December  2014 - Reports
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Manchester City 2 Burnley 2        Burnley Spoil the Xmas Party
Sunday 28th December 2014 : GYKO at the Etihad

This was the not the perfect way to close 2014 for Manchester City, though it could have been worse. If Burnley had been defeated, the champions would have notched a club record 10th consecutive win and, as Chelsea dropped two points at Southampton, Manuel Pellegrini’s team would be one behind the London club.

Instead a second-half crumble meant Burnley might have grabbed a famous first victory since 1974 against City and the Sky Blues can be happy their unbeaten run remains intact. The fragility at the back that has troubled City all season had been evident in the first half and, within moments of the second commencing, it proved costly.

George Boyd seemed to have the final touch for a finish that may have fooled Joe Hart, otherwise the goalkeeper will be disappointed not to have saved a Burnley goal that derived from Danny Ings’ cross.

Of this a proud Sean Dyche said: “I have no clue and I’m not interested. I know it went in and that was my main concern. I actually haven’t seen it; someone said it is offside. All I would say is, a scratch of luck when you’re Burnley, we don’t always get that, so we’ll take that gladly.”

While City had dominated until then and taken a 2-0 lead into the break, this was no surprise. There had, though, been an earlier eyebrow-raiser when the official word went out before kick-off that Yaya Touré had been “rested” for this one. The Ivorian is off to the Africa Cup of Nations sometime around the Everton game of 10 January, so the expectation was that Pellegrini would use him as much as possible.

However, it emerged that Touré has a groin injury. The manager hopes his star midfielder will be available for the New Year’s Day visit of Sunderland.

This meant Fernandinho and Fernando were in tandem in central midfield for only the third time, and only the second in the league. The pair and the rearguard behind them cannot have been content at how Burnley were able to rattle City before and after David Silva’s opener.

Not for the first time this season Eliaquim Mangala was shaky as Burnley pinged the ball around. One move culminated in a Kieran Tripper cross being narrowly missed by a stretching Ashley Barnes and later Boyd was able to make a nuisance of himself before Dean Marney fired straight at Hart.

Ings was also allowed to run at City through the centre and unload a shot that sailed over the bar as Burnley predominantly troubled the champions along Trippier’s right-back corridor.

When roving forward City looked a team coasting in low gear who might punish the visitors at will. Martín Demichelis missed an early chance at the far post from a corner, Samir Nasri had an attempt blocked by Trippier and, after slick interplay from Silva and Jesús Navas, City’s “false” No9, James Milner, failed to finish.

Silva’s sixth club goal of the season came after Nasri fed Navas down the right. The Spaniard was found and, following a sweet pivot, he beat Tom Heaton.

That was on 23 minutes. Fernandinho’s first goal of the season came after the half- hour and left the Burnley goalkeeper scant chance. Nasri laid off to the Brazilian – Boyd might have got tighter – and Fernandinho drilled a beauty of a 25-yard finish that bent and crashed in off Heaton’s bar.

As the break approached Pablo Zabaleta clashed heads and required treatment but one of City’s most reliable soldiers merely picked himself up, had a headband applied and continued.

Boyd’s goal was the catalyst for Burnley to look for more and eventually draw level. Their equaliser came when Zabaleta gave away a free-kick near the centre circle. This was launched into the City area by Jason Shackell, the visiting captain, and, when Mangala proved a weak presence, Barnes finished from his own knockdown after it pinballed back to him.

Dyche said: “I thought Ashley Barnes, that was arguably one of the best centre-forward performances I’ve seen in a long, long time, especially against this standard of player. You’ve got to remember his journey, he’s come from lower leagues, he’s earned and fought for the right to play at this level, so why wouldn’t he take his chance? If anyone sums up playing with freedom, he encapsulated that with an absolutely fine performance and a sublime finish.”

City will spend the time before Sunderland’s visit on Thursday berating themselves. They suffered because of a lack of ruthlessness in front of goal and the more concerning powder-puff quality of their defending.

