Manchester City 1 Cabillero Wins Penalty
Sunday 28th February 2016
When the penalties were done,
a fifth trophy had been added to Manchester City's collection from
the Abu Dhabi era, Yaya Touré was twirling his shirt on his personal
victory run and a swarm of photographers was heading for Willy
Caballero. Caballero's selection had been risky after his erratic
performances as Joe Hart's understudy but it was his goalkeeping
that meant the first silverware of the season would be heading to
Manchester and those were the moments when we saw why Manuel
Pellegrini had placed his trust in him.
Caballero could not keep out Emre Can's impudent little pitch-wedge
to get the penalties underway but thereafter he was unbeatable,
diving to his left to turn away a decent attempt by Lucas Leiva, a
hesitant one from Philippe Coutinho, and then the other way to beat
out Adam Lallana's effort for his third successive save. Fernandinho
had struck the post with City's first penalty but Jesús Navas and
Sergio Agüero were both on target and when Touré buried the next
attempt it decided the game without having to go to Wilfried Bony
and James Milner for the final round.
Liverpool, trying to win this competition for a ninth time, had
already beaten Carlisle United and Stoke City this way, but while
Caballero was hoisted on to the players’ shoulders, with the Wembley
arch illuminated in blue and white and Daniel Sturridge reduced to
tears, the final will be remembered as a personal ordeal for Simon
Mignolet bearing in mind the unremarkable shot from Fernandinho that
opened the scoring.
It was a wretched goal to concede and the unfortunate truth for
Mignolet is that moment reminded us why many Liverpool supporters
are perplexed he has been awarded a new five-year contract. Mignolet
made some fine saves either side of that mistake but, unfortunately
for him, they will quickly be forgotten in the context of the one he
let through his arms.
Ahead early in the second half, City should probably have been
spared extra time but for some poor officiating and their own
wastefulness given the number of chances they passed up to make it
2-0. Raheem Sterling had a difficult day against his former club and
turned the ball wide with two golden opportunities, the first from
six yards out, and there was another reprieve for Liverpool when
Agüero ran into the penalty area and Alberto Moreno flicked out his
leg to bring him down. It was a clear penalty and the referee
Michael Oliver's decision to wave play on was bewildering, to say
the least, with potentially serious ramifications for City when
Coutinho equalised in the 83rd minute with Liverpool's first shot on
Until that point Liverpool had seen plenty of the ball without
making enough use of it to examine whether Caballero might be
vulnerable. Pellegrini had stayed true to his word – “I'd rather
lose a final than my word,” he said afterwards – and resisted any
temptation to bring Hart into his team but Liverpool threatened only
sporadically in the opening hour and Vincent Kompany's considerable
presence helped to ensure Caballero was well protected for the most
part. Coutinho's goal came on the rebound, after two of the
substitutes had linked up and Lallana turned Divock Origi's low
cross against the post, but Kompany was excellent and Caballero's
fine work was not all reserved to the shootout. In extra time, there
was a key save from Origi's header.
Midway through the opening half Liverpool had lost Mamadou Sakho,
replaced by Kolo Touré after clashing heads with Can and clearly
distraught that the club's medical staff would not let him play on.
That meant Touré teaming up with Lucas in the centre of Liverpool's
defence and if that gave their back four a slightly vulnerable look
there was only one moment in the first half when City put together a
move that exposed their opponents. On that occasion Mignolet turned
Agüero’s shot against the post. It was one of several fine saves but
that is part of the Mignolet conundrum – outstanding at times but
far too error-prone.
Manchester City's Manuel Pellegrini calls stand-in goalkeeper Willy
Caballero a hero after the Capital One Cup win and says fans should
trust his tactics as manager for the rest of the season
Four minutes into the second half City had the ball on the left when
David Silva lofted a long, crossfield pass over to Agüero on the
opposite side. Agüero held up play, waiting for Fernandinho to
overlap on the right and there did not seem to be a great deal of
danger for Mignolet when the shot came in. Fernandinho made a clean
connection but the ball was not struck with venomous pace and the
Brazilian was taking aim from a difficult angle.
Mignolet appeared to have it covered but the shot somehow found a
gap, somewhere between his knees and gloves, that should not have
existed. The collective groan from Liverpool’s supporters when the
mistake was replayed on the large screens told the rest of the
In fairness to Mignolet, he did not let it affect him throughout the
rest of the match, denying the impressive Yaya Touré a winner
approaching the 90th -minute mark and keeping out Agüero when the
Argentinian burst through in the first period of extra time. Agüero
was a constant menace, with Fernandinho excelling in his new
position on the right, but City were starting to look ragged in the
final quarter of an hour.
