Manchester City 1
Stoke City 0 Potters
make it difficult
Saturday 22nd February 2014 : GYKO
at the Etihad
Yaya Touré’s goal was enough to earn
Manchester City a victory that keeps them in touch at
the top of the Premier League on an afternoon of anxiety
at the Etihad Stadium.
This was not a performance that will have Barcelona’s
scouts fearing the prospects of their 2-0 advantage
being over turned in the second leg of their Champions
League last 16 tie next month and there was none of the
fluidity that has marked most of their home performances
But on a day when Manuel Pellegrini’s team never looked
like finding any real rhythm and for long periods looked
in danger of failing to score in three consecutive
Premier League matches for the first time since Benjani
and Darius Vassell led the line, Touré’s goal with 20
minutes remaining was all that mattered.
After collecting just one point from their matches
against Chelsea and Norwich, before their chastening
defeat to Barcelona, a win, to keep them three points
off leaders Chelsea with a game in hand, was all that
was required after a trying week.
With Sergio Aguero set to join the squad for full
training after a hamstring injury on Tuesday and Alvaro
Negredo still short of fitness after a shoulder problem,
Stevan Jovetic went off with a hamstring problem just 12
minutes after coming on and Edin Dzeko produced a
baffling miss to sum up a torturous day for Pellegrini’s
But Pellegrini, who confirmed he will not attend next
Friday’s Uefa hearing over his misconduct charge for his
comments about referee Jonas Eriksson after the
Barcelona loss, was not concerned about the manner of
his team’s victory.
“The satisfaction is the same because we have three more
points on the table and the second (time facing teams)
is not the same as the first,”
Pellegrini said: “Teams come here to try to draw,
defending with the whole team behind the ball so we
can’t win by three or four every match. It’s important
to know how to win in both ways, to have a clean sheet
and have the patience to score at least one.
“It’s normal during the season that sometimes (for
strikers to have bad spells) but I trust in all of them
and I’m sure they will recover their normal performance.
“Every player can have a bad day and maybe (Dzeko) had a
bad day and was nervous after he failed that goal but I
From the first whistle, there was no prospect of
possession statistics being rammed down the throats of
Pellegrini’s side but the frustration of the Barcelona
defeat seemed to linger.
The home side simply could not rouse themselves and,
being on the mildly ambitious side of functional, Stoke
actually had the better opportunities in the first half.
Martin Demichelis, shown a straight red card for his
challenge on Lionel Messi on Tuesday, was struggling
with a different challenge, twice resorting to daft tugs
at Peter Crouch in unthreatening positions.
Charlie Adam just missed with one stinging low shot
before having another pushed wide by Hart but the home
side came on stronger as the first half closed, with
Touré swapping passes with Negredo and driving just past
the top corner from a narrow angle.
Dzeko also had a low curling effort held by Asmir
Begovic and the Bosnian then lifted a shot over the bar
from David Silva’s pull-back shortly after the break.
When substitute Jovetic’s stinging shot was held at the
second attempt by Begovic there was fury from the home
supporters at Dzeko’s lack of effort to get on the end
of the loose ball.
Two minutes later, the home side dug out their opening
goal, when Jesus Navas worked the ball to the left and
Aleksandar Kolarov’s low cross was turned in by Touré.
But the festering anger towards Dzeko rose to the
surface yet again when a low cross from Navas found the
Bosnian three yards from goal and he only managed to
flick the ball against his standing leg.
Facing his former club, Stephen Ireland could have
snatched an equaliser in added time but drove wide from
a good position.
“I was pleased with what we produced,” Mark Hughes, the
Stoke manager, said. “We had a gameplan and executed it
for the majority of the game.
“There wasn’t a huge swell of momentum having to repel
attack after attack but we made a mistake on the goal.”