Manchester City (4-2-3-1) Hart; Zabaleta, Demichelis, Mangala, Kolarov; Fernandinho (Sinclair, 88), Fernando; Navas, Silva, Nasri (Lampard, 71); Milner (Jovetic, 62). Subs not used: Caballero, Sagna, Boyata, Clichy. Booked Fernando, Navas, Zabaleta, Silva.

Burnley (4-4-2) Heaton; Mee, Shackell, Keane, Trippier; Boyd, Jones, Marney, Arfield; Barnes, Ings. Subs not used Gilks, Long, Sordell, Kightly, Jutkiewicz, Wallace, Chalobah. Booked Mee.

Referee K Friend.

 

West Bromwich Albion 1 Manchester City 3    Fun in the Snow
Tuesday 23rd December 2014 : Richard Cooper for GYKO at the Hawthorns

Manuel Pellegrini is more interested in maintaining Manchester City’s imperious form in a critical week in the title contest than establishing a club record when Burnley visit the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

City equalled a club record established more than a century ago with a ninth successive victory to remain within three points of Chelsea at the top of the Premier League. They scored freely in the first half, when Fernando, Yaya Touré and David Silva put Pellegrini’s side in complete control, before a second-half blizzard coated the Hawthorns pitch in snow and made City’s players more concerned with keeping their feet.

City have previously won nine games in succession on three occasions, most recently in 2011-12 under Roberto Mancini and also in 1909-10 and from April to September 1912.

Pellegrini’s priorities lie more with the here and now than in history. “No, I’m not worried about records,” the City manager said. “We are worried about adding the points because it will be a very close challenge for the title. I have watched some games that Burnley play and they have good players. If you think it is an easy game, you can have problems.”

Chelsea’s lunchtime win at West Ham United meant they maintained their advantage at the top of the table. “We’re not thinking about Chelsea at the moment,” Pellegrini said. “We are thinking about the game with Burnley. There are 20 more games to play for the title. And the race for the title is not just two teams, I think others will be involved also. How many other teams? I don’t know. [Manchester] United, see if they keep winning, and other teams who can arrive at 86 points can win the title.

“I think this is a very important month and a key week because we play nine points in one week. It’s important if we can get to the top as soon as possible.”

This seventh consecutive league victory keeps City right on the coattails of Chelsea, before contrasting fixtures when the leaders travel to recovering Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur. After Burnley, City play Sunderland at home on New Year’s Day. It appears a pivotal week.

As Albion floundered around seeking consolation, Alan Irvine could claim that at least his side did not go under in the second half, but a sixth defeat in eight games leaves them two points above the relegation zone as they prepare to visit Stoke City on Sunday.

The West Bromwich manager, who watched Brown Ideye score his first league goal for the club after Joe Hart missed a punch from Chris Brunt’s corner with three minutes left, sounded less convinced of his own future than ever after only six months in charge. “The chairman will make a decision about that,” Irvine said. “I don’t know what the thinking is. All I can do is work as hard as I can and try to make sure we keep giving the right sorts of performances.”

Albion desperately needed a win to restore confidence after their 3-2 defeat at While the referee, Mark Clattenburg, never appeared to consult with his fellow officials over whether the match should be completed, the ball did not roll as normal and City’s players seemed to be avoiding going into unnecessary tackles as they refrained from chasing a goal avalanche in the second half.

Queens Park Rangers where they had surrendered a 2-0 lead but their slim hopes of beating the champions were snuffed out in the first 34 minutes.

Even with no striker on the field, City had far too much firepower for their opponents. If anything, having James Milner playing as the most advanced of six midfielders meant City’s tempo and movement was better than ever. “James is a very intelligent player,” Pellegrini said. “He knows what movement he must make to create space for the others.”

Within eight minutes City were ahead and Ben Foster was at fault. Jesús Navas played a one-two with Touré down the right and from his awkward cross the England squad goalkeeper fumbled the ball inside his six-yard area from where Fernando scored with an overhead kick as dextrous as it was surprising. It was only the Brazilian’s second shot on target in the Premier League.