They might still have spared themselves a nerve-shredding finale if
Agüero had been able to turn James Milner's misplaced header beyond
Mignolet but it went to a contest from 12 yards, three saved
penalties, Liverpool's first shootout defeat in six finals when it
has reached that stage – and Caballero's finest moments in City's
Liverpool: Mignolet, Clyne, Lucas, Sakho (K Toure 24), Moreno (Lallana
72), Can, Henderson, Milner, Firmino (Origi 79), Coutinho, Sturridge
Unused subs: Bogdan, Benteke, Allen, Flanagan
Bookings:Clyne, Moreno, Can, Coutinho
Manchester City: Caballero, Sagna (Zabaleta 91), Kompany, Otamendi,
Clichy, Fernando (Navas 91), Fernandinho, Toure, Silva (Bony 109),
Unused subs: Hart, Kolarov, Demichelis, Iheanacho
Bookings: Fernando, Kompany, Otamendi, Yaya Toure
Referee: Michael Oliver
1 Manchester City 3 Russian Result!!
24th February 2016 : Stuart Cooper for GYKO at
the NSC Olimpiyskiy
Manchester City should be
supremely confident of going beyond the Champions League last 16 at
the third time of asking particularly if Dynamo Kyiv are shut out
more ruthlessly in the return leg.
Until a delightful curled strike by Yaya Touré in the last minute
gave City a two‑goal cushion, Manuel Pellegrini’s team had sloppily
allowed Kyiv back into the tie during a second half in which they
scored and gave City other scares. Chief among these was a Vitaliy
Buyalskiy effort that forced Joe Hart into a superb save to his
right before Touré struck.
The quest to reach the quarter-finals for the first time began with
Touré strong-arming Denys Garmash to give away a free-kick. This was
floated in by Andriy Yarmalenko and when the No10 followed it into
the area the ball came back to him and he forced Hart to tip a
cross-shot on to the bar.
Pellegrini had Fernandinho and Raheem Sterling flanking Touré and
Fernando in midfield and David Silva behind Sergio Agüero.
Touré pinged a ball into Agüero, who returned it for the Ivorian to
hit it at Oleksandr Shovkovskiy. Kyiv threatened when Lukasz
Teodorczyk, profiting from Fernando’s clumsy play, broke clear but
his effort did not trouble Hart.
City’s opener derived from fine work along the left from Sterling,
who won the visitors’ opening corner. Kyiv had been unable to make
the two they had taken count, and Silva was to show them how. He
curved the ball on to Touré’s head. He headed down and Agüero was
unmarked and in no mood to miss from close range for a 16th goal
from his past 17 starts in the competition.
Moments later, the Argentinian should have doubled the lead. Garmash
dawdled, Fernando stole the ball, and when it was recycled to Agüero
the striker’s run was clever as it peeled off to the right but the
finish was less so, blazing across Shovkovskiy and wide.
A truism of this City side is that they find it hard to shut the
back door. Just as Fernando’s earlier error allowed Teodorczyk in
so, too, a Nicolás Otamendi mistake ceded possession to the danger
man Yarmolenko and his clever pass in behind released Teodorczyk,
but his effort lacked composure.
An open contest was developing in which each time Kyiv or City were
on the ball they pushed forward instantly. A fine tackle by Fernando
won possession and he sprayed it left to Agüero whose run was
mirrored by Touré. The ball came to the midfielder precisely where
he would want and the shot forced Shovkovskiy to turn it away for a
The 41-year-old could do nothing to prevent City’s classy second as
the break neared. Agüero twisted and turned and backheeled to
Sterling. The forward ghosted into space and his pass removed the
Kyiv rearguard. Silva could not and did not miss.
It was Kyiv’s return following the winter break, though Serhiy
Rebrov’s team had played 13 friendlies over the past month to
mitigate against rustiness. There is no substitute for competitive
matches and when the referee, Antonio Mateu Lahoz, blew for
half-time Kyiv found themselves up against it.
