February 2008 - Reports
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Manchester City 0 Everton 2        Toffees chew City up.
Monday February 25th 2008 : Daniel Taylor for GYKO at the COMSTAD

Bill Shankly used to rely on an old saying at Anfield that "first is first and second is nowhere." These days, finishing fourth is the best Liverpool can hope for and there are signs they may have to suffer the indignity of being barged out of the Champions League places by the team from across Stanley Park - a side, lest it be forgotten, that Rafael Benítez has infamously described as a "small club."

Everton resented that suggestion and they seem to be doing everything in their power to make Benítez rue his words. This victory, courtesy of first-half goals from Yakubu Ayegbeni and Joleon Lescott, propels David Moyes's team back above Liverpool into fourth, three points clear of their neighbours albeit having played a game more.

One thing for certain is that Manchester City can be discounted with immediate effect. Sven Goran Eriksson's team turned down a cul-de-sac last night and, having been thoroughly outplayed, they are languishing in eighth, their lowest position of the Swede's reign.

Everton were significantly the better side although, for all their superiority, there will always be doubts about whether this team is equipped to do anything in Europe's premier club competition other than fall flat on their face. Fabio Capello was here last night and it was one of those occasions when he must have wondered whether the Premier League was guilty of self-aggrandisement with all its back-slapping claims of being the best in the world.

Capello was here primarily to watch Micah Richards, a centre-half experiencing his first dip in form, as well as Joe Hart, a 20-year-old who began the season as Eriksson's third-choice goalkeeper and, to the bemusement of many City supporters, is now being spoken of as a serious contender for the England team. The name of Lescott may also have featured prominently in Capello's notebook - presumably with a tick rather than a cross - and, if the news has not reached him already, England's manager will know by now why Rob Styles is a familiar subject for students of refereeing demonology.

David Moyes's team were quicker to the ball, stronger in the tackle and played with an urgency that was strangely missing from the home side. All of which spares Styles another inquest into his officiating because the visitors also had a clear penalty turned down in the seventh minute when Richards, losing his balance as he charged down Tim Cahill's shot, tried to retrieve the situation by jabbing out his right arm to deflect the ball away.

The sense of injustice seemed to spur on the visitors. Their passing was crisp, they played with width and penetration and they looked particularly incisive when attacking down the left. City, in contrast, looked unrecognisable from the side that had beaten Manchester United in their last game - which was strange because Eriksson had chosen exactly the same team.

Perhaps, in hindsight, Eriksson will regret not starting the game with Elano and Vedran Corluka, both of whom were suspended at Old Trafford. His team did not manage a noteworthy attempt on goal inside the opening half and, once the first goal went in, Everton were so utterly in command they could conceivably have made the game safe by half-time.

As it was, their superiority was rewarded with only one more goal, Lee Carsley's deep cross picking out Lescott in a congested penalty area and the defender jumping highest to loop a well-directed header beyond Hart. It summed up City's first-half performance that Richard Dunne, their usually reliable captain, was outjumped in the process, but it was totally in keeping with the way the game had gone since the first few minutes when Hart had to save adroitly at Yakubu's feet. After 29 minutes Pienaar's curling effort flicked off the crossbar and, within 60 seconds, Everton took the lead when Yakubu touched the ball to Cahill, set off for the six-yard area and arrived just in time to connect with the return pass.

Equally disappointing for Eriksson must have been the lukewarm response from his team after the interval. True, there was an improvement from the home side but much of this owed to Everton sitting back on their lead and they rarely looked troubled.

Eriksson introduced Elano and his new striker, Felipe Caicedo, but their possession seldom amounted to anything and, at the other end, they continued to look vulnerable. Everton might have scored a third after 54 minutes when Yakubu surged down the left and cut the ball back for Cahill, who was denied by Michael Ball's saving tackle and Dunne's clearance.

They were also denied another penalty after Richards inexplicably handled the ball again and Styles, together with his assistant, decided it was outside the penalty area. In the end City were punished by Styles when Martin Petrov was sent off for aiming the softest of kicks at Leon Osman.

Man City: Hart, Onuoha, Dunne, Richards, Ball, Vassell (Castillo 75), Gelson, Hamann (Elano 46), Ireland (Caicedo 68), Petrov, Mwaruwari.
Subs Not Used: Isaksson, Corluka.

Sent Off: Petrov (90).

