December 2013 - Reports
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Manchester City 1  Crystal Palace 0      Hart the Hero
Saturday 28th December 2013 : GYKO at the Etihad

Manuel Pellegrini may have a point about festive fixtures. The Manchester City manager is in his first year in England, and simply refuses to accept that playing two games in less than 48 hours is a good idea. He saw his side climb to the top of the Premier League with this victory, for which Yaya Touré, Samir Nasri and Álvaro Negredo were rested, but it was easily City's most unimpressive home win of the season.

After the Boxing Day banquet, this was about as appetising as two-day-old leftovers, and Crystal Palace came close to spoiling City's Christmas by sneaking off with a point. While it might have been imagined that City have reserves of sufficient quality to see off relegation strugglers, that turned out not to be the case. The home side were in danger of spending all day in search of a goal until Pellegrini relented and sent on reinforcements from the substitutes' bench.

"I always knew this game would not be easy," the City manager said. "We were not fresh; it is impossible to play two games in so little time, and it is always difficult when only one team is trying to play.

"The other team just wanted to play for 90 minutes in front of their own goal. I understand why they chose to do that, and sometimes it is very important to know how to win 1-0."

Palace were not quite as negative as that sounds, otherwise Joe Hart would not have been named man of the match for important saves at three crucial moments in the second half, but the pace was slow, the entertainment value low and the crowd restless. The highlights of a stodgy first half came right at its close.

Fernandinho twice came close to scoring at one end, sending a shot over the bar then bringing a save from Julián Speroni with a header from James Milner's cross, while at the other end Palace won a corner to bring a semi-ironic ovation from their travelling support. Apart from Hart taking a boot to the face, the rest of the first 45 minutes was completely forgettable, just a mountain of home possession resulting in a steady trickle of mostly uninspired goal attempts in the Palace half, where almost all the action took place.

Yannick Bolasie did manage a couple of shots for Palace, on the infrequent occasions the visitors ventured across the halfway line, but it was mostly a rearguard action from Tony Pulis's side and, perhaps feeling the effects of their Boxing Day exertions against Liverpool, City were surprisingly short of ideas about how to break it down. A goal was required to open up the game, yet neither side appeared to have enough urgency to create one.

David Silva's attempt five minutes before the interval was typical. Having shown tremendous balance to keep the ball in play on the goal-line and evade Barry Bannan's challenge, he then elected to shoot from a narrow angle when the obvious option was to look up and find a teammate in the middle.

It was as if City thought a goal was bound to arrive eventually, which is probably just what Pulis wanted them to think. Jason Puncheon possibly showed his hand a little early in bringing a diving save from Hart early in the second half, because after that Pellegrini sent on the cavalry in the form of Negredo and Nasri. He took off two defensive players, kept Edin Dzeko on the pitch and moved Milner to right back, so his intention to win the game could not be doubted.

After Mile Jedinak forced another save from Hart, the strategy worked. Nasri instantly gave City more penetration, and he started the move from which Jesús Navas picked out Dzeko close to the penalty spot with a returned cross from the right. Dzeko crashed the ball home and all Palace's elaborate time-wasting was undone.

"We created some good opportunities and looked quite dangerous on the break," Pulis said. "It's just the final pass or the finish that keeps letting us down. We have done quite well away from home, we just need to turn 1-0 defeats into draws, something that might have happened today but for Joe Hart."

Dzeko almost had another right at the end, again from a cross from the industrious Navas, but his header from a tight angle landed on the roof of the net. A two-goal win would have flattered City: they really were not that good. Whether their present league position flatters City will be shown in the second half of the season. Once they have Touré and Sergio Agüero back, and the benefit of a bit more rest, they should look more like their old selves.

Teams

Manchester City:
Hart, Boyata (Negredo 54), Clichy, Nastasic, Kompany, Garcia, Fernandinho (Nasri 54), Silva, Milner (Kolarov 75), Navas, Dzeko   Unused subs: Pantilimon, Lescott, Rodwell, Yaya Toure    Bookings: Silva

Crystal Palace: Speroni, Ward, Mariappa, Parr, Gabbidon, Bannan (Gayle 81), Delaney, Puncheon, Jedinak, Bolasie (Williams 76), Jerome (Chamakh 35)      Unused subs: Campana, Phillips, Moxey, Price    Bookings: Delaney

Referee: Jon Moss       Att:47,250

Manchester City 2  Liverpool 1  Christmas Cracker at the Etihad
Thursday 26th December 2013 : GYKO at the Etihad


Manchester City preserved their 100% home record at the expense of Liverpool's attempt to climb back to the top of the table, coming from a goal down to secure the points that took them past their north-west rivals to go second behind Arsenal.