Five minutes later Joleon Lescott, the former City defender, got some of the ball as he tackled Silva but Clattenburg had no hesitation in awarding a penalty. From the spot Touré scored his sixth goal in nine games in all competitions.

Albion were wholly lacking in conviction at this point. Even though they had been the better team at Loftus Road, and beaten Aston Villa 1-0 in their previous game at the Hawthorns, not even the return of Saido Berahino increased their belief. Indeed, it was their leading goalscorer who screwed his shots wide, twice, when fed by through balls from James Morrison, either side of City’s third goal.

After 34 minutes, Fernando was allowed to run clear from halfway to the edge of the Albion area where he switched the ball wide to Navas, who fed it back to Silva to side-foot home. Foster, presumably unsighted, barely moved.

In the second half the yellow ball came into its own as the pitch turned white under the incessant snow, and the match resembled a sideshow to the conditions. For Albion, Silvestre Varela side-footed a half-volley wide from Andre Wisdom’s cross to the far post, and Lescott headed over, before Ideye’s goal, after City had dominated possession easily when no one went out of their way to risk falling over too much.

West Bromwich Albion 4-1-2-3 Foster; Wisdom, McAuley, Lescott, Pocognoli (Gamboa, 66); Morrison; Mulumbu, Gardner (Brunt, 66); Varela (Ideye, 67), Sessègnon, Berahino. Subs not used Baird, Yacob, Myhill, Dawson.

Manchester City 4-2-3-1 Hart; Sagna, Demichelis, Mangala, Clichy; Touré (Fernandinho, 69), Fernando; Jesus Navas, Silva (Kolarov, 63), Nasri (Lampard, 75); Milner. Subs not used Zabaleta, Caballero, Jovetic, Boyata.

Booked Fernando.

Attendance 26,040. Referee M Clattenburg.

Manchester City 3  Crystal Palace 0     Palace Overun
Saturday 20th December 2014 : GYKO at the Etihad

There was a touch of wryness in Manuel Pellegrini’s “miracle” description of Manchester City’s reeling in of Chelsea, who three weeks ago had led the Premier League champions by nine points.

That was on 29 November and though City had a game in hand at that point there was a real prospect of José Mourinho’s team making this season’s title tilt a procession. Instead, following this canter of a 3-0 win over Crystal Palace City are now level on 39 points with Chelsea, separated by a goal difference of one, with the west London club travelling to Stoke City on Monday evening.

The manager was posed the question of how seriously Chelsea will take City’s championship defence and, given the chance to make a point to the team’s critics, Pellegrini did it with a smile: “I don’t know what Chelsea will think. I know three weeks ago we were nine points behind and close to elimination from the Champions League and we were a team that depends just on Sergio Agüero. So I think that maybe this is a miracle. But the miracle has a name – that is work.”

This was, indeed, a victory without the lethal Argentinian striker, who struck 19 times in 21 appearances before suffering the knee injury that rules him out until next month. It was also a win with no frontline goalscorer at all, as Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic are nursing problems and the 18-year-old José Ángel Pozo was ill.

Instead, Pellegrini fielded James Milner as a kind of false No9, asked by the Chilean to create space for David Silva, Yaya Touré and their other midfield cohorts to run into and score.

It worked like a dream. Silva, who does not score quite enough for such a sublime talent, finished with two – on 49 and 61 minutes – while Touré added his seventh of the campaign, a late rocket after Milner’s fine surge along the left.

Pellegrini said: “If you review what we did last season, a lot of goals were scored by midfielders and full-backs. We have a style of play where we involve all of the players in attacking and after that we also try to have all the players defending. It’s not easy to play without a striker but I assure you we had a whole week to prepare where we practised at creating the space, knowing Crystal Palace were a difficult team.”
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Despite the success of the false No9 shape, the Chilean is not keen to use it again soon. “I don’t think it’s a system we’ll adopt in the future,” he said. “This team works very hard during the week so we can change our style of play. Normally it is better for me to play with one striker or maybe two strikers in some moments. So it’s important to have the capacity to change the style of play in one week.”