Manchester City: Hart,
Zabaleta, Kompany (c), Demichelis, Kolarov, Fernandinho
(Navas 62mins), Yaya Toure, Nasri, Silva, Dzeko, Negredo
(Jovetic 56mins) (Garcia 68mins)
Unused subs: Pantilimon, Lescott, Clichy,
Milner Bookings: Kompany 14mins,
Fernandinho 30mins, Dzeko 90mins
Stoke City: Begovic, Pieters, Wilson, Shawcross,
Cameron, Arnautovic (Palacios 67mins), Whelan (Etherington
81mins), Adam, Odemwingie, Walters (Ireland 77mins),
Crouch Unused subs: Sorensen, Muniesa,
Wilkinson, Nzonzi Bookings: Adam 33mins
Referee: Chris Foy
Manchester City 0
FC Barcelona 2
Tuesday 18th February 2014 : GYKO
at the Etihad
The ordeal finished with Manuel
Pellegrini confronting the referee and indulging in a
spot of finger-jabbing that goes against everything we
have seen of the Chilean since he took up residence in
Pellegrini went too far with his post-match outburst
and, briefly, there was a sense of déjà vu from Roberto
Mancini's days in the same seat – except that not even
Mancini has gone as far as saying Sweden should not be
allowed a referee at this stage of the Champions League.
Amid all the scatter-gun allegations – and a
disciplinary charge from Uefa seems inevitable –
Pellegrini had some legitimate points. Yet there was
another difficult truth for City and it is that a team
with genuine Champions League aspirations cannot have a
weak link in the centre of their defence.
Unfortunately for them there is a growing portfolio of
evidence that identifies Martín Demichelis as a player
who has to apologise to his team-mates too often. Under
pressure he will always give the opponents something and
in a straight contest with Lionel Messi this was always
going to be a part of the game that Barcelona could
Pellegrini's team had generally been coping until the
moment, eight minutes into the second half, when Andrés
Iniesta expertly picked out Messi's run and Demichelis,
hopelessly out of position, clattered into the four-time
Ballon d'Or winner with a desperate attempt to recover.
As soon as the referee, Jonas Eriksson, pointed to the
penalty spot, a red card was inevitable and, though the
10 men gave everything, the home side were always going
to be vulnerable to more damage than just Messi's
successful spot-kick. Dani Alves, overlapping from
right-back, inflicted it with the second goal so that
City now require a remarkable feat at Camp Nou on 12
March. Pellegrini's ire was of a man who recognised the
damage was almost certainly irreparable.
City's grievance was on two fronts. First of all they
had a legitimate complaint that Demichelis's first
contact with Messi was marginally outside the penalty
area. They could also argue that Sergio Busquets had
fouled Jesús Navas in the build-up. Messi, however, was
travelling at such speed that his momentum landed him in
a place that convinced Eriksson to point to the spot.
It was not as clear-cut as Pellegrini suggested and
accusing Eriksson of returning a favour to Barcelona,
having made an error against them in a previous fixture
against Milan, was a cheap shot.
Until that point Iniesta and Xavi Hernández had played
every pass apart from the killer one. Certainly it did
not take long before Pellegrini's lecture about City
wearing out their opponents by making them chase the
ball started to look like wishful thinking. A team with
Barça's refinement do not generally suffer that way. One
side cherished the ball through the early exchanges as
though it were made out of bone china. The other chased
and marked and harried and, when it was their turn on
the ball, they discovered their opponents have a
wonderful knack of getting it back.
Yet City had shaken their heads clear by the midway
point of the first half and, cultured as it was,
Barcelona's early control tended not to get much further
than the edge of the penalty area. Messi, dropping back
into the centre-circle, did not have too many gaps to
aim for in a heavily congested midfield. Yaya Touré was
holding his position more than usual and Fernandinho's
return from injury gave City a reassuring presence in
front of defence.
Pellegrini had promised City would not adapt their
attacking style. As it was, he might be accused of being
too conservative, starting with Álvaro Negredo as a lone
striker and deploying Aleksandar Kolarov on the left of
midfield to help Gaël Clichy double up on Alexis Sánchez
and the overlapping Alves.
By half-time the tactic was succeeding in snuffing out
the Messi factor. Pellegrini's side had also started to
create problems of their own but there was always the
sense that Demichelis might be susceptible. His
carelessness had returned the ball to City's opponents
inside his own half twice in the opening quarter of an
hour. There is a clear argument – not that Pellegrini
wanted to hear it – that his defending for the penalty
was certainly no worse than the refereeing.