Everton: Howard, Hibbert, Yobo, Jagielka, Lescott, Neville, Carsley, Osman, Pienaar (Fernandes 56), Cahill, Yakubu, Fernandes (Johnson 67).
Subs Not Used: Wessels, Nuno Valente, Anichebe.

Booked: Carsley.

Goals: Yakubu 30, Lescott 38.

Att: 41,728

Ref: Rob Styles (Hampshire).


Manchester Uni£ed 1 Manchester City 2  How Sweet it is....
Sunday 10th February 2008 : Rob Ringland for GYKO at the theatre of broken dreams

Following a week of tributes to Munich 1958, Sir Alex Ferguson had demanded Manchester United produce a performance worthy of the Busby Babes. But on a day of poignant memorial, goals from Darius Vassell and Benjani Mwaruwari gave City a deserved 2-1 win and their first double over United since 1969-70.

The players were led onto the pitch by a lone piper before Ferguson and Sven-Goran Eriksson laid club wreaths in the centre circle. A perfectly observed minute's silence followed before the game got underway.

After a low-key start the first chance came after seven minutes when Nani released Tevez down the right. His chipped cross found Ryan Giggs at the far post, whose shot was tipped over well by Joe Hart.

United continue to press, without ever looking like finding a way through, until City unexpectedly broke the deadlock after 24 minutes. Benjani broke from midfield before playing the ball out to Petrov on the left. The Bulgarian took his time before playing a perfectly weighted through-ball to Stephen Ireland, whose shot was blocked by Edwin van der Sar. The ball then broke loose for Vassell, who hit a shot that was heading wide until the recovering Van der Sar parried it back into play. The ball sat up perfectly for Vassell, who made no mistake the second time around.

The goal looked to have woken up United with Tevez hitting a scorching shot on the spin from the edge of the box that Hart managed to parry away.

Despite leading, City were still not looking wholly comfortable, misplacing passes in their own-half, allowing United to regain the initiative. Brown's hard and low cross found Ronaldo on the edge of the box, but his left-footed shot was not hit with his usual conviction and Richard Dunne deflected it wide. From the resulting corner the ball found Rio Ferdinand on the edge of the six-yard box but his strike again couldn't find a path through a sea of bodies.

Benjani was holding the ball up well as the lone man up-front on his debut for City, and he earned his reward just before half-time, touching a Martin Petrov cross beyond Van der Sar for  a quality strike by the new City man.

The expected second-half fightback from United never came. While they continued to press, they rarely looked like breaking through Eriksson's 4-5-1 formation. United thought they had got a goal back on 55 minutes when Tevez took the ball past Joe Hart, but he was rightly called offside, and from then on United were increasingly restricted to tame shots from distance. The City captain Richard Dunne put in a typically immense performance at the back for City, always there to mop up and head clear.

Indeed it was City who had the best chances on the break. Stephen reland and Benjani found themselves two-on-one only to dither, while Petrov found space on the left before Nemanja Vidic raced back to head the ball away from the unmarked Ireland.

Park Ji-sung and Carrick were introduced but it took until injury time for United to finally show their class. Carrick found space on the edge of the box and placed the ball into the bottom left corner of Hart's goal. But it was too little too late for United who hugely missed the suspended Wayne Rooney. It was their first home defeat of the season and their fourth overall in the Premier League, all games that Rooney has missed.

City now move into sixth on 44 points, three behind Everton in the race for the fourth Champions League spot. For United the disappointment that they failed to produce on such an important day and suffered an embarrassing defeat to their city rivals will fade. But in the long-term this result could prove even more damaging to their title chances than their pride.

Man Utd: Van der Sar, Brown, Vidic, Ferdinand, O'Shea (Carrick 73), Nani (Park 64), Scholes, Anderson (Hargreaves 73), Giggs, Ronaldo, Tevez.
Subs Not Used: Kuszczak, Simpson.

Booked: O'Shea.

Goals: Carrick 90.

Man City: Hart, Onuoha, Richards, Dunne, Ball, Vassell, Ireland, Hamann (Jihai 84), Gelson, Petrov (Garrido 87), Mwaruwari (Caicedo 75).
Subs Not Used: Isaksson, Geovanni.

Goals: Vassell 25, Mwaruwari 45.

Att: 75,970

Ref: Howard Webb (S Yorkshire).


Manchester City 1 Arsenal 3      Champions at the COMSTAD


I'm Frank Swift, I Died in the Munich air disaster...