Two sides attempting to win produced an enthralling contest, even if all the goals came in the first half along with most of the controversy. Brendan Rodgers was so annoyed at Liverpool having a valid goal disallowed he appeared to question Lee Mason's integrity in wondering why a Greater Manchester (Bolton) referee had been appointed to the match. Liverpool's manager can expect to be charged by the Football Association for his comments.

"I was surprised to see that the referee came from Greater Manchester," he said. "If it was City v Liverpool at Anfield I don't think we would get a referee from the Wirral." He thought Mason was not alone in his ineptitude. "It was a horrendous performance from all the officials. Nothing went our way at all."

Gamely Rodgers withdrew Lucas Leiva towards the end to get another forward on in search of a point, while City ended up sending on Javier García as extra insurance. It was a close contest that could have gone either way, though City had the stand-out performer in Álvaro Negredo and made a much better job of shackling Luis Suárez and Raheem Sterling in the second half.

Ultimately the game was decided by what was either a sublime finish by Negredo or a basic goalkeeping error, depending on your point of view. Certainly Simon Mignolet did not appear to be expecting Negredo to attempt to score in the way he did.

Joe Hart, on the other hand, made a first-half save at a crucial point and seems to be back in Manuel Pellegrini's good books. "It was good for Joe to have a rest," the City manager said. "He is back to his best now. The team showed personality in coming back from one-nil down. We could not afford to lose to Liverpool, it would have been like losing four points."

City were at Liverpool right from the start, with Jesús Navas heading against a post after five minutes and Vincent Kompany and Yaya Touré seeing goal attempts flash narrowly wide. Negredo missed the target from close to the penalty spot after Aleksandar Kolarov's cross from the left before Suárez reminded the home side of the danger of pressing too far forward with a slick pass that played Sterling into the empty space behind City's high defensive line.

It was a pass worthy of bringing about the opening goal and in fact should have done, since Sterling rounded Hart with ease to pass the ball into the net, only to be brought back for an offside flag that replays showed to be incorrect.

"It wasn't even a difficult decision," Rodgers fumed. "It was a perfectly timed run and at this level you have to get those calls right."

While Suárez too showed visible indignation when news of the error was relayed to him on the pitch, his reaction was to remain calm and repeat the formula to create a goal that did count. Taking a pass from Jordan Henderson the Uruguayan again picked out Sterling's run with a first-time flick, and though Hart this time forced him wide of the goal Philippe Coutinho was in support and stepped in to sidefoot past the goalkeeper.

City needed to strike back quickly and did, Kompany cancelling Liverpool's advantage by beating Martin Skrtel to a David Silva corner on the half hour, though it still needed a smart close-range save from Hart to prevent Coutinho restoring the visitors' lead before the interval. Again Suárez and Sterling had been involved in the build-up, finding space in the City half and making good use of it, yet the home side produced some incisive and inventive passing of their own to finish the first half ahead.

Negredo might have scored a couple of minutes earlier than he did when a strong run and measured pass from Fernandino gave him a sight of goal that a combination of Skrtel and Mignolet snuffed out. Undeterred he scored with his next attempt, when precise passing by Samir Nasri and Navas sliced open the Liverpool defence and Negredo shot early and not particularly powerfully with the outside of his right boot, yet his effort from the edge of the area surprised Mignolet, who got a weak hand to the ball that only helped it over the line. If Negredo had spotted that the goalkeeper was slightly off his line and deliberately attempted to chip him it was an audacious, almost Suárez-like finish, though having managed to reach the ball Mignolet should not have been beaten by a shot with so little behind it.

Liverpool had a brief chance to draw level at the start of the second half, when Henderson was correctly judged to be offside in getting in the way of a Suárez shot, before Negredo demonstrated some impressive ball skills in the centre circle then tried to chip Mignolet again, without success. Once in the lead City sensibly restrained their attacking ambitions, pulling Touré and Fernandinho further back to deny Liverpool's strikers space and leaving just Silva and Navas to help Negredo forage up front. Hart still needed to make saves from Glen Johnson and Henderson to keep his side in front, though the threat from Suárez, in particular, was reduced in the second half.

On the one occasion the Liverpool captain did break free he found Sterling in front of goal with an inviting pass, only to discover the teenager's finishing does not quite match his positional sense. Sterling put the chance over the crossbar. Had the roles been reversed, one could not help but feel, Suárez would have made more of the opportunity. Frustrated, Suárez ended the game with a ludicrously optimistic goal attempt from a 30-yard free-kick then an absurdly exaggerated dive in the penalty area when his shirt was being pulled. He missed out both times, then picked up a slightly harsh booking for a foul on Hart. Suárez will not stop trying, but evidently he cannot perform miracles every week.