City's 10 men played with great togetherness after Messi
had clipped his penalty into the spot that Joe Hart,
diving to his left, had vacated. They could reflect on a
couple of chances to salvage an improbable result. Their
best move of the night culminated in David Silva
controlling Pablo Zabaleta's lay-off on his chest and
firing in a right-foot volley that needed a fine save
from Victor Valdés.
Edin Dzeko also created problems after he had replaced
Negredo but Barcelona with an extra player are
formidable opponents and City's desperate efforts to
force an equaliser always meant there would be gaps to
It had needed some obdurate defending to keep the score
down before Alves exchanged passes with the substitute
Neymar and cut in from the right to slip his shot
through Hart's legs.
Manchester City 2
Saturday 16th February 2014 : GYKO
at the Etihad
The furthest Manuel Pellegrini pushed
it was when he pointed out afterwards that he still
thought Chelsea's success here 12 days earlier had been
overplayed. "Tactically, we didn't have any problems,"
he said. Otherwise, there was no gloating, or even the
subtlest of putdowns, and it was a wise strategy from
the Manchester City manager. He is never going to outdo
José Mourinho when it comes to confrontation, brittle
one-liners and media positioning – the Chelsea manager
is simply too well-practised – but his team reminded
everyone here why they are such formidable opponents,
and that is always the best way to win these arguments.
They won with almost surprising ease, courtesy of a goal
in each half from Stevan Jovetic and the fit-again Samir
Nasri, and it was an ideal way to start a week in which
the next assignment will be Tuesday's Champions League
tie against Barcelona. Mourinho can still look back on
Chelsea's two visits to Manchester and reflect
had the better of the deal, having already dismantled
City's previously immaculate home record, but his team
plodded through this defeat. They fell way short,
particularly in attack, and it was perplexing to see
Mourinho's players offer so little when the memories
were still vivid of their outstanding performance of the
Chelsea tend to give everything in the FA Cup. On this
occasion, they simply put on their coats and showed
themselves to the door.
Mourinho talked afterwards about weariness and used
Nemanja Matic's performances over the two games as an
example of how it had caught up with them. Matic was
superb in the first, over-run in the second. Yet
Mourinho could have picked out others, too. Samuel Eto'o
suffered the ignominy of being removed at half-time and
there was a telling moment when Mourinho was asked
whether he could put into words his frustrations about
the contribution of Chelsea's strikers this season.
"There are things I cannot say," he said. "I can just
think things and keep them to myself."
In fairness to Eto'o, there was no real improvement for
Chelsea after his withdrawal. Pellegrini had worked out
a way to stifle Eden Hazard, with James Milner doubling
up to help out Pablo Zabaleta. Willian was an elusive
opponent but faded in the second half and Fernando
Torres made little difference when he came on. Chelsea
barely managed a single noteworthy attempt to establish
whether Costel Pantilimon, deputising for Joe Hart,
might be suspect.
They really ought to have done more, bearing in mind
Pantilimon had needed three attempts to clasp a low
cross from Chelsea's first attack of any real threat, 21
minutes into the game.
Nasri, returning from a month out with a knee injury,
was a second-half substitute and had been on the pitch
for only six minutes when he exchanged passes with David
Silva to score the goal that effectively ended the game
two-thirds of the way in. His return is timed well given
the challenges that lie ahead in the next few days and
Jovetic's input is also encouraging for Pellegrini, even
if the Montenegrin did pick up a yellow card for a dive.
Jovetic's luckless run with injuries has badly disrupted
his first season in English football but here was the
evidence that the £22.9m signing from Fiorentina can
still play a considerable part.
Pellegrini had resisted the temptation to make wholesale
changes and his main players, most notably Yaya Touré
and Silva, created plenty of problems for Chelsea.
Vincent Kompany looked like he had taken the last defeat
as a personal affront and Hazard was contained so well
that, after half an hour, Mourinho ordered him to swap
places with Willian in a more central role.
