Manchester City 1
A Football Masterclass
Tuesday 24th February 2015 : GYKO
at the Etihad
the most dispiriting part for Manchester City came from
that unmistakable feeling that, if anything, the gulf
has widened. They have suffered plenty of times in this
competition but has there ever been a time when the
imbalance of talent has felt so extreme and they have
been so grateful to be spared an even more harrowing
Barcelona did not just out play them, they emphatically
put them in their place during that opening 45 minutes
when Luis Suárez scored twice, Dani Alves struck the
crossbar, Lionel Messi nutmegged David Silva and Manuel
Pellegrini’s team stumbled to the interval like a side
in need of smelling salts rather than half-time oranges.
Sergio Agüero’s goal midway through the second half does
change the complexion slightly before the sides renew
acquaintances in this Champions League last 16 fixture
on 18 March but City’s momentum was quickly lost after
Gaël Clichy’s second yellow card and the return leg
would have felt like a formality had Messi put away that
penalty in the third minute of stoppage time.
11-v-11, Barça had frequently toyed with City;
11-against-10, the game had descended into
damage-limitation mode for City by the time Pablo
Zabaleta’s trip on Messi left the four-times Ballon d’Or
winner with the chance to give the score a more accurate
reflection. Joe Hart kept out the shot and Barça’s
tormentor-in-chief headed the rebound wide of an exposed
Yet it was not easy, on the balance of play, to be
convinced by Pellegrini and his defeated players that
the reprieve might somehow be a defining moment over the
two legs. It will need the most exhilarating performance
City have put together since the money started to pour
in and the overwhelming evidence is that it looks wholly
Pellegrini’s decision to operate with both Edin Dzeko
and Agüero in attack certainly looks misjudged bearing
in mind that the first way to stop Barcelona is usually
to try to crowd midfield and restrict space. Yet it
would be wrong to lump all the blame on the manager’s
tactics. Once again, some of his more accomplished
footballers appeared to be afflicted by an inferiority
It has become the recurring theme of their Champions
League story and the harsh reality after four seasons at
this level is that their owners could probably be
forgiven for expecting more. Pellegrini’s take on the
first half was that his team couldn’t put three passes
together. Samir Nasri was removed just after the hour
and few of his colleagues distinguished themselves.
What happened here was all the more demoralising given
that this is not even the greatest Barcelona team we
have seen. Luis Enrique’s side shimmered with menace.
Messi’s flashes of brilliance seemed designed to remind
City of what constitutes true greatness. Suárez took his
goals with great expertise and, though it always feels
slightly strange seeing Barcelona having this much fun
without Xavi Hernández, there was another reminder of
Andrés Iniesta’s enduring class and Ivan Rakitic’s
When the opposition is this refined, the only way to
survive is to play with the highest levels of
concentrations and try to eliminate mistakes.
Unfortunately for City, it quickly became apparent that
they were vulnerable. Vincent Kompany’s part in Suárez’s
first goal was another sign of his regression.
The Manchester City captain had made the crowd hold its
breath, with a skewed clearance that threatened an own
goal, after barely a minute. Shortly afterwards,
Fernando’s lapse allowed Suárez to run free. The striker
could not take advantage but it was the carelessness
that preceded it that must have alarmed Pellegrini.
For long, awkward spells, City looked out of their
depth. Dani Alves and Jordi Alba attacked like whippets
from the full-back positions. Neymar had the beating of
Zabaleta and, Suárez being Suárez, everyone just knew
how determined he was to leave his fingerprints all over
For City, Yaya Touré was badly missed but it would be
stretching the truth to presume his absence greatly
influenced the outcome. City’s shortcomings ran through
the entire team and Messi looked absolutely determined
to expose them, slaloming between players, dancing past
challenges and illuminating the pitch to the point that
even the home supporters started to applaud him.
That little nutmeg on Silva early on felt like a man
marking out his territory. It said one thing: you might
be good, but we are considerably better. All that was
missing was a pat of Silva’s head as he glided by.
Did City panic? They certainly froze. After 16 minutes,
Messi had three players around him but not one of them
closing him down. He clipped in a cross and Kompany went
to head it away under pressure from Suárez. The ball
fell between them and Suárez finished with a brilliant
left-foot shot into the far corner.
By half-time, it was almost a surprise that the away
side had restricted themselves to only one more goal.