Teams

Manchester City:
Hart, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Lescott, Kompany, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, Nasri (Milner 72), Silva (Garcia 87), Negredo (Dzeko 77), Navas   Unused subs: Pantilimon, Clichy, Nastasic, Boyata   Bookings: Zabaleta

Liverpool:
Mignolet, Cissokho, Skrtel, Sakho, Johnson, Lucas (Iago Aspas 82), Allen, Henderson, Sterling, Coutinho (Moses 68), Suarez     Unused subs: Jones, Toure, Agger, Alberto, Smith   Bookings: Johnson

Referee:   Lee Mason         Att:47,351

Fulham  2  Manchester City 4    A Cruise on the Thames
Saturday 21st December 2013 : Brian Caldwell for GYKO at Craven Cottage

Manchester City moved into second spot in the table with a thrilling 4-2 win over battling Fulham at Craven Cottage. Manuel Pellegrini's men appeared to be coasting to victory after racing into a 2-0 half-time lead thanks to goals from Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany.

But Fulham battled back bravely in the second half to level matters through Kieran Richardson's goal and Kompany's comedy own goal. However, City responded in style as substitutes Jesus Navas and James Milner struck late on to save their captain's blushes and maintain their good run of form.   

Fulham started brightly and they went close to breaking the deadlock on 12 minutes when Adel Taarabt capitalised on a slip from Gael Clichy and drilled in a low left-footed shot which the returning Joe Hart did well to keep out.

A minute later City were inches away from scoring when Edin Dzeko teed up David Silva inside the box and he saw his shot come back off the crossbar.

Taarabt, who was playing as Fulham's lone front man, was looking lively, and he had another sight of goal on 19 minutes, but his effort from the edge of the box was straight down the throat of Hart.

City broke the deadlock on 23 minutes with a sublime free-kick from set-piece specialist Toure. The big Ivorian brilliantly curled his free-kick from the edge of the box in off the underside of the crossbar past a stranded Maarten Stekelenburg after Steve Sidwell was adjudged to have fouled Silva.

Dzeko wasted a great opening to double City's lead just past the half-hour mark when he saw his shot blocked inside the box when the unmarked Fernandinho was probably the better option for a pass.

Taarabt continued to offer Fulham their best hope of getting back into the contest and he fired in a shot which forced Hart to turn his effort round the post.

Dzeko had a chance to score on 35 minutes when Aleksandar Kolarov found him inside the box, but the striker's low shot was well saved by Stekelenburg.

City doubled their advantage two minutes before the break when Vincent Kompany reacted quickest to prod home from close range after Martin Demichelis saw his header kept out by Stekelenburg.

City looked to put the game beyond Fulham at the start of the second half when Silva played in Kolarov down the left and then got on the end of his cross in the box, but on the stretch he could not generate the power on his shot to beat Stekelenburg.

Fulham reduced the arrears on 50 minutes when Taarabt beat Clichy down the left with a powerful run and crossed for the unmarked Richardson to sweep the ball home from close range.

The home side had their tails up and they fashioned a great chance to draw level on 57 minutes when Ashkan Dejagah sent over a deep cross from the right which Sidwell flung himself at to head wide when he would have been better off leaving it for the unmarked Taarabt.

The game was becoming stretched and substitute Navas wasted a great chance to score just past the hour mark when the ball broke to him inside the box, but the winger dragged his shot well wide of the target.

Fulham drew level on 68 minutes in the most bizarre of circumstances with a comical own goal from Kompany.

Sascha Riether got down the right from Scott Parker's pass and fired over a cross which Kompany somehow sliced up into the air and over Hart before nestling into the corner of the net.

City regained the lead 12 minutes from time when Silva sent Navas racing clear and the winger drilled his shot through the legs of Stekelenburg much to the relief of Kompany after his own goal.

The visitors made the game safe seven minutes from time when Alvaro Negredo picked out substitute Milner with a brilliant pass with the outside of his foot and the midfielder swept the ball past Stekelenburg to give City all three points.

Teams

Fulham:
Stekelenburg, Riether, Senderos (Amorebieta 37mins), Hughes, Riise, Dejagah (Kasami 63mins), Karagounis (Bent 82mins), Parker, Sidwell, Richardson, Taarabt 

Unused subs: Ruiz, Kacaniklic, Stockdale, Duff   Bookings: Karagounis 59mins

Manchester City: Hart, Clichy, Kompany (c), Demichelis, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, Nasri (Milner 75mins), Silva (Garcia 83mins), Negredo, Dzeko (Navas 57mins)

Unused subs: Pantilimon, Boyata, Rodwell, Guidetti   Bookings: Demichelis 45mins

Referee: Kevin Friend        Att:25,509

Leicester City 1 Manchester City 3  
Tuesday 17th December 2013 : John Henderson for GYKO at the King Power Stadium

The Manchester City goal machine rolls on. On a night when Leicester City supporters were treated to an impressive performance from the X Factor winner Sam Bailey at half-time, it was Manuel Pellegrini's side who hit the right notes on the pitch. A superb free-kick from Aleksandar Kolarov and two goals from Edin Dzeko sealed their passage into the Capital One Cup semi-finals and took the club's tally for the season to a staggering 75 goals from 25 games.

