December  2015 - Reports
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Leicester City 0  Manchester City 0      City Stalemate
Tuesday 29th December 2015 : Barney Simmonds for GYKO at the King Power Stadium

Barclays Premier LeagueIt is probably a measure of how far Leicester City have come in the past year that they might reflect on a goalless draw against an expensively assembled cast of Premier League all-stars with a tinge of disappointment. Claudio Ranieri’s team could not conjure up the win that would mean finishing the year looking down on everybody else but they matched a side that has won the title in two of the past four seasons and Jamie Vardy could probably be excused on this one occasion that he was unable to take the chance that might have sent them back to the top of the division.

Vardy’s first-half miss was incongruous to how the rest of his season has gone but Leicester should not be too distraught when they have reached the midway point in the leading pack, and are denied top spot only by goal difference. They did not always show the adventure seen at other times this season but it was indicative, perhaps, that the last piece of action involved Riyad Mahrez bamboozling Kevin De Bruyne, the most expensive player in the league, with a wonderfully impudent Cruyff turn. Leicester, the success story of 2015, gave the impression they still want to be in our thoughts in 2016, too.

Mahrez became increasingly dangerous as the game wore on but here was a night when Manchester City reminded themselves it was possible to keep out the opposition without Vincent Kompany and, for Manuel Pellegrini, that cannot be understated when they had registered only one clean sheet in the previous 13 matches, with a worse goals-against column than Crystal Palace and Stoke City. Pellegrini’s team still look short of their most exhilarating peaks but, defensively, this was a clear improvement when they have been so susceptible recently without their captain. Joe Hart was protected well, for the most part, and in some ways it was a surprise Leicester did not have more faith in themselves to expose those defensive flaws.
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One of the joys of Leicester’s rise has been their willingness to take the game to their opponents from the first whistle. Here, though, there was a measure of conservatism, with a new-look 4-1-4-1 system. “Perhaps they did it out of respect for us,” Pellegrini volunteered. “It is the first time I can remember they have used four midfielders and only one attacker.”

Ranieri’s team were clearly mindful about how devastating their opponents could be on the counterattack. The high sense of adventure that has been Leicester’s trademark was missing in the opening exchanges and, for the first time in a long time, it was possible as well to detect a few nerves among the crowd. Leicester’s defeat at Liverpool on Boxing Day was their first since September and there was a sense early on, as passes were misplaced and the ball aimed long, that their momentum may have been broken or at least that it was beginning to fray around the edges.

The old confidence did gradually begin to seep back but Leicester were indebted to Kasper Schmeichel’s goalkeeping during those moments in the first half when the movement and speed of their opponents left them vulnerable. Raheem Sterling had been moved from the wing to take up a more central position. He was an elusive opponent while in the wide positions Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva showed their soft-touch refinement. With Sergio Agüero lurking in dangerous places, that attacking quartet always gave Pellegrini’s team a menacing edge in the opening 45 minutes.

All the same Leicester still created the two most inviting chances of the first half. The home side took a while to work up a head of steam but suddenly burst into life with a flurry of pressure at the end of that period. Marc Albrighton could not apply the finishing touch after a wonderful left-wing delivery from Christian Fuchs and, shortly afterwards, the ball was at Vardy’s feet in the position where he loves to be, bearing down on goal with the time to draw back his foot and pick his spot. Fernandinho had lost possession in front of his own penalty area and Vardy, played in by Danny Drinkwater, has been so prolific this season it came almost as a jolt that he could not punish that carelessness. His shot flew over the crossbar and the crowd went into half-time wondering how costly that miss might prove.

Vardy’s directness and raw pace, coupled with his absolute determination to influence the course of the match, still made him a dangerous player and Leicester began the second half with a new impetus. Drinkwater might not attract the same publicity as Vardy or Mahrez but his intelligent midfield play has been a prominent factor in Leicester’s success and he had another fine game. N’Golo Kanté showed his qualities again and, more than anything, Leicester seemed more intent on examining the capabilities of Nicolás Otamendi and Eliquim Mangala. As it turned out, City’s central defenders looked more assured than at other times this season.