Perhaps referencing the decision to start six teenagers in the 5-1
FA Cup defeat at Chelsea, Pellegrini said before kick-off: “We have
a very good starting 11 and we need a performance against a
difficult team. It is always important to score an away goal. Our
target is to try to score from the beginning. It is a very important
He would have been pleased with the first half. City were coasting
and the manager’s interval chat may have stressed the importance of
simply continuing as they had: squeeze Kyiv, take the ball, then
move towards goal at pace.
Rebrov replaced Teodorczyk with Júnior Moraes for the second half
and the hope may have been that the No11 could be as ruthless as
City had proved in front of goal. Moraes was handed the ball by a
clumsy pass from Gaël Clichy and the ensuing Kyiv attack ended with
Yarmolenko firing a shot at Hart that was a warning to City to
To quieten the Olimpiyskiy stadium the best ploy was to grab the
ball and come at Kyiv. Sterling caught on and might have won a
penalty when going down near Aleksandar Dragovic but Mateu Lahoz was
unimpressed. A second shout for a spot-kick came a few minutes later
when Dragovic came together with Silva and the Spaniard appealed but
again the referee said no.
In between Kyiv scored and City could curse their luck. Otamendi
headed clear only to see Buyalskiy’s effort pinball off him and past
Hart for 2-1. This had become uncomfortable for City. Miguel Veloso
found Yarmolenko who should have set up Moraes, then Sterling had to
make a saving tackle to thwart Veloso. Touré’s late goal increased
the margin in what ended as a fine victory and City should finish
business at the Etihad Stadium on 15 March.
Dynamo Kyiv: Shovkovskiy, Danilo Silva (Makarenko 66), Dragovic,
Vida, Khacheridi, Rybalka, Garmash (Veloso 31), Gonzalez, Buyalskiy,
Yarmolenko, Teodorczyk (Moraes 46) Unused
subs:Petrovic, Korzun, Gusev, Rudko
Manchester City:Hart, Sagna, Kompany, Otamendi, Clichy, Fernando,
Fernandinho, Toure, Silva, Sterling, Aguero (Iheanacho 90+1)
Unused subs: Caballero, Demichelis, Zabaleta, Mangala, Kolarov,
Referee: A Mateu Lahoz
Manchester City 1 Bridge of
21st February 2016 : Ken Hollins at Stamford
Bridge for GYKO
Chelsea booked their place in
the FA Cup quarter-finals with a 5-1 victory over a young Manchester
City side at Stamford Bridge on Sunday evening.
Diego Costa headed Chelsea in front before David Faupala, one of
five full debutants for City, equalised from close-range, but two
goals in five minutes after half-time put Guus Hiddink's side in
Willian slid home a third and Eden Hazard's free-kick made it four,
and there was still time for Willy Caballero to save Oscar's penalty
before substitute Bertrand Traore added a fifth.
But the Blues condemned the actions of a section of supporters after
referee Andre Marriner removed a number of coins from the pitch
close to the area where Faupala celebrated City's goal.
City have now lost three games in a row for the first time under
Manuel Pellegrini, while Chelsea, who face Everton at Goodison Park
in the quarter-finals, have scored five in back-to-back home
matches. With an eye on their Champions League tie against Dynamo
Kiev next week, Pellegrini made nine changes from the Tottenham
defeat, including full debuts for five academy prospects.And against
a strong Chelsea side unchanged from their loss in Paris, they began
the brighter as Faupala forced Thibaut Courtois into an early save.
The fast start didn't last long, though, and Pedro soon hit the post
after a neat interchange with Cesc Fabregas. Hiddink's side
continued to press and opened the scoring 10 minutes before
half-time through Costa. Fabregas' lofted pass found Hazard in the
box, and his hooked cross was turned home by the Chelsea striker for
his seventh goal in seven games at Stamford Bridge.
City were only behind for 94 seconds as young French forward Faupala
swiftly equalised from three yards. Signed as a free agent last
summer after leaving Lens, he deflected Cesar Azpilicueta's
clearance into the net after good work from Kelechi Iheanacho.
Shortly after the goal, and in the wake of Chris Brunt being struck
by a coin on Saturday, Marriner removed a number of objects from the
area of the pitch where City celebrated their goal, with a Chelsea
spokesman subsequently condemning the incident.