Although Lloyd Dyer pulled a goal back for Leicester 13 minutes from time, any hopes that the Championship club had of causing an upset had long been extinguished. Dzeko's second goal, eight minutes after the restart, put the Premier League club 3-0 up, after which they started to ease off and became a little complacent, giving Leicester the encouragement to believe they could finish with something to show for their efforts.

If Dzeko's opportunist goals were a highlight for City – the Bosnian may sense a chance to get a rare run in the team with Sergio Agüero sidelined for up to eight weeks with a calf injury – the downside for Pellegrini was the sight of Pablo Zabaleta leaving the pitch with a suspected pulled hamstring in the early moments. With Micah Richards already sidelined with the same problem, City will go into the festive programme without an orthodox right-back.

Otherwise this was a routine win for a Manchester City team playing with supreme confidence and, once again, provided a demonstration of the remarkable strength in depth of Pellegrini's squad. The City manager made eight changes from the side who thumped six past Arsenal on Saturday yet the starting XI, who featured Vincent Kompany and David Silva, was full of quality and provided a measure of how seriously Pellegrini views a competition that represents his first opportunity to win silverware in England.

"I think it was a very professional performance," Pellegrini said before expressing his satisfaction at City's average of three goals per game this season. "It's what we try to do. I said some months ago, when I arrived here, that I like my team to play in an attacking way and try to score goals everywhere."

James Milner again showed his worth, setting up two goals in a typically energetic display on the flank. He may yet emerge as a short-term solution at right-back having played in that position for England. On the other flank, Kolarov was playing more like a winger at times and it was his goal, brilliantly curled into the top corner from 25 yards, that got Manchester City on their way in the eighth minute. The only surprise was that it was not until four minutes before the interval that the visitors added a second.

Kasper Schmeichel, playing against the club where he started his career, made decent saves to deny Jack Rodwell and Dzeko before the striker got the goal that he deserved. Having skimmed the upright with a vicious left-footed shot from the edge of the area in the 39th minute, Dzeko prodded home Milner's deflected cross moments later, finishing a fine counterattack started by Jesús Navas.

Dzeko's second owed more to Leicester's lack of concentration. A quick throw-in caught the defence napping and Milner, close to the byline, pulled the ball back for Dzeko to nonchalantly side-foot inside the near post from about 12 yards. Dzeko, who spends more time on the bench than the pitch, now has nine goals for the season. "Every time Edin plays he plays well," said Pellegrini, who named only six substitutes because Stevan Jovetic felt ill on the eve of the match.

While the game was effectively over when Dzeko grabbed his second, Leicester never surrendered and their persistence was rewarded when Dyer drilled a low angled shot that deflected off Kompany and beyond Joe Hart. "We were beaten by a very good side, punished for one or two mistakes," Nigel Pearson, the Leicester manager, said. "The players deserve a bit of credit for trying to put them under pressure and getting a goal back. It would be very easy to let a side of Manchester City's quality dominate and rub salt in the wound."
 

Teams

Leicester City: Schmeichel, Wasiewski, Morgan (c), Miquel, Konchesky, Knockaert (James 45mins), Drinkwater, King, Dyer, Taylor-Fletcher (Vardy 45mins), Nugent (Schlupp 68mins)   Unused subs: De Laet, Hammond, Moore, Logan

Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta (Boyata 12mins), Lescott, Kompany (c), Kolarov, Milner, Garcia, Rodwell, Navas, Silva (Nasri 69mins), Dzeko

Unused subs: Pantilimon, Demichelis, Fernandinho, Negredo  Bookings: Navas 21mins, Boyata 33mins

Referee: Roger East      Att:31,319

Manchester City 6  Arsenal 3       Gunners Disarmed
Saturday 14th Dec 2013 : GYKO at the Etihad

The most telling part of Manuel Pellegrini's summary of the destruction of Arsenal was the assessment that Manchester City are still searching for a style.

Those who witnessed this rout and who saw the 6-0 thrashing of Tottenham Hotspur, the 4-1 humiliation of Manchester United, the 4-0 dispatch of Newcastle United and the 7-0 hammering of Norwich City, would suggest City's modus operandi is already firmly in place.

Instead, Pellegrini mentioned the quest three times in a statement that should frighten other title contenders. "We have the players and we have to find a style of play which is good for this team," the City manager said. "It's a style of play we are trying to work on every day, to be an attacking team. We are a good attacking team but we are a good defending team also. In other games we have also played well – maybe not as well as we played [against Arsenal] but we will continue trying to find a style."