Messi, again, was prominently involved, darting past
Fernando and then Zabaleta. Alba crossed from the left
and Suárez had anticipated where the ball was heading,
dashing into the six-yard area to get in front of Martín
Demichelis and nudge his shot past Hart.
Perhaps a little bit of complacency crept in from
Barcelona after the interval but, to give City their
due, they did at least remind themselves they were meant
to be the home side. Dzeko had a good chance three
minutes into the second half and when they did score in
the 69th minute it emanated from Messi, of all people,
being slow to react and Clichy taking the ball off his
toe. Silva’s flick, from Fernando’s pass, was
beautifully weighted and Agüero swept his shot past
Marc-André ter Stegen.
Briefly, there was the sense City might fancy an
extraordinary feat of escapology. Instead, Clichy was
silly to rush into a clumsy challenge on Alves, having
already been booked, and the 10 men were ultimately
grateful that Messi, with four misses from his last
seven penalties, reminded us he is human, after all.
Zabaleta, Clichy, Demichelis, Kompany, Fernando, Milner,
Nasri (Fernandinho 62), Silva (Sagna 78), Dzeko (Bony
68), Aguero Unused subsCaballero,
Mangala, Navas, Lampard
Alba, Pique, Mascherano, Alves (Adriano 75), Rakitic
(Mathieu 71), Busquets, Iniesta, Messi, Suarez, Neymar
(Pedro 80) Unused
subs:Bravo, Xavi, Rafinha,
Referee:Felix Brych (GER)
Manchester City 5
Newcastle United 0 Geordies Gubbed
Saturday 21st February 2015 : Paul
Robinson for GYKO at the Etihad
Manchester City’s demolition of
Newcastle United was followed by Vincent Kompany sending
a bullish message to Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Luis
Suárez before Tuesday’s Champions League encounter with
The Catalan club knocked City out of the competition at
the same last-16 stage last year but the captain
shrugged when asked about Barça’s three world-class
“Fear? We don’t fear them. You don’t go in at this level
fearing strikers. We want to play against them. It’s the
fourth time in a year now,” Kompany said as the squad
prepare for the first leg at the Etihad Stadium.
“There’s nothing new to worry us, it’s a case of having
the whole team at a very high level. They’re a special
team with special players, of course.”
The defender went further, claiming that Stoke City, who
City beat 4-1 in their last away trip, can be more
difficult opponents. “Their [Barcelona’s] ability is not
about hurting you all game – you can have tougher games
when you go to Stoke City. It’s about the fact they can
decide a game within a second. They have more players
than anyone else in the world who can finish games with
a touch of magic.”
Last season City went down 4-1 on aggregate to Barca,
losing the opening leg at the Etihad 2-0. Of what that
result may mean, Kompany said: “You play top teams every
season and it’s unpredictable. You hope that on your day
you can beat them but I think it’s the same for us as it
is for them.”
City are yet to defeat a continental heavyweight club in
the Champions League when the opponents needed victory.
Asked if there is a determination to prove they can do
so, Kompany said: “Our team has been proving our
determination in recent years. That’s one thing when you
look back on this team in the future you will never be
able to say we did not have. We’ve always come back.
“We’re putting in a fight again for the Premier League –
you saw that [against Newcastle]. And we’ll put in a
fight for the Champions League too. The history of this
club tells you that in the past six years we always keep
Within two minutes of kick-off it appeared set to be the
longest of days for John Carver’s side in a contest that
had Yaya Touré, back from Africa Cup of Nations duty,
Edin Dzeko won a penalty following Vurnon Anita’s clumsy
challenge which Sergio Agüero coolly slotted and they
were coasting. Goals from Samir Nasri and Dzeko – his
first since 27 September – had City leading 3-0 at the
interval. David Silva’s double early in the second half
meant the Spaniard could be removed on 59 minutes and
after Wilfried Bony, the £25m signing, came on for his
debut the failure to finish when through on Tim Krul’s
goal hardly mattered.
Carver, refreshingly, pointed the finger at his team for
their weak effort. “It’s frustrating but you can only
show them and talk about what they will do. I cannot get
on the pitch and do anything about it,” he said. “I’m
going to take lots of responsibility for what’s happened
and players have to take it. Some of the players have
taken that responsibility.”