Asked if there was any coincidence that City’s run of eight victories on the bounce included the catalyst of an unexpected win over Bayern Munich , much like last season’s similar sequence (taking in a 3-2 victory in Bavaria last December), Pellegrini again pulled up the questioner.

“Why is it ‘unexpected’? Bayern Munich both years was important for us because it proves we can also play really well in the Champions League,” he said. “We try to win as many points as we can in the Premier League because, I repeat, both competitions have the same importance for us. It’s very important to do well in the Champions League but not leaving the Premier League out – the possibility to win the title.”

Although Neil Warnock had a fair case when describing James McArthur’s disallowed goal for offside as a disgraceful decision – it came at 2-0 - City were worthy victors.

City’s surge up the table to seriously challenge Chelsea comes despite the club working within a maximum £49m net transfer spend imposed by UEFA due to financial fair play irregularities, which Pellegrini admits is a hindrance. “When you have restrictions you give a lot of advantage to other teams. I think if you want to be a competitive team you cannot give an advantage to other teams,” he said.

Jovetic, who has a hamstring complaint, and Vincent Kompany, the City captain, who has muscular problems, will be assessed before their side’s Boxing Day trip to West Bromwich Albion.

“We will see during the week whether they can be fit for Friday,” said Pellegrini. Of Kompany, he added: “It’s very difficult to be absolutely out of the problem with muscle injuries. He’ll try to play again as soon as he can. But the player and me will have the last word to see if he can.”
Teams

Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Demichelis, Mangala, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, Navas, Silva (Lampard 68), Nasri (Sinclair 88), Milner (Fernando 81).      Unused subs: Caballero, Boyata, Sagna, Ambrose      Bookings: Kolarov, Milner

Crystal Palace: Speroni, Kelly, Dann, Hangeland, Ward, Bolasie, Jedinak, Ledley (Bannan 88), McArthur, Puncheon (Thomas 83), Campbell (Zaha 66).         Unused subs: Hennessey, Mariappa, Delaney, Gayle

Bookings: uncheon

Referee: Phil Dowd

Leicester City 0  Manchester City 1   Only One City
Saturday 13th December 2014 : Grant Holbrook for GYKO at The King Power Stadium

A week ago the sight of Sergio Agüero limping tearfully off the Etihad Stadium pitch prompted some to suggest Manchester City’s season was about to implode, although they went on to beat Everton 1-0. Seven days on, the champions have opened a new £200m academy and training complex, qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League and completed a fifth successive victory in the Premier League. As responses to a setback go, not so dusty.

This was not a win without cost for City, however. Manuel Pellegrini is rarely noticeably upbeat but the Chilean was even more lugubrious than usual in confirming his captain, Vincent Kompany, who had not been risked in Rome, had pulled his suspect hamstring when he had to be replaced with 13 minutes remaining.

Of even more immediate concern, though, was the fact Edin Dzeko was forced to pull out with a calf problem before kick-off, after being named in the starting line-up.

With Stevan Jovetic, who came on as a substitute in Italy, unavailable due to a hamstring problem, City could be facing the Christmas period without their three main forwards.

“We’ll have to play another way, keep a clean sheet as we did today,” shrugged Pellegrini. He must know the young José Ángel Pozo, asked to lead the line in Dzeko’s absence at the King Power, is not the answer. The teenager did his best, but he is a lightweight, not strong enough to hold the ball up and bring others into play.

For all that Pellegrini did his best to refresh his side – Dzeko’s withdrawal meant only three of the team which started in Rome started here – he found himself watching a laboured performance, during which City rarely got out of second gear. In that respect this was an opportunity for Leicester, but Nigel Pearson’s side lacked both the confidence and cutting edge to take it.
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The Foxes should have taken the lead when Jamie Vardy’s pace down the middle saw him run away from first Kompany and then Eliaquim Mangala in the 12th minute. The young French defender did well to get back and get a foot in to deflect Vardy’s shot wide, but the Leicester striker should have got his effort away earlier.

Ten minutes later, with the visitors yet to fashion an attempt on goal, Esteban Cambiasso curled a 30 yard free-kick a foot wide, with Joe Hart desperately scrambling. The two men exchanged grins, though whether Hart would have been smiling if the ball had crept inside his left-hand post is doubtful.