As in those previous demolitions, Arsenal often seemed like spectators as Yaya Touré, Fernandinho, David Silva, Sergio Agüero, Samir Nasri and Álvaro Negredo gave an exhibition of their fast-paced, hypnotic passing-and-movement game, toying with the Premier League leaders.

It took only 14 minutes to create City's opening goal, finished by Agüero's hooked volley. When Theo Walcott equalised, his shot wandering past a stationary Costel Pantilimon, it jarred with the flow.

By half-time City's ascendancy was restored with Negredo's 13th goal of an outstanding debut season. The scoreline swiftly became 3-1 when the impressive Fernandinho slotted his first goal for the club yet when Walcott managed a second, a question was briefly raised over whether City might crumble. Instead, Silva and Fernandinho gave them a three-goal cushion. In the last minute Per Mertesacker bundled in a header but Touré's penalty gave the scoreline a true reflection.

The rejuvenated Nasri said: "We are really confident but we always seem to perform when we play one of the big teams. We did it against United, Tottenham, against Bayern in midweek and now we've done it against Arsenal."

City's travails have been away from their Etihad stronghold, losing four of their opening six matches before the victory over West Bromwich Albion and the draw at Southampton.

"Now we have to do it away from home because we have struggled from the start of the season to perform," Nasri said. "When we play a big game it is easy to get motivation. Big players will always respond when it is a big game but now we know the title race is open. We've come back to three points behind Arsenal and next week they play Chelsea so we have to keep the pressure on."

Pellegrini said: "I can't say what our rivals will be thinking but I am sure we are improving. If you asked me before the game if we would score six against Arsenal, seven against Norwich, six against Tottenham, I would say no. It's not normal."

He again preferred Pantilimon to Joe Hart, although the England No1 had hoped for a recall after playing in the victory at Bayern Munich. In a World Cup season Hart needs regular football to secure his place but Pellegrini said the goalkeeper is responding well to the situation.

"Joe Hart doesn't have any problem. He's not playing at the moment but he's improving a lot. He needs a rest. He knows exactly the way I think about him – and that he will return to the team," Pellegrini said. "So we don't have a problem in that sense. He is always supporting the team and is a great professional.

"It's not a question of waiting for him [Pantilimon] to make mistakes. It's about waiting for the right moment for Joe to come back. We have a lot of games in December and January. I am sure Joe will have his opportunity again because he's a very good goalkeeper."

While Hart should play in night's Capital One Cup quarter-final at Leicester City, Pellegrini is unlikely to have Agüero available for several weeks following the calf injury he suffered in the 50th minute.

The striker, who has scored 19 goals in 20 matches, left the stadium on crutches with Pellegrini talking about how many "weeks" he may be missing. It is the only cloud on a very sunny City horizon.

Teams

Manchester City: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Clichy, Demichelis, Kompany, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, Nasri (Garcia 90), Silva (Milner 71), Aguero (Navas 49), Negredo

Unused subs: Hart, Lescott, Dzeko, Kolarov    Bookings: Silva, Kompany

Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna. Mertesacker. Koscielny (Vermaelen 42), Monreal, Flamini (Gnabry 72), Wilshere, Ozil, Walcott, Ramsey, Giroud (Bendtner 76)

Unused subs: Fabianski, Rosicky, Arteta, Santi Cazorla    Bookings: Szczesny

Referee: Martin Atkinson           Att:47,329

Bayern Munich 2  Manchester City 3         Glorious City Stun Europe
Tuesday 10th December : Heinz Burt for GYKO at the Allianz Arena

Manchester City staged a remarkable turnaround in Bavaria, not only coming from behind to beat Bayern Munich but producing a performance of great assurance against a Bayern team that began like aristocrats but faded terribly as City took the points to finish second on goal difference in Group D.

James Milner made two and scored one in the home of the European champions in a final hour that saw a weakened City team come from 2-0 down to win deservedly 3-2. It is a result and a performance that will give Manuel Pellegrini great confidence for the knockout stages.

The Allianz Arena was its usual boisterous midweek self on a chilly Bavarian night, with City's travelling minority – no doubt still warmed by the mass tactical Glühwein ingestion staged from mid-morning in Munich's Marienplatz – crammed into the top tier of another full house. Cast before kick-off as at best a half-dead rubber, this was a match in which City needed to reverse the 3-1 deficit from the Etihad to top Group D. A good start seemed essential.

Instead City dished up a terrible one, giving the ball away to Franck Ribéry from the kick-off and allowing Bayern to open the scoring after six minutes with a horribly simple goal. Dante's lofted pass found Thomas Müller all alone, his chest control took him away from Aleksandar Kolarov and the finish was rolled past Joe Hart. Müller styles himself as Der Ramdeuter, or "the space interpreter" and City's early marking suggested he was in for a gruellingly thorough night's investigations. Five minutes later Ribéry hit the post from an acute angle and from the corner that followed, Mario Mandzukic was left in so much space he had time to control, turn and side-foot past Hart.

