February 2014 - Reports
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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 this season.

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 strikers.

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 trust him.”

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.”

Teams

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          Att:47,038

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 England.

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 exploit.

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 exploit.

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 Chelsea 0             Chelsea Revenge
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 they 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 season.

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 game.

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             Att:47,013

Norwich City 0 Manchester City 0     Another Set Back
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 behind it.

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 showed.

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," Pellegrini said.

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 the squad."

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.

Teams

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 76mins

Referee:Jon Moss          Att:26,382

Manchester City 0 Chelsea 1     Chelsea Bowl Over City
Monday 3rd February 2014 : GYKO at the Etihad

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 vulnerable point.

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.

Teams
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, Kolarov, Nastasic

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        Att:47,364

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