With Barcelona losing 1-0 to Málaga, top-of-the-table
Chelsea drawing with Burnley, and Manchester United
losing at Swansea, this was a perfect day for the
champions. Now, they hope Tuesday will be the perfect
Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kolarov,
Kompany, Mangala, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, Nasri
(Lampard 70), Silva (Navas 60), Dzeko, Aguero (Bony 60)
Unused subs:Caballero, Clichy, Demichelis,
Newcastle United:Krul, Coloccini, Janmaat (R
Taylor 71), Williamson, Gouffran (Obertan 86), Sissoko,
Perez, Haidara, Colback, Anita (Abeid 46), Cisse
Unused subs:Woodman, Armstrong, Taylor, Obertan,
Sammy Ameobi, Riviere Bookings:Anita,
Stoke City 1
Manchester City 4
Wednesday 11th February 2015 :
Stuart Kitchen for GYKO at the Britania
This ended as an emphatic victory, a
first triumph in the Premier League since New Year’s Day
and at this venue for Manchester City, though the
scoreline does not tell how the champions wobbled until
pulling away when the underrated James Milner scored 10
minutes into the second half.
City knew they must win to ensure no further ground was
ceded to Chelsea.
with the leaders defeating Everton the champions closed
the evening having maintained a deficit of seven points
to at least let José Mourinho’s men know the title race
is not yet a formality.
On the same day of last season City had notched 21 goals
more than the 47 accrued in the Premier League before
the start of this game. While they had played one match
more then than the current term’s 24, this striking
deficit offered a big clue as to why Manuel Pellegrini’s
men are struggling.
An embodiment of this was shown early on. David Silva
was clear and squared the ball to Sergio Agüero. The
striker scuffed the shot and missed a chance to break a
drought that stretched back to 3 December when the last
two of his 19 strikes were registered.
Having turned the champions over 1-0 at the Etihad in
the reverse league fixture, Stoke had no doubt they
could repeat the feat tonight. Mark Hughes could hardly
wait to mention how the club would be “gunning for our
first double” in his pre-game notes, shoehorning this
into the opening paragraph and the way his side pinned
City back suggested this might be a matter of time only.
Joe Hart had one of those moments he seems capable of,
spilling a fierce Victor Moses shot nearly straight into
his goal. Instead it went for a corner and from this
Peter Crouch had a free header and Stoke appeared to
have a good shout for a penalty as James Milner’s arm
connected with the ball.
If Lee Mason, the referee, was unsure, it was clearer
still how City were continuing the poor form of
Saturday’s draw with Hull City. Throughout this patchy
period the visiting support sang, “We know what we are,
we’re the champions of England” and, finally, their team
performed like so.
Agüero cast off the doubt that was hampering him when he
took possession near Stoke’s goal. With a shoulder-drop
the striker made space, then drilled a sweet finish
beyond Asmir Begovic.
This felt unfair to Stoke and justice was about to be
served. Marko Arnautovic, the classy Austrian playmaker
Hughes deploys on the right, swung in a menacing cross
and Crouch again could head unmarked, this time to beat
City had the look of an outfit fighting a relegation
battle, not defending the Premier League crown. On the
stroke of half-time Agüero might have had a second with
a finish into the open goal but his hand touched the
ball, the strike was disallowed, and the 26-year-old was
It summed City up so far. Fernandinho offered flashes of
quality in the opening 45 minutes and another came at
the second half’s start. The Brazilian’s clever pass
split Stoke and allowed Kolarov to run at Begovic, but
there was no finish. The problem was Fernandinho
followed this with a clumsy ball that handed possession
to Stoke in midfield to again illustrate City’s
hesitancy. There was the sense that a match they had to
win might slip away.
But Milner, the saviour with the late equaliser against
Hull, stepped up. The midfielder’s emphatic header from
a Samir Nasri delivery his fifth of the season.
City’s third came when Geoff Cameron fouled Silva in the
area and from the penalty Agüero converted. Better came
as Nasri belted home a peach of a finish from 20 yards.
Stoke City:Begovic, Cameron, Wollscheid, Muniesa,
Bardsley, Arnautovic, Nzonzi (Shenton 90+4), Whelan
(Adam 85), Moses (Sidwell 80), Diouf, Crouch
Unused subs: Butland, Palacios, Teixeira,
Manchester City:Hart, Zabaleta, Mangala, Kompany,
Kolarov, Fernando, Fernandinho, Milner, Silva (Lampard
80), Nasri (Navas 86), Aguero (Dzeko 73_
Unused subs:Caballero, Sagna, Demichelis, Jovetic
Manchester City 1
Hull City 1 Absolute Dross
Saturday 7th February 2015 : GYKO
at the Etihad
Eighty-five years had passed since
Hull last defeated Manchester City away. That sequence
continues but only just as Manuel Pellegrini’s team came
mightily close to a third home loss on the bounce, a
result that would have left their title defence hanging
by a thread.