At this stage it looked as though the final scoreline would depend on how far Bayern were willing to press the point, making a mockery of Pep Guardiola's fears in the build-up that his players would treat this match as a Freundschafts-speil-charakter (the excellent German term for "friendly") with the group all but won.

It is a measure of Bayern's state of almost embarrassing good health that guarding against complacency is as much Guardiola's brief as fine-tuning his team. On Sunday Bayern had held their annual Christmas Party at the swanky Teatro restaurant – complete with "top musicians" and 200 very special guests – and celebrated what Karl-Heinz Rummenigge called "a year of superlatives". Next week they travel to the Club World Cup in Morocco before resuming in the Bundesliga on 25 January. Little wonder training was said to have something end-of-term-ish about it this week.

There was even something startling about Bayern's line-up here: essentially a back four with Mario Mandzukic up front and in between whatever the collective term is for an excess of attacking midfielders (a feast? a debauchery?), with Thiago Alcântara and Toni Kroos filling the more defensive roles.

And yet nothing should take away from City's efforts here. Pellegrini's men regrouped as Javi García and Fernandinho began to get a decisive grip on that revolving midfield. City's manager had also made tactical changes, playing Edin Dzeko as a lone striker in front of a five-man midfield with Milner and Jesús Navas on the flanks – it was City's width that increasingly stretched Bayern – and with Micah Richards and Hart also included. One can tell it is a weakened team at City when the Englishmen get a game.

For Hart this was an important night. If he was never likely to keep a clean sheet he came through without making any obvious errors, handled the ball well and played a part in a famous result, possibly even the greatest in City's European history, despite the result having no effect on the final group standings.

As the half wore on City's possession was rewarded. First Milner drew a save from Manuel Neuer with a fine volley. Then on 28 minutes the visitors pulled a goal back, Milner heading down a cross from Navas for David Silva to prod home.

City were no doubt encouraged at half-time, if not by the 2-1 scoreline, then by the manner of its arrival and by the sight of Guardiola gesticulating on the touchline as the visitors pressed higher up the pitch, leaving space behind, but getting closer to Ribéry who had been almost alarmingly unhurried on the ball in the opening 20 minutes.

After the break City continued to press, with Silva playing up alongside Dzeko and showing that Bayern by no means had the monopoly on craft. City were awarded a penalty on 58 minutes as Milner ran on to Silva's pass and was bundled over by Dante, reward for a prolonged spell of possession. Kolarov rolled the kick into the corner and City were level.

Within four minutes, as Bayern continued to look oddly dazed, they were in front. Navas crossed from the right again, Jérôme Boateng air-hacked his attempted clearance and Milner finished brilliantly, taking the ball down on the run and passing it back into the far corner with wonderful ease. City had scored three times without reply in the space of 26 minutes at the home of the European champions. "Football's coming home," sang the travelling fans, drolly. And by the end it was noise from the City end that filled the stadium as Bayern's European wonder-year ended on a false note.

Teams

Bayern Munich: Neuer, Lahm, Dante, Boateng, Alaba, Thiago, Kroos, Ribéry, Müller, Götze (Martinez 54), Mandzukić (Shaqiri 66)

Unused subs: van Buyten, Rafinha, Pizarro, Starke, Contento   Bookings: Dante, Martinez

Manchester City: Hart, Richards (Zabaleta 16), Kolarov, Lescott, Demichelis, Fernandinho, Garcia, Milner, Silva (Negredo 73), Navas, Dzeko (Rodwell 88)

Unused subs: Pantilimon, Kompany, Aguero, Boyata  Bookings: Milner, Dzeko, Fernandinho, Zabaleta

Referee: David Fernández Borbalán            Att:68,000

Southampton 1 Manchester City 1   Cityitus Strikes Again
Saturday 7th December 2013 : Mathew Capper for GYKO at St Mary's Stadium

Manchester City’s ­shortcomings on their travels were again exposed as they had to settle for a point at St Mary’s. City were looking for a fourth straight win to maintain the pressure on main title rivals Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea, and it looked a straightforward enough task against a Saints side smarting from three successive defeats.

City boss Manuel Pellegrini could hardly have asked for a better start as Sergio Aguero shot the visitors in front after 10 minutes. But despite their recent setbacks, Saints are made of sterner stuff these days.

They gradually began to produce the eye-catching ­football that has become commonplace under Mauricio Pochettino, and a superb ­individual goal by Dani Osvaldo earned them a deserved point.

Pellegrini said: “Southampton played very well. Our major problem was possession – we couldn’t keep the ball. We played well for the first 25 minutes, but after that we lost too many balls. That was dangerous and it allowed Southampton to play.