For Leicester Wes Morgan can reflect on a night when he eventually got the better of Agüero, leading to the Argentinian’s substitution on 63 minutes. He did not look too happy when he came off, convinced that he had been fouled inside the penalty area in the previous attack. That was the second penalty appeal Craig Pawson turned down, having decided that Danny Simpson’s handball did not constitute a spot-kick, but Pellegrini rarely criticises referees and did not want to prolong the argument afterwards.

Leicester City:Schmeichel, Simpson, Huth, Morgan, Fuchs, Inler (Ulloah 67), Drinkwater (King 80), Kanté; Mahrez, Vardy, Albrighton (De Laet 90+2)        Unused subs:Okazaki, Dyer, Wasilewski, Schwarzer      Bookings: Albrighton

Manchester City:Hart, Sagna, Otamendi, Mangala, Kolarov, Toure, Fernandinho, Sterling (Iheanacho 89), De Bruyne, Silva (Navas 74), Aguero (Bony 63)        Unused subs: Caballero, Demichelis, Horsfield, Zabaleta     Bookings:Kolarov, Mangala, De Bruyne

Referee: Craig Pawson            Att:32,072

Manchester City 4 Sunderland 1     Weary Wearsiders
Saturday 26th December 2015 : GYKO at the Etihad

On such occasions, Manchester City have no need for Pep Guardiola. And when Sunderland are so abject, it is tempting to wonder if even the most coveted manager in Europe could save them. While Sam Allardyce was parachuted in as a relegation firefighter, he now seems armed only with a glass of water as he confronts a blazing inferno.

For the second successive week, Sunderland were beaten by the time latecomers took their seats. They have become ideal opposition for those in need of a win, whether a bedraggled Chelsea last Saturday or a besieged Manuel Pellegrini. The Chilean’s side had lost three of their previous five league games yet they remain formidable opponents on their own turf. This was a 10th win in 11 home games, and they have plundered 38 goals in that time.

Few were simpler than these four. Sunderland eased City’s passage to victory although with Kevin De Bruyne in this form, they needed little assistance. The Belgian scored one and made two more. Midway through his first campaign in Manchester, his tally stands at 10 goals and as many assists. “That is why we bought Kevin,” said Pellegrini after watching his £54m purchase. The Chilean can be grateful for his potency. The spectre of Guardiola looms large over Pellegrini but he is not the most beleaguered manager in Manchester right now.

Such problems as he encountered were caused by a different sort of leader. Vincent Kompany had missed City’s previous eight games but his return spanned nine second-half minutes before he hobbled off with yet another calf injury. “It was not the best news,” said Pellegrini, showing a fine line in understatement. The manager insisted he had not rushed the captain’s comeback but Kompany will undergo a scan on Sunday.

Allardyce had altogether different defensive troubles. He changed goalkeepers, bringing in Vito Mannone. The Italian has played twice this season and conceded four to City in each game. Allardyce switched the back five he abandoned midway through the first half at Chelsea for a four-man defence. It was no more successful. They were two goals behind after 13 minutes at Stamford Bridge and three adrift after 22 at the Etihad Stadium.

“It is hard to think what my best team is,” Allardyce lamented. “They were three goals we could have done a lot better with, particularly the first and third.” Sandwiching a 20-yard drive by Yaya Touré, they bore distinct similarities to each other with De Bruyne serving as City’s creator in chief. Each was a header from the Belgian’s right-wing centres and was aided by dreadful defending. For the opener, Raheem Sterling outjumped Billy Jones, who is five inches taller. Wilfried Bony then leapt above John O’Shea to meet De Bruyne’s free kick.

The Ivorian nevertheless produced another rather typical, decidedly mixed performance, notable thereafter for his profligacy. He skied a penalty after Sebastián Coates fouled the ever influential David Silva. Aggrieved to be omitted for a semi-fit Sergio Agüero at Arsenal last Monday, Bony may find himself back on the bench at Leicester on Tuesday. The Argentinian was not required.

Supplier turned scorer when De Bruyne added City’s fourth, even if his initial intention was to record a hat-trick of assists. He tried to find Bony but the hapless Jones slid in and only succeeding in redirecting the ball back to De Bruyne, who beat Mannone.
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“Until we start getting better defensively we are going to struggle,” added Allardyce. “That is our big problem.” He had made six changes and suggested further, more drastic alterations will follow when he can start trading. “Everyone has had a chance now and they have not done as well as they should,” he said. “Now it is my time to make some big decisions ahead of the January window.”