Chelsea nearly went back in front just before the break, but
Caballero palmed clear Pedro's volley after more impressive play
from Fabregas. The home side dominated the second half and took
control just after the interval. Willian played a one-two with
Hazard, taking the return pass and sweeping home to put Chelsea back
Gary Cahill smashed home number three after a poor clearance from
Fernando five minutes later, the ball squirting underneath
Caballero. Willian then deferred to Hazard when the Belgian won a
free-kick in a central position, and he made the most of poor
positioning from the City goalkeeper to whip into the far corner.
The goal, added to two assists, capped an impressive performance
from Hazard, whose involvement in three goals is as many as he had
been in 24 previous appearances.
Costa was replaced by Traore to a standing ovation, and the
substitute was immediately involved, winning a penalty after a
challenge from Martin Demichelis. Oscar stepped up, but Caballero
guessed correctly. The respite was short-lived as Chelsea eventually
grabbed a fifth through Traore, who scored for the second successive
FA Cup match after his goal at MK Dons. The striker had been denied
by the post moments before, but found the net with an improvised
header in the 89th minute.
Chelsea: Courtois, Azpilicueta, Cahill, Ivanovic, Baba Rahman,
Fabregas, Mikel (Matic 82), Pedro (Oscar 70), Willian, Hazard, Diego
Costa (Traore 70) Unused subs:
Begovic, Miazga, Loftus-Cheek, Remy
Manchester City: Caballero, Zabaleta, Adarabioyo, Demichelis,
Kolarov, Fernando (Humphreys 78), A.Garcia, M.Garcia, Celina (Barker
53), Iheanacho, Faupala
Unused subs: Hart, Clichy, Kompany, Fernandinho, Sterling
Referee: Andre Marriner
Manchester City 1 Tottenham 2
Sunday 14th February 2016 : GYKO at the Etihad
Yaya Touré will not wish to see a replay of the
error that led to Christian Eriksen’s late goal that sent Tottenham
Hotspur home jubilant and put a further dent in Manchester City’s
The Ivorian ran into traffic and trouble near halfway and from there
City unravelled. Erik Lamela had just come on as a substitute but a
cool head allowed the Argentinian to carry the ball forward before
passing to Eriksen, whose finish beyond Joe Hart may prove priceless
when the Premier League trophy is handed out in May.
City had fought back impressively during a second half in which they
appeared the more likely to claim the points, especially after
Kelechi Iheanacho’s equaliser. Yet by the end, after Nicolás
Otamendi had failed to beat Hugo Lloris to a header that might have
grabbed the draw, Tottenham had moved to within two points of the
leaders, Leicester City.
With only 12 games remaining Manuel Pellegrini’s side suffered a
second consecutive loss but look at the same six-point gap to the
top with which they began the day. The normally cool-headed
Pellegrini stopped to “congratulate” Mike Dean, the fourth official,
before walking off at full-time.
Pellegrini was particularly unhappy at the 53rd-minute penalty
awarded by Mark Clattenburg after the referee decided Raheem
Sterling had handled Danny Rose’s cross.
Yet the truth is this result means City’s best showing against their
three title rivals remains a goalless draw at Leicester in late
December and they have still not beaten a side in the top six. This
is not the kind of form to offer convincing evidence Pellegrini
could yet guide City to a second title in three years. Since Pep
Guardiola was announced as his summer successor they have lost twice
and won only once.
The start was the opposite of the free-for-all that had been the
Arsenal-Leicester game earlier in the day. It featured the kind of
cautious exchanges that often occur in a title race’s defining
City, however, posed the greater threat. David Silva was in
chief-conductor mode, Sterling was finding space and Sergio Agüero
was given two chances to open the scoring.
Each of these came from City corners. A
Silva-Fernandinho-Silva-Sterling-Silva move along the Spurs right
ended with the Spaniard’s shot being deflected out. Silva took the
kick from the left but Agüero’s header was looping and weak, and
simple for Lloris to collect. The second chance again saw Silva
swing his cross in from the left, but Agüero’s attempt with his left
foot was high.
Pellegrini positioned Touré as the No10 behind Agüero and in flashes
the Ivorian posed the visitors problems – either by running with the
ball or without it, as a late arrival into the area.
The way to trouble this Pellegrini team is to hound and cut off
their thinking time. This is how Leicester departed with a 3-1 win
just over a week ago, but during the first half Spurs failed to do
Any questions they asked were more prosaic. Eriksen, the No10 in
Mauricio Pochettino’s 4-2-3-1, drifted across the turf and let fly a
25-yard shot that forced the under-worked Hart to save. Later, Rose
hit a volley that was on course to trouble Hart before Pablo
Zabaleta’s head intervened.