Hazard had menaced City barely a fortnight ago. Now,
there were only flashes of his excellence. Milner was
excellent for City and Javi García, another player who
seldom gets acclaim, coped much better in the defensive
midfield role than Martín Demichelis had in the first
Mourinho was not on one of his elaborate wind-ups either
when he talked about City being fresher. Pellegrini also
noted it was "important" they had not played in midweek,
because of the postponed match against Sunderland.
His team set off with the greater spark, taking the lead
after 16 minutes with a move that began with their
left-back, Gaël Clichy, and went across the pitch in a
diagonal line, via Silva and Edin Dzeko, before the ball
reached Jovetic. A minute earlier, Jovetic had flicked
the crossbar with a follow-up shot to Touré's effort
which Petr Cech could only spill. Now he took advantage
of César Azpilicueta not being close enough and drove
his shot in off the post.
The most startling aspect from a Chelsea perspective was
their inability to respond. They were ponderous with
both their thoughts and their movement and far too
obliging when Nasri turned away from Mikel John Obi,
played the ball into Silva and then darted between David
Luiz and Gary Cahill to turn in the return pass. Silva
had been marginally offside but, even then, Mourinho's
complaints were measured. "Was the referee poor in the
second half? Yes, but even with a perfect referee we
would have lost one-nil."
Teams Manchester City: Pantilimon, Zabaleta,
Clichy, Lescott, Kompany, Yaya Toure, Milner, Garcia,
Silva (Navas 69), Dzeko (Negredo 81), Jovetic (Nasri 61)
Unused subs: Hart, Kolarov, Demichelis, Richards
Bookings: Kompany, Yaya Toure, Jovetic, Garcia
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Cahill, David Luiz,
Azpilicueta, Mikel, Matic, Ramires (Torres 60), Willian
(Oscar 71), Hazard, Eto'o (Salah 46)
Unused subs: Schwarzer, Cole, Lampard, Schurrle
Bookings: Luiz, Matic
Referee: Phil Dowd
Norwich City 0
Manchester City 0 Another Set
Saturday 8th February 2014 :
Bernard Harrop for GYKO at Carrow Road
When Manuel Pellegrini said after
this game that his side were experiencing what he
described as an unlucky moment in the season, the
Manchester City manager was referring not so much to a
second consecutive lacklustre performance as the reasons
Specifically, the injuries which are depriving him of
five key players and almost as importantly, reducing the
effectiveness of several others. Two games without a
goal obviously emphasise the absence of the 26-goal
leading scorer Sergio Agüero – given that City have
failed to score in four of the five Premier League games
he has failed to start this season – and of Fernandinho,
but Alvaro Negredo and Yaya Touré are also among those
playing when less than 100% fit, and on Saturday it
Negredo, who has a continuing issue with a shoulder
injury picked up in the Capital One Cup semi-final
against West Ham last month, missed City's best chance
when he headed against the bar when unmarked on the
six-yard line. Touré has a back problem and eschewed his
normal driving runs from midfield to sit quietly in a
defensive role in front of the back four.
"I was concerned for the last match, against Chelsea,
and also for this match, and next week we have a very
difficult week because we have the three competitions:
Premier League on Wednesday against Sunderland, FA Cup
against Chelsea [on Saturday evening] and then on
Tuesday against Barcelona in the Champions League, so we
must see how we can recover the players in these days,"
The Chilean is, he said, doing his best to reduce the
workload on key individuals. "That's why we are trying
to make a rotation, [some] on the bench, not to start
from the beginning. We are trying to do our best with
It meant only a second Premier League start for Stevan
Jovetic, but though the Norwich goalkeeper John Ruddy
did save one well-struck effort shortly before
half-time, the Montenegro striker signed for £22m from
Fiorentina last summer was generally ineffective and
eventually replaced by Edin Dzeko – himself carrying a
knock, according to Pellegrini.
Even so, the manager did not appear dismayed to have
failed to create more than a couple of decent chances
from almost 70% possession. "Every team will drop
points, last week it was Chelsea against West Ham at
home, today it was Arsenal, so we hope it will continue
to the end and as I've said a lot of weeks before, this
Premier League will be decided by one point."