An August addition had reduced the deficit for Sunderland but Fabio Borini is becoming a specialist in consolation goals. He had scored one at Chelsea and recorded another here. City still have not kept a clean sheet in a game Kompany has not started this campaign.

“If you tell me now we are going to win all the games 4-1 here, I don’t have any problem,” said Pellegrini. Should City’s fears about Kompany be confirmed, such attacking plan may be required.

Manchester City:Hart, Sagna, Sterling, Kolarov, Bony, De Bruyne, Mangala, Silva, Fernandinho, Otamendi (Kompany, 62, Demichelis 71), Toure (Delph, 62)         Unused subs:Caballero, Aguero, Navas, Clichy       Bookings:Sterling

Sunderland:Jones, Van Aanholt, Borini, Johnson, Gomez, O'Shea, Graham (Watmore, 71), M'Vila (Cattermole, 55), Coates, Mannone, Fletcher (Lens, 62)   Unused subs:Pantilimon, Brown, Lens, Defoe, Toivonen, Watmore     Bookings: Jones

Referee: Anthony Taylor          Att:54,523

Arsenal 2 Manchester City 1      More Defensive Failings
Monday 21st December 2015 : Colin Robertson at the Emirates for GYKO

Unlike their counterparts at Leicester City, we are not quite at the point where Arsenal’s supporters are emboldened enough to sing about winning the league. They are, however, entitled to think their team must have an outstanding chance if they can keep this momentum going and, just as importantly, Manchester City continue defending in a way that helps explain why the sheikh and his colleagues in Abu Dhabi are apparently intent on ushering in Pep Guardiola.

Arsenal are still two points off Leicester but they now have a four-point lead over City in third position and, though there were some heart-stopping moments after Yaya Touré’s wonderfully taken 83rd-minute goal, Manuel Pellegrini’s insistence afterwards that his side had been the “dominant” team was generous, to say the least, and largely ignored their deficiencies. This was their fifth defeat already this season and a more accurate reflection would be that Arsenal had the better blend between defence and attack.

The bottom line for City is they cannot expect to defend this badly and get away with it. They badly miss the organisational skills of their captain, Vincent Kompany, and left themselves with too much ground to make up after the first-half goals from Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud that swung the game in favour of Arsène Wenger’s team.

City’s goals-against column is worse than Watford, Crystal Palace and Stoke City, and Eliaquim Mangala’s part in the second goal was particularly wretched. His shanked pass, when under no pressure, immediately put his team in danger. Giroud ran on to Mesut Özil’s through ball to fire a low, angled shot beneath Joe Hart and, for Mangala, the harsh reality is that this has become a recurring theme. At £42m, his progress continues to be interrupted by a tendency to make costly errors.

Özil also played the final pass for Walcott to open the scoring 12 minutes earlier with a curling, diagonal finish. The German has now set up 15 of Arsenal’s league goals and, to put it into context, the next player on the list of assists, Gerard Deulofeu, has contributed seven for Everton.

Arsenal found a way to subdue David Silva, who was eventually substituted in the second half. City found it harder trying to pin down the elusive Özil and, with Walcott and Joel Campbell getting the better of Bacary Sagna and Aleksandar Kolarov, Arsenal could also reflect on several chances at 2-0 to extend their lead. Pellegrini was right that City had spells on top but so did their opponents, creating the better chances.

The score at half-time was slightly misleading because City did look like the more rounded side in the opening half an hour. Pellegrini had chosen to abandon his normal formation in favour of a new 4-1-2-2-1 system that, early on, seemed to have identified Arsenal’s left side as a potential weakness. As well as Kevin De Bruyne operating on the right, Silva also seemed to be under instructions to drift to the same side and double up on Nacho Monreal.

Those two caused plenty of problems during the opening exchanges but on the one occasion Arsenal looked really vulnerable, with only two defenders back and Laurent Koscielny hopelessly out of position, De Bruyne chose to shoot when Silva was free to his left, shouting for the pass that would have almost certainly led to the opening goal. The shot flashed past the post and De Bruyne’s error of judgment was compounded in the next attack when Walcott, operating on the left, collected Özil’s pass and was given far too much space to line up his shot.