“Overall it was a good result for us. I don’t feel we lost two points, unlike other away games where we deserved more. A draw was fair for both teams.”

He added: “Osvaldo’s was a beautiful goal. Credit to ­Southampton, they were ­positive in possession and deserved their point.”
Pochettino agreed: “Osvaldo scored a great goal, and overall it was an amazing ­performance.

“We have been on a bad run of late but the team keeps believing. The bad run has been because we have been ­unfortunate in a few games. But the players keep believing and despite recent results we are playing well.

With his side ravaged by injury, and with City able to keep no fewer than seven full ­internationals on the ­substitutes’ bench, Pochettino must have sensed the enormity of the task, which got even greater in only the 10th minute.

Alvaro Negredo had already passed up a decent chance when Aleksandar Kolarov raced away down the left, cut effortlessly past young Calum Chambers, ­deputising for Nathaniel Clyne, and delivered the perfect cross for Aguero to beat keeper Paulo Gazzaniga with a sweet left-footed effort.

With Yaya Toure controlling midfield, City looked well in command, but Saints have already shown this season that they are no longer a team that just submits after they have fallen behind.

They showed patience and composure as they began to stamp their authority, almost inevitably inspired by skipper Adam Lallana, who seems to be strengthening his claims for a place in the England World Cup squad with every appearance.

But it was Osvaldo, an Italian whose fellow countrymen are in the same group as Three Lions in Brazil, who produced a touch of genius to equalise a few minutes before the interval.

Saints had already shown their intent when Chambers headed Luke Shaw’s ­immaculate cross from the left just wide of the target with City’s defence floundering.

And the visitors were then caught out as Steven Davis played a ball down the line for Osvaldo, who initially looked to be posing no real threat. But the striker neatly sidestepped ­challenges from both Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta before measuring a curling cross-shot to perfection, lifting it over 6ft 8in keeper Costel Pantilimon and into the far corner.

Both sides had opportunities to claim full points in a lively second period.

Aguero tested Gazzaniga before Osvaldo blazed ­hopelessly over after clever play from Jay Rodriguez.

It nearly went Saints’ way in the 72nd minute when Jose Fonte reached James Ward-Prowse’s free-kick from the right only to head just off target.

Teams

Southampton: Gazzaniga, Chambers, Shaw, Ward-Prowse, Fonte, Lovren, Lallana (Ramirez 85), Cork, Osvaldo (Lambert 77), Davis (Reed 90), Rodriguez     Unused subs: Yoshida, Hooiveld, Gallagher, Cropper

Manchester City
: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Kolarov, Milner (Garcia 62), Yaya Toure (Dzeko 79), Fernandinho, Nasri, Aguero, Negredo (Navas 62)

Unused subs: Hart, Lescott, Clichy, Richards

Referee:
Anthony Taylor       Att:31,229

West Bromwich Albion 2 Manchester City 3    Close Shave at the Albion
Wednesday 4th Dec 2013 : GYKO at the Hawthorns


The hope will be that a sizeable monkey is off Manchester City's back with what is only their second away win of the season. There was a jittery finish as West Bromwich Albion scored two late goals though even then the result hardly felt in doubt.

As Manuel Pellegrini said: "It was not as close a match as the score says but all of us were maybe thinking of the next game before we had finished this one and in football you are never finished. They scored two goals in last four minutes and that's why it's 3-2."

With Vincent Kompany completing a first game since early October owing to a thigh injury this was a satisfying evening for the manager. "It was very important – he is our captain and he played with no problems during the 90 minutes."

Before coasting to these three points against a largely insipid West Brom, City's record away from home was four defeats and a draw to go with the lone victory, the 3-1 triumph at West Ham United two months ago.

Delays on the M6 meant the match began a quarter of an hour late. The surprise team news came in Pellegrini's decision not to start with Álvaro Negredo, the Spaniard who is flying through a debut season for City, having accrued 15 goals.

It was his replacement Edin Dzeko who proved the linkman in City's opener. The forward slid the ball to Pablo Zabaleta before the right-back pulled it back for Sergio Agüero to slot an outstanding 17th goal in 18 appearances past a helpless Boaz Myhill.

City's second arrived on 24 minutes and was the latest illustration of the fast and thrilling play that can be the division's most attractive. Agüero began the move. He passed to the rejuvenated Samir Nasri who pin-balled possession on to Aleksandar Kolorov. The left-back, in for Gaël Clichy who was apparently not injured but not among the reserves, weighted a perfect delivery for Yaya Touré and he made it 2-0.

During the opening stanza any threat Steve Clarke's team carried came from aiming direct balls in on Costel Pantilimon's goal. Only once did this concern the visiting defence – when Zabaleta dallied in the area but a cool touch allowed him and Kompany to clear the danger.

