had authentic credentials to be recognised as the game’s outstanding performer.

Agüero has now missed four out of his past five penalties in European games and, though he converted one against Sunderland at the weekend, it will be intriguing to see whether he continues in the role. “I’m confident if he’s confident,” Guardiola said, indicating he would leave it to Agüero to decide. What can be said with certainty, however, is that it was a brilliant reaction from this expert finisher. Another striker might have let those misses fester. Agüero simply shook his head clear and responded with a hat-trick of right-foot shots.

The Argentinian had looked crestfallen earlier in the match, raising both hands to apologise after his penalty misses either side of David Silva opening the scoring. The second one flew over the crossbar. The first was saved by Nita and, for a while, Agüero could have been forgiven for wondering how costly those misses might be.

City could conceivably have had a 3-0 lead inside the opening 21 minutes but Agüero quickly set about showing that he would not let self-doubt creep in. It was a beautifully angled finish for City’s second goal and his reaction to the earlier disappointments spoke volumes for the player’s character. From that point onwards, there was never any doubt about City being in the Champions League draw.

There was certainly plenty to admire about the way Guardiola’s team passed the ball and, again, encouraging signs of Raheem Sterling’s renascent form. Sterling not only laid on the passes for the first two goals but it was his speed and trickery that led to Miniru Sulley giving away the first penalty. It was a neat layoff for Agüero’s first goal and some brilliantly alert play, in the 13th minute, to dispossess Alin Tosca, sprint clear then pick out Silva for the opening goal.

By half-time, City could also reflect on numerous other chances to reward their superiority. Guardiola, however, was not entirely enamoured of what he saw and strode on the pitch to remonstrate with Nicolás Otamendi after the whistle had gone. Otamendi has a habit of diving into challenges and Guardiola even gave his player a little jab in the ribs. “I don’t like my central defenders going down,” he said afterwards.

Overall, though, his team were outclassing the Romanians, epitomised by the flowing move that led to Gabriel Enache bringing down Aleksandar Kolarov for the second penalty and, four minutes into the second half, the exchange of passes that culminated in Nolito going round Nita to score his first goal in City’s colours.

The link-up play between Kevin De Bruyne, Silva and Agüero was wonderful at times and the night tarnished only by the Steaua coach, Laurentiu Reghecampf, complaining Fernandinho should have been sent off for a challenge that left Bojan Golubovic with a suspected broken cheek. Agüero made it 4-0 with another precise finish in the 78th minute and then completed his hat-trick with a shot that went in off a post. The crowd stood to acclaim what they had seen and City’s small band of supporters must have been exhilarated by what it promises for the future.

Steaua: Niță, Tamaş, Hamroun, Stanciu, Muniru Sulley (67 Popescu), Toşca, Achim (46 Bourceanu), Golubović (46 Tudorie), Momčilović, Enache, Popa.

Subs not used: Cojocaru, Mitrea, Aganovic, Popescu.

Man City: Caballero, Zabaleta (70 Sagna), Otamendi, Stones, Kolarov (75 Clichy), Fernandinho, De Bruyne (79 Fernando), Silva, Nolito, Sterling, Aguero.

Subs not used: Hart, Delph, Navas, Iheanacho.

Sttendance:- 45,327                                          Referee: Daniele Orsato
 

Manchester City 2  Sunderland 1        It Begins
Saturday 13th August 2016 : GYKO at the Etihad

After waiting so long to usher in Pep Guardiola, with his reputation for bewitching football and a master plan based on worldwide domination, it is probably fair to say Manchester City may have expected more from his first game. They won, courtesy of an 87th-minute own goal, but the revolution is clearly going to need time and it was difficult not to pity David Moyes and his Sunderland players given how close they came to turning Guardiola’s grand entrance into an ordeal. “I realise now how difficult it is,” was the verdict from the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager.

Guardiola’s body language on the touchline certainly did not offer the impression of a man who liked what he saw and there was a considerable element of fortune about the game’s decisive moment when Paddy McNair, one of the Sunderland substitutes, turned a right-wing cross into his own net. McNair had been on the pitch only four minutes and, having just signed from Manchester United, the Northern Ireland international will have to hope the rest of his Sunderland career is a less harrowing experience.