It was half an hour before the home goalkeeper, Ben Hamer, was actually called into serious action, punching away a David Silva corner and then easily catching Pozo’s side-footed volley. The save from Yaya Touré low to his left a few minutes later that followed City’s best passing move of the half was of a much higher quality, and it certainly had to be.

Having finally begun to move the ball at pace, the visitors continued to cause problems. Samir Nasri, neat and creative, found space on the left courtesy of Frank Lampard, and having teased and turned Wes Morgan, pulled the ball back across goal for Lampard, whose run into the box had not been picked up, to turn past Hamer from close range. It was the former Chelsea midfielder’s 175th Premier League goal, drawing him level with Thierry Henry in fourth position in that competition’s goalscoring charts. And, of course, football didn’t really exist previously.

Nothing really changed over the rest of the game. The Leicester manager, Nigel Pearson, eventually switched to two up front, but for all their efforts, his side could not create another chance. Nasri tested Hamer but this was a case of doing enough.

“They showed why they are champions, scored a goal out of nothing and didn’t really create anything else,” said Pearson, who was treated with marked politeness by the supporters after the altercation during the game against Liverpool which has resulted in his facing an FA charge.

Teams

Leicester City:
Hamer, Simpson, Wasilewski, Morgan (c), Konchesky, Cambiasso, King, Drinkwater (Knockaert 78), Mahrez, Schlupp (Ulloa 64), Vardy (Powell 72)    Unused subs: Smith, Hammond, James, Moore

Manchester City: Hart, Sagna, Kompany (C) (Demichelis 76), Mangala, Clichy, Toure, Fernando, Nasri, Lampard (Milner 59), Silva, Pozo (Navas 73)    Unused subs:Caballero, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Fernandinho     Bookings: Nasri, Hart

Referee: Jonathan Moss      Att:31,643

AS Roma 0  Manchester City 2      Italian Take Away
Wednesday 10th December 2014 :  Chas Chandler for GYKO at Stadio Olimpico


There have not been too many nights since Manchester City started dining at the top table of European football to provoke these scenes of jubilation, and by the time it was all done it was tempting to wonder whether this may be a turning point when it comes to the club’s inability to embrace the Champions League.

A turning point? We have heard that one before, usually followed by another disappointment and more promises that it will be different next time. Yet City have been spared from dropping into the Europa League and the relief was considerable. They will be in Monday’s draw for the knockout stages of the competition that really matters to them and, though there has undoubtedly been a sharp deterioration in Serie A, there was a wonderful sense of togetherness attached to the way City overcame Italy’s second-placed side courtesy of those second-half goals from Samir Nasri and Pablo Zabaleta.

They came up against a shrieking, firecracking pit of noisy bias and they had to contend with a significant list of absentees in the form of Vincent Kompany, Yaya Touré and Sergio Agüero. True, their team was still littered with expensively assembled recruits but David Silva was restricted to a substitute’s role and the fact remains that City set out without their captain, their best two midfielders and a striker who was in red-hot form before injuring a knee. There have been times in the Champions League when they have looked weighed down by an inferiority complex. Not here.

Nasri may never score a better goal for City but, as Pellegrini pointed out, this was a collective effort on a night of fine goalkeeping from Joe Hart and some resilient defending once the Premier League champions had got to grips with Gervinho’s sporadic bursts of acceleration. City will still need to improve, with Barcelona and Real Madrid among the six possible teams they will face when the competition resumes in February, but at least they can now tackle this competition with a new sense of belief.
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Martín Demichelis and Eliaquim Mangala helped to make sure that Kompany was not missed too badly. Hart did make one mistake, when he missed a corner and was spared by Demichelis’s clearance, but this was a fine night otherwise for the England goalkeeper.

It featured some important saves when Roma were on top in the opening exchanges and the best one of the night to turn Kostas Manolas’s header against a post later on.