A point might also prove to be enough to keep Norwich
up, and unlike against Newcastle in their previous home
game, the Canaries fully deserved theirs. Indeed they
were unfortunate not to claim all three when, with time
running out, Nathan Redmond, who had the beating of
City's defenders all afternoon, left the hapless Martín
Demichelis standing and crossed low for Ricky van
Wolfswinkel. Needing only to make contact to turn the
ball over the line, the Holland forward failed to do so.
In fact, having come on as a substitute, the only time
Van Wolfswinkel caused some sort of stir was when he
felt Touré's foot make the slightest of contacts with
his back and having thought about it, flung himself to
the ground and writhed about in the manner that is a
miserable blight on the modern game.
Unfortunately for Touré, he did raise a foot after the
two players scrapped for possession, and may face a
retrospective misconduct charge.
Neither manager saw the incident and anyway Hughton had
happier things to talk about, including the standing
ovation his players received for their impressive
determination and commitment.
"We have supporters who know the game and how good Man
City are," said Hughton, whose side had been beaten 7-0
at the Etihad earlier this season. "But it's more to do
with they saw us trying to win the game at the end. You
know you are going to have to defend for large periods,
but also you have to be a threat on the ball, and I
thought we got most things right."
The experienced Joseph Yobo, signed on loan from
Fenerbahce at the end of the transfer window, gave
Hughton's side a reassuring presence alongside Sébastien
Bassong in central defence. With other clubs in the
bottom half having increased their striking options,
however, Norwich could do with the likes of Van
Wolfswinkel making an impression for playing football
rather than play-acting.
Norwich City: Ruddy, Martin, Yobo, Bassong (c),
Olsson, Redmond, Tettey, Johnson, Pilkington (Whittaker
90mins), Fer, Hooper (van Wolfswinkel 66mins)
Unused subs: Bunn, Hoolahan, Garrido, Becchio,
Josh Murphy Bookings: Tettey
80mins, van Wolfswinkel 81mins
Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany (c),
Demichelis, Clichy, Navas, Milner, Toure, Silva, Jovetic
(Dzeko 61mins), Negredo (Kolarov 77mins)
Unused subs: Pantilimon, Richards, Lescott,
Rodwell, Lopes Bookings: Milner
Manchester City 0
Chelsea 1 Chelsea Bowl Over City
Monday 3rd February 2014 : GYKO at
Chelsea have just reminded the
Premier League, with a sharp dig in the ribs, that they
have not forgotten what it takes to be champions. José
Mourinho's team played as though affronted by the
suggestion they would not dare to take on Manchester
City at their own game and, in the process, there was a
peacock-like spreading of feathers from the team in the
darker shade of blue.
They won through Branislav Ivanovic's first-half goal
but could also reflect on three other occasions when
they struck the woodwork, alongside a clutch of other
opportunities to emphasise their superiority. City, in
stark contrast, looked like a side that had forgotten
they had scored four goals or more on 14 different
occasions this season.
They badly missed Sergio Agüero and Fernandinho but
their shortcomings were considerable and a jolting night
has heavy consequences for Manuel Pellegrini's side.
Chelsea are now level on points, two behind Arsenal at
the top, and the manner of the win left the clear sense
that Mourinho's team have the togetherness, ambition and
manager to last the course.
Mourinho made his own point with the adventure of his
team. The first cries of "he's parking the bus" rained
down inside the opening minutes. After half an hour it
was "you're worse than Allardyce." Yet it quickly became
evident that Chelsea would not restrict themselves to
ploys of conservatism. They defended with supreme
organisation and togetherness, with John Terry and Gary
Cahill making immense contributions, but they also
counter-attacked with great purpose and the taunts felt
incongruous to how the match was actually shaping.
Anyone who takes the lazy option and smears Mourinho's
teams as routinely dour and unimaginative should be
shown the footage of this match.