City had plenty of defenders inside the penalty area but none of them took decisive action. Sagna hung back while Kolarov appealed for offside and then positioned his hands behind his back as if anticipating the shot. With nobody closing him down, Walcott took a touch inside, shaped his body and sent the ball around Hart with just the right amount of curl and pace.

De Bruyne suffered an ignominious moment early on when he went to take a corner, accidentally kicked the flagpole and ended up on the floor, but it was that wasted opportunity that can be traced back as the moment the game turned in Arsenal’s favour. Until that point, City had been knocking the ball around confidently and controlling the tempo. Thereafter, they looked dishevelled and accident-prone. They lacked cohesion at the back and it needed a couple of sprawling saves from Hart to prevent Campbell and Aaron Ramsey punishing them again in the first 15 minutes of the second half.

Pellegrini brought on Raheem Sterling for Fabian Delph at half-time and, after 63 minutes, there was the now-familiar sight of Agüero gingerly making his way to the touchline, accompanied by a member of the medical staff. Silva’s influence had dropped and Sterling found it difficult to get into the match until Touré, with an elegant swish of his left boot, directed a rising, diagonal shot into the top right-hand corner of Petr Cech’s net. It was a beauty, ensuring a nerve-shredding finale. Wilfried Bony, who had replaced Agüero, turned one shot just wide and Arsenal had to endure four minutes of stoppage time. They held out and, as Wenger noted, these are the kind of wins that give a team chasing the title new belief.

Arsenal:  Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Ramsey, Flamini, Walcott (Chambers, 86), Ozil (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 76), Campbell (Gibbs, 68), Giroud    Unused subs: Ospina, Gabriel, Reine-Adelaide, Iwobi

Manchester City: Hart, Kolarov, Mangala, Otamendi, Sagna, Toure, Fernandinho, Delph (Sterling, 46), Silva (Navas, 71), De Bruyne, Aguero (Bony, 62)       Unused subs: Caballero, Clichy, Demichelis, Iheancho        Bookings: Silva, Otamendi

Referee: Andre Marriner           Att:60,053

Manchester City 2 Swansea City 1      
Saturday 12th December 2015 : GYKO at the Etihad

Manchester City returned to the top of the Premier League with this victory, though after hitting the heights to win their Champions League group in midweek it was an emphatic return to the ordinary until Yaya Touré produced something special in stoppage time. The home side had just been caught by a 90th minute equaliser and Swansea fully deserved it. But for Joe Hart, easily the busier of the two goalkeepers, the visitors could already have been in front. Given that Swansea only went behind through deserting their defensive duties at a first half corner Manchester City were about as unconvincing as it is possible to be without actually dropping points, though in the short time that remained after Bafétimbi Gomis had levelled Touré managed to save the day.

There is be an argument for awarding the winning goal to Kelechi Iheanacho, who unintentionally gained the final touch, though Touré’s shot from a narrow angle appeared to be on target anyway. It certainly deserves to be remembered as a Touré goal. The Ivorian did not have one of his most influential afternoons, but his will to win was there when City needed it. It had been a terrible game on a terrible day, yet it boasted an astonishing last five minutes. “I would have been happy with a 1-0 win, because we did not play well,” Pellegrini conceded. “But the last two minutes said a lot about my team. Even though time was short and things were not going well we tried to score, we wanted to win the game.”

For all their current problems – no manager, allegedly dispirited dressing room, one win in 11 matches – Swansea did not start the game like a side low on confidence. It was their other failing, the lack of a reliable goalscorer, that counted against them most as they had a couple of clear chances to take the lead before the home side settled into their rhythm.

Neat passing from Jack Cork and Gylfi Sigurdsson opened up Manchester City as early as the sixth minute, and though the final ball was intended for André Ayew it turned into a better opportunity for Wayne Routledge, who effortlessly left Nicolás Otamendi behind but was unable to beat Hart. The England goalkeeper was needed again to deny Sigurdsson 10 minutes later when Àngel Rangel played a clever pass behind Gaël Clichy that Routledge turned back from the byline.