Nasri managed his first goal of the season and it was a wonderful shot to put his team in a position of command. James Milner, indefatigable on the left side of City’s attacking quartet, made the little decoy run that helped to create the space from which Nasri cut inside. He was at an angle from where not many players would have taken on the shot but he struck the ball with power and precision and it was still rising, from just over 20 yards, as it flew in off Morgan De Sanctis’s right post.

That goal meant Roma had to score twice to remove City from the second qualifying place in Group E. There was still half an hour to go but it was not long before the television cameras had picked out Adem Ljajic on the bench and we saw the full anguish of what it meant for Rudi García’s team. Ljajic had been substituted and had his shirt pulled over his head, covering his face and possibly in tears.

Gervinho, so unrecognisable from the listless figure who was once on the edges at Arsenal, had been a difficult opponent for Zabaleta in the opening half and there were other times when he switched to the right and started to menace Gaël Clichy. Gervinho’s elusiveness and fast, direct style, coupled with the subtle touches of Francesco Totti, immediately started to cause problems during Roma’s early pressure but Hart was showing his big-game qualities and that gave City the platform to feel their way into the game and eventually take control.

Their problem in the first half was that, without Agüero, they did not have the penetration and movement in attack to trouble their opponents. Edin Dzeko looked short of full fitness, having just returned from a month out injured, and there were moments to remind us how difficult it may be for them to get by without Agüero during his rehabilitation from damaged knee ligaments.

There were, however, flickers of encouragement before half-time. Milner had tested De Sanctis twice and when City came back out for the second half they played with the authority of a side that knew Roma were vulnerable. Zabaleta’s goal arrived four minutes before the end and it was a reflection of their attacking instincts that City’s right-back was so far advanced at that point of the match.

This time Nasri provided the shooting opportunity and Zabaleta picked out the bottom corner to rid City of any lingering nerves and remind us as well about the importance of Agüero’s stoppage-time winner against Bayern Munich two weeks earlier.

Teams
AS Roma:
De Sanctis, Yanga-Mbiwa, Nainggolan, Ljajic (Iturbe 67), Totti (Destro 71), Maicon (Florenzi 79), Pjanic, Keita, Holebas, Gervinho, Manolas           Unused subs: Strootman, Curci, De Rossi, Astori      Bookings: Yanga-Mbiwa

Manchester City:
Hart, Zabaleta, Clichy, Demichelis, Mangala, Fernando, Fernandinho, Milner, Navas (Silva 67), Nasri (Kolarov 89), Dzeko (Jovetic 78)      Unused subs: Cabellero, Sagna, Boyata, Lampard      Bookings: Dzeko, Nasri

Referee: Milorad Mazic       Att:70,000

Manchester City 1  Everton 0             Everton Pay the Penalty
Saturday 6th December 2014 : Dan Peters for GYKO at the Etihad


Within two minutes Manchester City were forced to prove they are not a one-man team. The Sergio Agüero show had featured 19 goals in 20 appearances before, on his 21st outing, disaster struck and he departed in tears with knee ligament damage.

As the prospect of the forward missing Wednesday’s Champions League match at Roma sank in, on came the youngster José Ángel Pozo and City set about offering evidence that no Agüero does not mean no winning football.

Samir Nasri, James Milner, Gaël Clichy, Yaya Touré, Joe Hart and Martín Demichelis all impressed in what became a consummate team display. On an afternoon that had begun with Chelsea losing their unbeaten record at Newcastle, the league leaders’ mood may have brightened at Agüero’s injury but by the close José Mourinho’s side had been told City’s big guns are in top form.

The Touré winner came from a 24th-minute penalty created by a surging Nasri run along City’s left. When the ball broke it ran to Milner and, when he fell in the area under pressure from Phil Jagielka, the referee, Andre Marriner, pointed to the spot.

Milner said: “I think it was a penalty. It was one of those where he has tried to slow himself down, couldn’t stop in time and has run into me – there is contact. Outside the box, the referee would probably give a free-kick, so what’s the difference in the area?”

Marriner had been at fault for not penalising Eliaquim Mangala earlier for a kung fu-style challenge on Samuel Eto’o and, later, Fernando for a similar kick on Gareth Barry: each might have been sent off.