Chelsea's manager is also entitled to think his team
could have made it easier for themselves. Cahill's
header, direct from a corner, struck the post. Nemanja
Matic, so influential in midfield, belted a 30-yard shot
against the joint of crossbar and post and, at the other
end, Samuel Eto'o hit the same part of the frame with a
chance to make it 2-0 just before half-time. Chelsea
could also look back at one opportunity when they broke,
four on one, from deep inside their own half and Ramires
could not beat Joe Hart with the final effort. Hart
showed the assurance of old but few other players from
Pellegrini's ranks played with any distinction. Yaya
Touré did well in the opening half an hour but faded and
allowed too much space behind him.
The sense that everything was not
quite right could be gauged by the early show of anger
Vincent Kompany directed towards Matija Nastasic after
they both went for the same ball. Kompany's war cry was
a warning that this was not a night for anyone to lose
even a flicker of concentration but that was precisely
what happened. Martín Demichelis, deputising for
Fernandinho in midfield, was a danger to his own team at
times, lacking control and often reckless with his
decision-making. The Argentinian, bumped forward from
centre-half, is in danger of becoming his team's most
Mourinho had left out Oscar but his attacking quartet
created all sorts of problems. Eden Hazard, in keeping
with his recent form, dazzled on the ball and was
probably the pick of the bunch, swapping flanks and
taking turns to torment Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksandar
Kolarov. Willian and Ramires played with high energy and
movement behind Samuel Eto'o.
The midfield contest was won, ultimately, by Matic and
David Luiz and it was strange to hear Pellegrini say his
team had deserved "at least" a draw. Pellegrini also
felt Hazard was "not crucial", despite all the evidence
that left Mourinho acclaiming the Belgian as short of
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi but now "the best
young player in the world". It was Hazard's cut-back,
after ghosting past Zabaleta, that led to Eto'o driving
his shot against the woodwork and he was also
instrumental in the goal, drifting from left to right
and neatly playing in Ramires for the first chance.
Kompany charged down the shot but the follow-up effort,
off Ivanovic's left boot, was a peach, arrowing its way
diagonally into the bottom corner. Pellegrini was
willing to admit it was a "beautiful" finish.
It was a night when Eto'o had his big-game head on and
Matic showed why Chelsea had brought him back from
Benfica. Willian justified his selection ahead of Oscar
and, in defence, Terry demonstrated why Mourinho says he
is currently the best centre-half in the league. Álvaro
Negredo was not fully fit, to give him his due, but was
taken off 11 minutes into the second half, whereas Edin
Dzeko rarely troubled the opposition defence. Ivanovic
was at his combative best and César Azpilicueta's
performance made it a little clearer why Mourinho now
prefers him to Ashley Cole.
David Silva's 73rd-minute free-kick required Cech to
make a stretching save and there was another in the
final exchanges to deny Stevan Jovetic, Negredo's
replacement. Overall though, City did not have anything
like their usual cohesion or impetus. Nastasic was
grateful for the referee Mike Dean's leniency after
pulling down Oscar, a late substitute, and the crowd
were flat and jumpy. City had scored 72 times in their
previous 18 home games but maybe there has been so much
focus on that it has been overlooked that Chelsea have
the best defensive statistics in the land. This was the
night they supplied the hard evidence.
It was the first time City have not scored on their own
ground in 62 games stretching back to November 2010 and
absolutely nobody believed Mourinho when he said his
team had no chance of winning the league before
nominating Arsenal as his favourites. "Two horses and a
little horse," he said of the title race. "A little
horse who needs milk and to learn how to jump." But the
jockey isn't half bad.
Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Nastasic,
Demichelis, Kompany, Yaya Toure, Navas, Silva, Negredo
(Jovetic 57), Dzeko
Unused subs: Pantilimon, Clichy, Boyata, Lopes,
Milner, Rodwell Bookings: Demichelis,
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Azpilicheta, Cahill,
Terry, Luiz, Ramires, Matic, Hazard (Ba 90), Willian (Mikel
90), Eto'o (Oscar 83)
Unused subs: Schwarzer, Cole, Lampard, Salah
Bookings: Ivanovic, Matic, Willian
Referee: Mike Dean
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