Pellegrini was stalking the technical area hoping for a
late equaliser or better during the closing minutes.
Despite a fine Sergio Agüero attempt that hit the bar,
it appeared it would never come. But then, two minutes
into added time, James Milner, a substitute, drilled a
20-yard free-kick beyond Allan McGregor and the hosts
had snatched a draw.
With their win at Aston Villa, it meant Chelsea extended
their lead to seven but it could easily have been nine.
However, City’s most recent league win remains the 3-2
victory over Sunderland on New Year’s Day. Since then,
the champions have drawn 1-1 at Everton, lost 2-0 to
Arsenal at home and shared a goalless draw with Chelsea
at Stamford Bridge.
There was also the embarrassment of being knocked out of
the FA Cup by Middlesbrough here and so with this result
City must hope to finally secure a league victory again
at Stoke on Wednesday.
However much the manager denies it, the champions
continue to miss Yaya Touré, whose Ivory Coast take on
Ghana in Sunday’sAfrica Cup of Nations final. This was
the fifth match without the midfielder. “We have no
doubt about how important a player Yaya is. But we play
other games without Yaya and we could win,” Pellegrini
The first half was a contender for their poorest this
season. By the close City were 1-0 down and being booed
off by some of their fans, a sentiment the players could
hardly argue with. Passes had gone awry, first touches
were clumsy and their play was simply too slow. City had
sleepwalked through the half and if the manager put a
proverbial flea in each of his players’ ears at the
break, the sight of Edin Dzeko being caught in
possession soon after the referee, Jonathan Moss, blew
to start the second half must surely have angered him.
David Meyler’s opener, his first goal since April’s FA
Cup semi-final win over Sheffield United, was a gift
following a calamitous series of errors from the home
The chief culprit was Martín Demichelis, the central
defender again preferred to the £40m Eliaquiam Mangala,
who was a substitute.
Before the mistake that initiated Meyler’s strike,
Demichelis had over-hit a back-pass at Joe Hart. This
caused the goalkeeper to miscue a hack away, sending the
ball up in the air and when Demichelis tried to clean up
the mess he had created the Argentinian contrived only
to connect a boot with air.
The episode was an unwanted augury. Moments later Hart
could have collected the ball but this time Demichelis
intervened to kick it away from his keeper’s hands.
Then disaster struck. A Jake Livermore shot was superbly
saved by Hart, but from the rebound Gaston Ramírez’s
effort beat the keeper, struck his left post, and,
following up, Meyler smashed home from close range.
Thirty-five minutes had been played but the goal had
been coming all half. Earlier, a Robbie Brady cross from
the left was headed against the bar by Ahmed Elmohamady
after he too easily beat Gaël Clichy.
Time and space were constantly available to Hull,
something no champion-elect side should allow. Five
minutes before the interval Sone Aluko could have
doubled the visitors’ advantage but instead blasted over
from close range.
City had only a weak Dzeko header that was aimed at
McGregor and a sweet surge from Vincent Kompany that
ended with him dinking a pass into Agüero’s path to show
before the players turned around.
What followed was a far brighter effort, the least that
was expected following a dismal opening half. David
Silva may have been right to be angered when Moss denied
him a penalty after Alex Bruce bundled him over in the
area but the problem was that despite more huffing and
puffing City still suffered a sharpness deficit.
Kompany summed up the day his side were having when he
blocked a shot from Silva and as the final 10 minutes
arrived. Fernando, Dzeko and the Spaniard had all been
pulled from the starting XI as Pellegrini desperately
tried to avert a devastating reverse. In the end the
Chilean did. But there must be concern.
Manchester City:Hart, Clichy, Demichelis, Kompany,
Zabaleta, Fernando (Navas, 45), Fernandinho, Silva
(Jovetic, 74), Dzeko (Milner, 65), Aguero, Nasri
Unused subs:Caballero Mangala, Kolarov, Lampard
Hull City:McGregor, Bruce, Meyler, Huddlestone,
Brady (Quinn, 91), Livermore, McShane, Dawson, Aluko
(Robertson, 65), Ramirez (N’Doye, 76), Elmohamady
Unused subs:Harper, Davies, Hernandez, Jelavic
Bookings: Elmohamady, Dawson, Livermore, N’Doye
Referee: Jon Moss