“The referee hasn’t given them, and I didn’t have a great view,” Milner said, though he was enthused by the character City showed to clinch a fifth straight victory and close the gap to Chelsea to three points. “We have been playing really well and it was important to keep momentum going. You are not always going to play well and it’s important you can scrap out results like this, when there is maybe a bit of fatigue from lads who have played a lot of games recently.”

Of Agüero’s injury, Milner said: “It probably disrupted our rhythm. Losing a player like Sergio Agüero will be a big miss for us. Hopefully he will be back sooner rather than later but Edin Dzeko coming back is a positive and he is a fantastic goalscorer in his own right. Now we have an extra day of recovery going in to the Rome game, so maybe that will help us.”

Milner denied City rely solely on Agüero. “People can say whatever they want, if they think we’re a one-man team. He is a world-class player, one of the best on the planet, and has been absolutely outstanding, so the injury has come at a bad time. Some people have been saying Chelsea have won the league, 10 games in, and here we are with a three-point gap.

“We just concentrate on our own business and that’s the most important thing. Hopefully we can take this momentum we have built since the international break over Christmas.”

Milner is relishing the challenge at Roma where a win and CSKA Moscow’s failure to beat Bayern Munich would take City into the knockout phase. “It’s nice to take that momentum into a crucial European game. We hope we can get the right result there and go into the Christmas period. The league table coming out of Christmas is always very different from the one in early December.”

Roberto Martínez’s team have won only once in their past six league outings. “The referee’s performance was a bit disappointing,” said the Everton manager. “The penalty wasn’t a penalty. It’s not a doubt or debate. The ball gets played and Phil Jagielka is allowed to go and challenge it. James Milner sprints, gets there first and gets the ball. Phil doesn’t even attempt to get the ball or stretch his leg. Yes, there is contact because Phil cannot disappear and doesn’t change the direction of his run.

“Fernando’s action is a high boot. If you want to be strong with the letter of the law then it’s a red card. It’s a clear-cut action. The Mangala one, I can’t explain it. The foot and knee are in a very unnatural position, the mark on Eto’o’s back is incredible. There have been three big decisions, the penalty and two possible cards and normally you get one of them going your way.”


Teams
Manchester City:
Hart, Zabaleta, Demichelis, Mangala, Clichy, Fernando, Toure (C), Navas (Lampard 77mins), Nasri, Milner, Aguero (Pozo 6mins (Dzeko 61mins))  Unused subs: Caballero, Kolarov, Boyata, Sagna   Bookings: Mangala 17mins, Fernando 25mins, Toure 87mins

Everton: Howard, Baines, Distin, Jagielka (C), Hibbert, Coleman, Barry, Besic (Barkley 55mins), Mirallas (Osman 86mins), Eto'o, Lukaku
Unused subs: Joel, McGeady, Pienaar, Garbutt, Alcaraz   Bookings: Coleman 10mins, Barry 51mins, Barkley 90mins

Referee: Andre Marriner     Att:45,603

Sunderland 1  Manchester City 4            Mackems Sunk
Wednesday 3rd December 2014 :  David Boys for GYKO at the Stadium of Light

It was the sort of night which mocked suggestions that this season’s Premier League is a one-horse race and poured scorn on the notion that Manuel Pellegrini might be under some sort of pressure at the Etihad Stadium.

With Sergio Agüero at his ruthless best and Yaya Touré further deconstructing theories that he could be a fading force, Manchester City were irresistible.

At times their football, frequently fast and one-touch, was so mesmerising they threatened to pass Gus Poyet’s team off the pitch but the worrying thing for future opponents is that Sunderland scored first and were far from meek.

Chelsea may hold a six-point lead at the top of the table but, on this utterly compelling evidence, Jose Mourinho has absolutely no cause for complacency. “You can’t be champions in December,” said Pellegrini. “We’ve got six months more to try to be champions again but I don’t think it will be just two teams fighting for the title, there’ll be three or four. Manchester United have won their last four games and Arsenal are coming again.”