Manchester City were doing their share of attacking, though with Kevin De Bruyne rested they lacked some of their usual invention and were making hard work of breaking Swansea down until a set piece came to their rescue. Jesús Navas left Neil Taylor on his backside with a sharp turn and shot for goal, only for Ashley Williams to head behind for a corner. Navas swung in a cross from the left and, though Williams appeared to be marking Wilfried Bony at first, by the time the ball arrived the former Swansea striker had lost him and Lukasz Fabianski had little chance with a firm header from the six-yard line.

Swansea have never really replaced Bony, and if it was not exactly a surprise to see him open the scoring against his old club, almost equally inevitable was the sight of Ayew leaping to meet Sigurdsson’s corner a couple of minutes later but putting his header over the bar.

An ineffective Raheem Sterling was withdrawn at half-time to enable Pellegrini to bolster his midfield defence with Fabian Delph. De Bruyne came on for Silva midway through the second half without making much difference.

The only save Fabianski had to make was from a Touré free-kick, although the Ivorian did put in a strong run moments later before shooting too high. Hart had to save on two more occasions from the impressive Sigurdsson, and when he was finally beaten by the Icelander five minutes from the end the goal did not stand because of dangerous play by Gomis. The referee was probably right but it was a close call.

If that was tough on Swansea tougher still was to come. Gomis brushed away Eliaquim Mangala with contemptuous ease to reach Rangel’s through ball and beat Hart legitimately with a blistering finish. Swansea celebrated wildly, as well they might, with the fourth official about to hold up the board indicating four minutes of added time.

Thanks to Touré the celebrations proved premature. It seems to be true that struggling sides do not get any luck, though on the evidence of this encouraging performance it is hard to see why Swansea should struggle.

Manchester City: Hart, Sagna, Otamendi, Mangala, Clichy, Toure, Fernandinho, Navas, Silva (De Bruyne 68), Sterling (Delph 46), Bony (Iheanacho 84)        Unused subs:  Caballero, Kolarov, Demichelis, Roberts        Bookings:   Bony (57), Sagna (60), Mangala (77)

Swansea City: Fabianski, Rangel, Fernandez, Williams, Taylor, Britton (Montero 75), Cork, Routledge (Barrow 76), Ki Sung-yueng, Sigurdsson, Ayew (Gomis 83)         Unused subs: Amat, Nordfeldt, Grimes, Naughton     Bookings: Taylor (44)

Referee: Robert Madley             Att:53,052

Manchester City 4 Borussia Mönchengladbach 2     Germans Shot Down
Tuesday 8th Dec 2015 : GYKO at the Etihad

Perhaps fortune is changing for Manchester City in the Champions League. They were 2-1 down with 12 minutes remaining and, with Sevilla leading Juventus, a golden chance to win Group D was slipping away.

But cometh the hour, cometh Raheem Sterling, who intervened with two goals that may prove priceless. The first came from close range, the second a dipping finish. They put City ahead and moments later Wilfried Bony made it three goals in five stunning minutes and secured the better chance of a favourable last-16 draw.

City’s manager, Manuel Pellegrini, played down topping the group. “No, it is not easier now,” he said. “It is better to finish first because you can avoid important teams for just one stage more. If you hope to win the title, you have to play against the big teams. Of course it is better not to play Bayern, Barcelona, Real Madrid.”
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Given the nature of the late comeback and the spirited display, Pellegrini would admit City will not be scared of facing anyone when the draw is made on Monday in Nyon. “I think that, if we play the way we did in the second half, we can play against any team,” he added. “You can win, you lose, but that is the way I like to play. For me the most important thing was that we return to being the team I normally want to see.”

From the 2-0 shellacking Stoke City gave them on Saturday Pellegrini made four changes. Out went Martín Demichelis, Bacary Sagna, Fernando, who is injured, and Bony. In came Eliaquim Mangala, Gaél Clichy, Yaya Touré and Fabian Delph. It meant the manager fielded Sterling as a de facto No9 and Bony had been given a snub that involved a wide forward by trade being preferred to his prowess as a time-served striker.

In the opening exchanges it was André Schubert’s men who came closer to landing a first blow. Mangala was dispossessed and Julian Korb was released along the right but he blasted the ball over the bar. It suggested the defensive maladies that plague any City side without Vincent Kompany might strike again. The captain was absent due to his latest calf problem and, 19 minutes in, City were punished by a Korb goal that cancelled out David Silva’s opener.