Please Respect me at
Old Trafford - a minutes silence will be fine.

Sven-Goran Eriksson turns 60 tomorrow and if his birthday is anything like Manchester City's current formthe cake will be soggy, the candles will not light and his cards will be lost in the post. The Swede has had a difficult start to 2008, to say the least, and Arsenal were so superior on Saturday that the City manager did something here he has not done all season - he came close to losing his temper.

Eriksson being Eriksson, nobody was pinned against the wall, no crockery was smashed and his players are still wondering whether this owlish little man has ever uttered an expletive.

All the same, it is difficult to remember him looking so cross. Superlatives have attached themselves to Arsenal all season but on this occasion words such as "routine" and "comfortable" could be applied to their return to the top of the Premier League table, with the exception, perhaps, of the prolific Emmanuel Adebayor, who now has 21 goals for the season and, in this form, is close to being as influential as, dare one say, Thierry Henry.

Arsène Wenger's men always had that extra little bit of class but the truth was that they did not have to reach their most dazzling heights because their opponents did not seem to realise that to disrupt Arsenal it is imperative to get close, to hassle and harass, to chase and scurry, and prevent Cesc Fábregas and Alexander Hleb from dictating the tempo.

"They can move the ball all day if you give them time and space and we did that," said Eriksson. "We looked afraid, nervous; we showed them too much respect." Asked if he was angry, he replied: "You can be sure of that."

Arsenal consequently became the first away team to win at City in the league this season and Wenger, who described as "phenomenal" their total of 60 points, was particularly effusive about Adebayor's contribution, nodding when it was put to him that the Togo international had made Henry's absence much less traumatic than might have been anticipated. "That is a massive compliment because Henry is a world-class player," he said.

"It just shows that you should never underestimate a human being's capacity for improvement. If you saw Adebayor when he started with us, he was not calm in front of the goal, but now he looks really composed. He has stamina, strength, power and he loves to play."

The tall, rangy striker also has a fine appreciation of space and opened the scoring with a deflection off Micah Richards. Eduardo da Silva volleyed in a second; then Gaël Clichy's over-playing allowed Vedran Corluka to set up Gelson Fernandes to make it 2-1 but Arsenal were seldom threatened and Adebayor marked their superiority late on to make it 11 goals in eight games for him.

"I feel like there was a question mark about him when he signed," said Wenger. "There were questions about his attitude, his spirit. Did we manage to change him? Or did he realise himself that he'd wasted enough time? It's down to him, I would say. He's found a club where he can express himself."

Adebayor was whistling a happy tune when he left and Wenger was smiling too, because his side have demonstrated nerve and poise since losing 5-1 to Tottenham Hotspur in the Carling Cup semi-final. "I think I must have been the only one," he said, "who didn't think we were cracking up. I was never anxious once."

It helps, of course, when opponents are as generous as City and Eriksson, resorting to mild sarcasm, wanted to know how many minutes had passed before his side gave away their first free-kick, the inference being that they had barely made a challenge.

After an impressive start to the season, Elano, Martin Petrov and Stephen Ireland have stopped looking for the ball, whereas the Arsenal players cannot get enough of it. That made it a game of keep-ball at times and the imbalance of talent was so extreme that it amounted to a reality check as regards Champions League aspirations. City suddenly look like an Intertoto Cup team.

"It's time we woke up," said Eriksson. "We haven't done well since the new year and if we want to qualify for Europe we have to wake up and realise the season didn't finish at Christmas."

Wenger's players have flustered a succession of opposition managers this season, and it was unusual to see Eriksson looking so unhappy. He very nearly raised his voice.

The striker has now scored in eight successive games, and posed more problems for Richard Dunne and Micah Richards than any other forward this season

Man City: Hart, Corluka, Dunne, Richards, Ball, Ireland (Mpenza 83), Hamann (Geovanni 75), Gelson, Petrov, Elano, Sturridge (Vassell 55).
Subs Not Used: Schmeichel, Jihai.

Booked: Petrov, Elano.

Goals: Gelson 28.

Arsenal: Lehmann, Sagna, Gallas, Senderos, Clichy, Hleb (Justin Hoyte 89), Fabregas, Flamini, Diaby, Adebayor, Eduardo.
Subs Not Used: Fabianski, Bendtner, Traore, Walcott.

Goals: Adebayor 9, Eduardo 26, Adebayor 88.

Att: 46,426

Ref: Andre Marriner (W Midlands).


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