City, though, hold an ace card in Agüero, who has scored 19 goals in 20 appearances this term. “I don’t know if there’s a better striker in Europe,” the manager said. “In his last few games I think he’s shown he’s one of the best five players in the world. It’s not just that he’s scoring, he’s playing very well generally. And we’re returning to our best form, there’s trust in the team, it’s different now.”

Poyet – still to name the same starting XI in successive games this season – changed the formula which secured a fine point against Chelsea last Saturday. Sunderland’s manager aimed to confuse City by shaking things up. Where his team had been content to sit deep against Mourinho’s players, they attempted to impose themselves, holding a high defensive line as, initially at least, they endeavoured to press Pellegrini’s side.

If this strategy produced mixed results, the switching of Connor Wickham from the left to right flank and the replacement of the injured Adam Johnson with Will Buckley briefly, deceptively, seemed to ruffle the visiting defence.

And after Pablo Zabaleta blocked a shot from his former team-mate Jack Rodwell following Buckley’s deceiving early cross, Wickham opened the scoring. Sebastian Larsson’s reverse pass created the goal, which was tinged with fortune as Wickham benefited from the ball ricocheting back on to him after an attempted tackle. The ball flicked off the striker and arced impressively over Joe Hart like the cleverest chip.

Revenge was not long in coming. Pellegrini’s players, like Sunderland, were keen to press high up the pitch and they were beginning to prove considerably better at it. So much so that Agüero’s equaliser had a certain air of inevitability. Or at least it did if you ignored the statistics. With City having surrendered 1-0 on each of their previous four visits to Sunderland, Agüero’s was their first goal here since 2010.

Connecting with Jesús Navas’s wonderful cross, Agüero nutmegged Sebastián Coates before lashing an unstoppable right-foot shot beyond his one-time team-mate Costel Pantilimon from the edge of the area. Perhaps anxious to emphasise he can also create, he then set up Stevan Jovetic for his side’s second.

The moment when Jovetic took aim and whipped the ball through Pantilimon’s legs came at the end of a fabulous move featuring around 30 passes. Things reached a conclusion when Yaya Touré teased Sunderland by retaining possession before picking out Agüero with his back to goal and the Argentinian lifted a perfectly cushioned flick into Jovetic’s path.

With Touré taking increasing command of central midfield, where he made life awkward for Lee Cattermole, Pellegrini’s players thoroughly deserved their lead. As a December chill which threatened to leave car windscreens in need of de-icing began to bite, Agüero, Touré and Co continued enjoying themselves. Yet good as City were, sporadic cameos indicated why Dedryck Boyata and Martín Demichelis are not Pellegrini’s first-choice central defensive combination and Fernandinho was forced to clear Rodwell’s header off the line following Larsson’s excellent corner.

Not that such concerns mattered when Zabaleta struck. Reminding everyone that he is not all about defensive play, the right-back played a deft one-two with Samir Nasri before confounding Pantilimon with an audacious lob directed into the far corner.

By now Boyata’s habit of conceding unnecessarily clumsy fouls barely registered, and it became virtually irrelevant when Agüero scored his second. Meeting James Milner’s cross, he ghosted in front of Santiago Vergini before flicking a shot beyond poor Pantilimon via the inside of a post. “Finally,” said Pellegrini, “we’ve won at Sunderland.” Poyet, although the best part of two decades younger, looked considerably more tired afterwards. “City were better than us in every aspect,” he said. “And we paid the price.”


Teams
Sunderland: Pantilimon, Vergini, Reveillere, O'Shea, Coates, Cattermole, Larsson, Rodwell, Buckley, Wickham (Alvarez 66), Fletcher (Altidore 55)      Unused subs: Bridcutt, Brown, Cabral, Gomez, Mannone   Bookings:Cattermole

Manchester City:
Hart, Zabaleta, Clichy, Boyata, Demichelis, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, Nasri (Pozo 83), Jovetic (Milner 56), Aguero (Lampard 74), Navas
Unused subs: Caballero, Angelino, Fernando, Sagna     Bookings: Boyata

Referee: Craig Pawson      Att:41,152

 

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