West Brom certainly began the second half like they believed and gave City a scare when Chris Foy turned down a loud penalty appeal after Shane Long went down following a coming together with Kompany. Moments later, Long again fell in the area when Martín Demichelis challenged him but this was less of a close call.

It was Touré who scored from the spot, his penalty following Claudio Yacob's foul on Kolarov, confirming the win. Then came what proved only consolations for West Brom through Pantilimon's late own goal before Victor Anichebe's finish in added time.

It is just under a year since City managed consecutive league wins on the road, last December's 4-3 victory at Norwich City and the 2-0 win at Arsenal in January. They can now end that sequence at Southampton on Saturday. Pellegrini said: "For our team it was very important to try to win away and we will try and do that also on Saturday before we play Arsenal at home [the following weekend]."

Teams

West Brom:
Myhill, Reid, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell, Yacob, Brunt, Amalfitano, Morrison (Vydra 64mins), Berahino, Long (Anichebe 64mins)

Unused subs: L Daniels, Gera, Lugano, Popov, Sessegnon.    Bookings: Olsson 87mins

Manchester City:
Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Kompany (c), Demichelis, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure (Rodwell 87mins), Navas, Nasri (Garcia 75mins), Aguero (Milner 68mins), Dzeko

Unused subs: Hart, Richards, Lescott, Negredo    Bookings:  Pantilimon 83mins

Referee: Chris Foy         Att:22,943

Manchester City 3 Swansea City 0    Easy Swansong
Sunday 1st December 2013 : GYKO at the Etihad

With this win Manchester City moved smoothly into third place. Manuel Pellegrini's team have a test in Wednesday's trip to West Bromwich Albion but at home they cannot stop winning.

The record stands at a perfect seven victories and if City can overturn their miserable away form – four defeats and one win from six attempts – they will pose the greatest threat to Arsenal, who remain six points ahead of them.

Before kick-off Pellegrini had said: "I would like to arrive at the new year in first place but if that is not possible then no more than three points from the number one position." Afterwards he was asked if he was still confident of doing so. Referencing the upcoming trips to West Brom and Southampton, Pellegrini said: "I can answer your question when this week has finished, after the two games we are going to play away. I have a lot of trust in this team. We have six games in December. We hope we can do it."

On what awaits at the Hawthorns, he said: "It's a big challenge because they are a strong team at home."

In perhaps a clear signal that Joe Hart is going to endure a lonely festive period Costel Pantilimon was again Pellegrini's preferred choice. The two saves in quick succession from Jonjo Shelvey – each stretching his 6ft 8in frame to the right – suggested it may be a long wait for Hart.

Pellegrini said: "Costel Pantilimon did very well, he didn't have too much work but when he needed to be there he really did well."

Shelvey came close to creating his side's equaliser when he ran at the City defence before finding Alvaro Vázquez with a reverse pass that Swansea's lone striker should have finished.

Earlier Álvaro Negredo had claimed a 12th in 19 appearances for his new club. The Spaniard drew a free-kick when José Cañas clipped him, then stepped forward to thump it beyond Gerhard Tremmel.

At the end of the half Martín Demichelis, who had earlier headed against the Swansea bar, was deposited on his backside by the slick turn of Jonathan de Guzman but Swansea's midfielder blasted over.

The near miss, though, signalled the danger for City of sitting back and Pellegrini will have reminded his team during the interval of the need to wake up. He spent most of the second half prowling the technical area, hoping to see the further goals that would confirm his side's 100% winning record before their own crowd.

After 58 minutes the manager's mood brightened. Yaya Touré slipped in Samir Nasri who produced a finish of which Sergio Agüero would have been proud, zipping the ball past Tremmel before later adding a third with a similarly calm strike.

In response to Real Madrid's reported interest in buying Agüero in January, Pellegrini said: "I don't know anything about that. I don't think Sergio wants to leave. That is not a problem for us. I don't believe in that." His squad could be bolstered by the return of his captain Vincent Kompany, who has not played since 5 October owing to a thigh injury. "We will see [on Monday]. He works normally the last three days with the whole squad. Maybe he will be fit on Wednesday," said the manager.

Teams

Manchester City:
Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Lescott, Demichelis, Clichy, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, Navas (Kolarov 76), Nasri, Negredo (Milner 63), Aguero (Dzeko 79)

Unused subs: Hart, Richards, Garcia, Rodwell  Bookings: Aguero

Swansea City:
Tremmel, Tiendalli, Chico Flores, Williams, Davies, Canas, de Guzman, Shelvey, Pozuelo (Dyer 67), Hernandez (Routledge 62), Vazquez

Unused subs: Vorm, Taylor, Amat, Lamah, Donnelly

Referee: Mark Clattenburg            Att:46,559


 

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