City enjoyed their advantage for too little time and it was a pity their rear guard was so slipshod as the Spaniard’s goal was a beauty. Sterling conjured a back-heel through traffic to the on-running Silva and he banged the ball beyond Yann Sommer.

The lead lasted 180 seconds. Fabian Johnson motored along the left and sprayed the ball across the area where it bounced up enticingly for Korb to leave Hart no chance.

In this move Schubert’s side showed why they had handed Bayern Munich a rare defeat at the weekend, a 3-1 triumph that was the first reverse for Pep Guardiola’s team in the Bundesliga this season.

As Stoke had done at the Britannia Stadium, Mönchengladbach were finding holes easy to locate and their attractive pass-and-move stuff was far fleeter than City’s ability to repel it. Even from a dead ball Pellegrini’s side could be amateurish. Raffael took a free-kick that Fernandinho could head only straight up in the air and then Nicolás Otamendi missed a clearance as the ball landed in the area. If City were relieved to see this threat fizzle out, three minutes before the interval the sinking feeling that haunted them at Stoke returned. Mönchengladbach cut the blue-shirted defence to ribbons, the ball pin-balling from Oscar Wendt to Johnson and Raffael and that was 2-1 and Pellegrini had serious talking to do.
Manchester City 4-2 Borussia Mönchengladbach: Champions League – as it happened
As the second half began Juventus were holding Sevilla 0-0, which meant if the scoreline remained the same at 90 minutes not even victory would allow City to overtake them. So the challenge facing Pellegrini’s weary-looking bunch was greater than at kick-off: they had to turn the deficit into a winning result and hope Sevilla could somehow defeat Juventus.

City resumed with fresh intent to get at the Germans and find a quick equaliser. Aleksandar Kolarov had a shot he failed to direct, then moments later went down in the area but Danny Makkelie, the referee, was unmoved.

An anxious home crowd hoped Silva might turn the contest. When a Mönchengladbach attack broke down possession came to the 29-year-old. He swivelled near half-way, saw Sterling skipping through and attempted a threaded pass into him, but to the support’s frustration it hit a defender.

By 65 minutes Jesús Navas and Bony had been thrown on by Pellegrini, encouraged perhaps by Fernando Llorente giving Sevilla a 1-0 lead against Juventus, and the stage was set for a finish City’s fans will remember for a long time.

To compound their joy was the news that United were knocked out of the competition at Wolfsburg. Asked to offer commiserations, Pellegrini said: “It is a pity for them. The more teams we have in the next round is better for the Premier League.”

Manchester City: Hart, Kolarov, Mangala, Otamendi, Clichy (Sagna 80), Delph (Bony 65), Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, Silva, Sterling, De Bruyne (Navas 65)   Unused subs: Caballero, Adarabioyo, Maffeo, Celina

Borussia M'gladbach: Sommer, Wendt (Hazard 84), Nordtveit, Christensen, Elvedi, Xhaka, Dahoud (Schulz 67), Johnson (Drmic 72), Korb, Stindl, Raffael        Unused subs: Heimeroth, Brouwers, Jantschke, Hrgota

 Referee: Danny Makkelie       Att:41,829

Stoke City 2 Manchester City 0   
5th Dec 2015 : Dave Barrowclough for GYKO at the Britania

Stoke City put on a masterclass against a Manchester City who were just plain awful. Mark Hughes’s side were everything Manuel Pellegrini’s men hope to be: quick, slick and teeming with dazzling trickery. The headline acts in Stoke’s fourth consecutive home victory were Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic, who scored both goals and could and should have had a hat-trick.

Shaqiri was the Potters’ creator and the visitors’ tormentor-in-chief. It was his two sublime balls that punched the hole in the visiting defence from which Arnautovic beat Joe Hart.

As Hughes said: “We had a number of chances. We were way ahead of Man City and could have made it embarrassing for them. But we’re happy with two goals and the fact that we knew what we had to do today and we went out there and did it. It came off because the players worked so hard to make it happen.”

Stoke were so impressive, defying the stereotype that they are a dour, unadventurous proposition. But the visitors, in truth, were close to embarrassing. There are ways to be beaten and to go down toothless while hitting passes straight out, lacking a first touch, and having all other base elements of the elite player missing is unforgivable.