His new team-mates can be desperately disappointed bearing in mind the way they refused to capitulate following Sergio Agüero’s early penalty, culminating in Jermain Defoe turning in a 71st-minute equaliser to move to joint 10th on the list of all-time Premier League scorers.

Defoe has 144 top-division goals and, with a touch more ambition, Sunderland might actually have put more pressure on Willy Caballero, City’s occasionally accident-prone goalkeeper, on a traumatic day for Joe Hart that saw him relegated to the bench. All summer there have been rumours Guardiola has misgivings about the England international. His team selection provided the hard evidence and there have to be doubts now about whether Hart will remain at the club.

Yaya Touré could also be forgiven if he were filled with insecurity, considering he did not even merit a place among Guardiola’s substitutes and there were times when the club’s supporters must have felt slightly dizzy trying to keep up with all the changes. Guardiola had tweaked City’s tactics in a number of ways and, having started with a 4-1-4-1 formation, it was fascinating to see the switch to 3-2-4-1 when they were attacking.

Those were moments during the match when Fernandinho dropped back from midfield to play in between John Stones and Aleksandar Kolarov as an additional centre-half. Bacary Sagna and Gaël Clichy, full-backs by trade, moved inside to become converted midfielders and the other five outfield players pressed forward. No other side in English football plays this way.

It is plainly a work in progress and Guardiola will have to hope his players are intelligent enough to understand what he wants because, if so, it feels as if a slick, sophisticated operation is being put in place. This, however, was not the day it gelled, or even close.

Sunderland have not won any of their opening Premier League fixtures since 2009 but the visiting players also had a new manager to impress and they knocked the ball around confidently at times. It also felt like a good time to encounter City when the home side had a new-look defence, a different set of tactics to negotiate and a goalkeeper trying to justify his selection and prove he can be trusted.

The harsh reality for Guardiola is that Hart and Caballero are both error-prone and, having preferred the Argentinean, there were a couple of anxious moments in the first half when the goalkeeper’s misplaced kicks threatened his own team. Caballero, to give him his due, also kept out Defoe with a smart reflex save but the most effective goalkeepers have a presence that inspires confidence and he has rarely shown that during his time in Manchester.

On a brighter note for City there were encouraging signs Raheem Sterling has reacted positively to Guardiola’s arrival. Sterling was operating in a new role on the right and it was his run that led to Patrick van Aanholt conceding the penalty after only three minutes. Sterling had cut inside Van Aanholt and the full-back’s sliding challenge, at full speed, was mistimed and risky. Agüero aimed his shot low and hard to Vito Mannone’s right and, though the goalkeeper dived the correct way, he was beaten by the accuracy and power.

For the remainder of the match, the surprising part was how slow everything seemed. Stones had an accomplished display but Nolito rarely threatened on the left wing and Kevin De Bruyne was strangely subdued. Sunderland had Donald Love making his debut at right-back. Lamine Koné excelled at centre-back despite all the hullaballoo about his future and Moyes had Lynden Gooch, on loan at Doncaster Rovers last season, in midfield. Yet the team who finished fourth from bottom last season held their own and it was rare to see City, with David Silva captaining the team, creating so few chances on their own ground.

Defoe’s goal was a typically astute piece of centre-forward play, running on to Jack Rodwell’s through ball before slipping his shot beneath Caballero, and Sunderland did not deserve the misfortune that turned the match back in favour of the home side. Jesús Navas, a 59th-minute replacement for Nolito, drilled in the cross and the ball flicked off Mannone, struck McNair and ricocheted into the net. Guardiola had his first win, just not in the style that might have been expected.


Manchester City: Caballero Sagna Kolarov Stones Clichy Iheanacho 80’ Silva Delph 64’ Luiz Rosa De Bruyne Agudo Durán Navas 59’ Sterling Agüero

Unused subs: Zabaleta, Reges, Otamendi, Hart

Sunderland: Mannone Koné Love van Aanholt Kaboul Gooch Khazri 65’ O'Shea Rodwell Watmore Januzaj 64’ Borini Defoe McNair 83’

Unused subs: Asoro, Lens, Pickford, Djilobodji                        

Attendance: 54,362                              Referee    Bobby Madley

 

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