The fault line in Pellegrini’s team runs through the defence. When Vincent Kompany is absent they struggle. The captain is out with his latest calf injury and yet again his side paid. Martín Demichelis, Saturday’s replacement for the Belgian, had already been left behind by a scampering Arnautovic before he punished City with the opener. This time the Austrian beat Demichelis to Shaqiri’s perfectly measured cross and it was 1-0. Yet the centre-back would not have been exposed if Fernando had earlier challenged the Swiss along the Stoke right to prevent him motoring forward and finding Arnautovic.

More of the same slipshod defending was about to come. The Stoke No10’s first came after seven minutes, his next was on the quarter-hour. Again, Shaqiri was the provider. Again, Fernando, who suffered a hamstring problem and so could be a seventh City player unavailable through injury, failed to reach him. This time the forward skipped infield from the right and passed forward towards Bojan Krkic. The latter failed to collect and the ball travelled on to Arnautovic. Bacary Sagna may have been covering across from right-back but the Frenchman should still have been closer. He was not and Hart was given no chance by Arnautovic for his fifth of the campaign for the club.

So scant were the visitors’ forays into Stoke territory that any felt like news. Kevin De Bruyne was as becalmed as Raheem Sterling, Wilfried Bony and David Silva, who was making a first league start since 3 October. The Belgian did dart along the left once before pinging the ball in towards Silva. The Spaniard allowed it to run and the move folded.

At the other end Stoke’s ability to carve through the Sky Blues had become regulation by the break. First, Arnautovic was slipped in with ease by Krkic. Later, the latter strolled past the struggling Demichelis into Hart’s area. And, Arnautovic (yet again) had a golden chance for his third. This time Glenn Whelan’s left boot placed the ball on to the 26-year-old’s head and while the effort wrongfooted Hart it was inches wide of the right post.

Four minutes from the interval Jack Butland saved a fierce Aleksandar Kolarov shot from close in on an angle from the left and this was about as good as it got all day for the left-back’s team.

When the sides had walked off the visitors were fortunate to be only 2-0 behind and to still have a chance. The potent Shaqiri-Arnautovic axis again came close to extending their team’s advantage. The former beat the comatose rearguard with the same familiar ball around the back and the latter was unlucky to see his shot rebound from Hart’s left post, the Austrian’s standing foot slipping as he unloaded with the right.

Normal business was resumed when the second half began. Sterling and Kolarov delivered miscued balls, and Krkic and Arnautovic each might have beaten Hart. These opportunities came from the same passage of play: Krkic dribbled along the right and when Hart saved Arnautovic failed to finish the rebound.

Later, Krkic slipped in Arnautovic, who squared the ball to Shaqiri. The goal was gaping, Hart was out of position, but he failed to make it 3-0.

By the closing third of the contest Jesús Navas, for Silva, Kelechi Iheanacho, for Bony, and Fabian Delph, for Fernandinho, had all been thrown on by Pellegrini. The changes made little difference. On afternoons such as this – the 4-1 defeats at Tottenham Hotspur and at home to Liverpool are other illustrations – City seem more like title pretenders than genuine contenders.

Stoke City: Butland, Johnson, Shawcross, Wollscheid, Pieters, Cameron, Whelan, Shaqiri (Van Ginkel 77), Afellay (Walters 85), Arnautovic, Krkic (Joselu 72)        Unused subs: Wilson, Adam, Diouf, Haugaard

Manchester City: Hart, Sagna, Otamendi, Demichelis, Kolarov, De Bruyne, Fernando, Fernandinho (Delph 56), Silva (Navas 62), Sterling, Bony (Iheancho 56)     Unused subs: Caballero, Garcia, Clichy, Humphreys      Bookings: Otamendi (51)

Referee: Martin Atkinson      Att:27,000

Manchester City 4 Hull City 1          
Tuesday 1st Dec 2015 : GYKO at the Etihad

This was the first time Hull City had appeared in the quarter-finals of this competition so it was strange, perhaps, that the team who had knocked out Swansea City and Leicester City, and backed by more than 5,000 fans, chose to make seven changes and field what was largely a second-string side.
Steve Bruce is clearly making Hull’s promotion campaign a priority and, specifically, Saturday’s game at Leeds United, but it was a shame the fourth-placed team in the Championship were not more emboldened to go for a place in the semi-finals.

It was a relatively stress-free match for Manchester City even if it took a long time before they turned their early lead, courtesy of Wilfried Bony’s fifth goal in his last eight starts, into a much more resounding scoreline, scoring three times in the final 10 minutes. Kevin De Bruyne scored two of them, taking his total to nine in his first 15 appearances for the club. The substitute Kelechi Iheanacho began the late flurry to make it 2-0 and Andrew Robertson’s breakaway goal in the final moments was only a minor irritation for Manuel Pellegrini’s team given the way Hull had collapsed defensively, in keeping with their record of having not recorded an away win against these opponents since 1930.

This time, at least Hull fared a little better than their now infamous visit here seven years ago, when they were 4-0 down at half-time and Phil Brown dispensed with convention by giving his players a half-time lecture on the pitch. Equally, there were other moments when we were reminded about the accident-prone nature that led to their relegation in May.

For Bony’s goal, the break originated from two Hull players, Chuba Akpom and Ryan Taylor, confusing one another, each leaving the ball to the other man. De Bruyne’s first goal stemmed from Robertson aiming a header back to his goalkeeper, Eldin Jakupovic, and leaving it short and the Belgian’s second goal was another ordeal for Bruce’s team. De Bruyne’s free-kick was curled towards the centre of the goal where Jakupovic and Ahmed Elmohamady simply left it to one another. At this level, no team can defend so badly and expect to get away with it. That should not lessen De Bruyne’s contribution when it was also his 20-yard effort that led to the 12th-minute breakthrough. His shot was struck with his left foot, low and hard, and came back off Jakupovic’s left-hand post for Bony to slot in the rebound.

By half-time it was perhaps surprising City, with David Silva making his first start in almost two months, had not built on that goal. Pellegrini had also made a number of changes and finally seems to have learned Yaya Touré, at the age of 32, deserves the occasional night off. Sergio Agüero was also left out, resting a sore foot for Saturday’s game at Stoke, and perhaps scoring so early left the home side with the sense the tie could be won without playing at full pelt.

Bruce could point out he made 10 changes in the previous round against Leicester, in keeping with his usual policy for this competition. Overall, he was also entitled to think his players acquitted themselves reasonably well until the second goal, when Iheanacho darted in between two defenders to turn in a left-wing cross from Raheem Sterling, another substitute.

All the same, Bruce’s selection does open himself to allegations of undermining the club’s chances of another shock result. Hull were trying to create a piece of club history and having come this far, it was a meek way to go out.

“It’s the same squad who beat Leicester and beat Swansea,” Bruce countered. “I have to stay true to these players if I’ve said: ‘Well, you’ll get your chance in the cup if you’re not playing on the Saturday.’

“It’s the first time the club have got to the quarter-final. We got to an FA Cup final and I’ve said all along that you should take the cups seriously, and I do, but when you’re a Championship side there’s no big gulf in the squad. I’ve got people who have waited patiently to play and I’ve had to stay true to the squad because I felt that was vitally important.”

As it was, the most disappointing part for Bruce was the way his team disintegrated after the second goal. “At 80 minutes, it was 1-0 and we were probably having our best spell,” he said after a match that featured Robert Snodgrass’s return, as a substitute, from the knee injury that has kept him out for 16 months. “All of a sudden it’s 4-0. We made a couple of mistakes and were punished.”

De Bruyne showed great anticipation to make Robertson pay for his mistake, darting in to turn the ball past Jakupovic. The free-kick put De Bruyne alongside Agüero as the leading scorer for the season and Robertson’s stoppage-time goal, set up by the substitute Abel Hernández, was too little too late.

Manchester City:  Caballero, Sagna, Otamendi, Mangala, Clichy, Delph, Fernandinho, Silva (Demichelis 83), De Bruyne, Navas (Sterling 62), Bony (Iheanacho 71)

Unused subs:  Wright, Kolarov, Humphreys, M Garcia       Bookings: Mangala

Hull City: Jakupovic, Odubajo, Maguire, Bruce, Hayden, Robertson, Livermore, R Taylor (Diame 58) Elmohamady, Aluko (Snodgrass 73), Akpom (Hernandez 68)    Unused subs: McGregor, Huddlestone, Clucas, Maloney      Bookings: Maguire

Referee: Mike Jones             Att:38,246


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