Vincent Kompany had been confirmed in the City starting XI for the
first time since 8 November and given their defensive maladies the
hope was he could immediately reach match-day speed.
As the interval arrived the home rear-defence had indeed been more
composed, though Kompany’s rustiness caused two errors. There was an
awry header that conceded possession and a clearance that allowed
Tottenham to rove straight back at City. But like the rest of the
opening half, this came to nothing.
Only eight minutes of the second half were needed to change the
picture as the referee awarded a penalty after Sterling was ruled to
have committed the handling misdemeanour from Rose’s attempted ball
into the area. It was actually more of an elbow after the No7 turned
Kane made no mistake, smacking the spot kick past Hart. The
atmosphere had become raucous and City nearly enjoyed an instant
response when Touré addressed a 25-yard free-kick after Kevin
Wimmer’s foul, for which the central defender was booked. Touré
stuttered his run-up and was unlucky to see his fine attempt crash
back off the bar.
After 74 minutes Pellegrini made his first move, taking off Fernando
for Iheanacho. Having to look to a 19-year-old for help to turn
round such a crucial match is illustrative of the injuries that
blight a City squad whose most important miss is Kevin De Bruyne, a
Iheanacho did not make the best start when a regulation touch was
clumsy and the ball ran away for a goal kick. The next time he was
found the youngster made serious amends. Gaël Clichy fashioned a
slick one-two with Silva and when the City left-back pinged the ball
over the substitute produced an instant finish that left Lloris no
City had grabbed the momentum and were flying at Tottenham. Touré
galloped forward and aimed a shot a Lloris that warmed the
Frenchman’s fingers but at the final whistle all the positive energy
and feelings belonged to the visitors.
Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Otamendi, Clichy (Kolarov,
75), Fernandinho, Fernando (Iheanacho, 66), Silva, Toure, Sterling,
Unused subs: Aleix Garcia, Manu Garcia, Celina, Demichelis,
Caballero Bookings: Kompany
Spurs:Lloris (c), Walker, Alderweireld, Wimmer, Rose; Dembele, Dier,
Eriksen, Alli (Lamela, 81), Son (Carroll, 72), Kane (Chadli, 89)
Unused subs: Vorm, Davies, Trippier, Mason
Bookings: Dier, Wimmer, Carroll
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Manchester City 1 Leicester
City 3 Outfoxed by the Fox's
Saturday 6th February 2016 : GYKO at the
Match of the season? Not quite. It
takes two sides to make a real contest and Manchester City were so
unimpressive in this early title showdown it made a mockery of the
games’s first v second billing. Result of the decade? Quite
possibly. Leicester still have to keep going – they have the small
matter of a trip to the Emirates next Sunday – but they did not just
squeeze past their closest rivals, they beat them handsomely.
The scoreline does not lie, except that Sergio Agüero’s late
contribution rather flattered the home side. Manchester City could
not have complained had they lost 4-0, such was the imbalance
between opportunities created. “Scoring so early gave us
confidence,” Leicester’s manager, Claudio Ranieri, said. “That
allowed us to close down all the space.”
It had been suggested beforehand that Leicester’s pace and precision
might find reward against Manchester’s City’s somewhat ponderous
central defence, though it was envisaged Jamie Vardy or Riyad Mahrez
might do the damage. Instead it was the unlikely figure of Robert
Huth who turned out to be the two-goal hero as Ranieri’s team passed
their greatest test to extend their lead at the top of the Premier
The big defender nipped in ahead of Martín Demichelis to give the
visitors a third-minute lead as Manchester City failed to defend the
first set piece of the game. Mahrez had set up the opportunity,
drawing a foul from Aleksandar Kolarov with a run down the right and
taking the free-kick himself. The home side might have been
expecting a high cross but got a low one and Huth simply reacted
quickest to get a foot to the ball on the six-yard line, even if a
ricochet off the defender was the final touch.
Goal of the season contender it was not, but it was a dream start
for Leicester and one that helped them stick to the gameplan that
has proved so effective this season. There is nothing complicated
about what Leicester do, they stay compact and deep in defence and
try to hit Vardy upfield on the counter.
Once City were obliged to chase an equaliser and leave gaps at the
back it played into Leicester’s hands, at times excessively so, for
on a few occasions in the first half the visitors were turning over
a reckless amount of possession.
Constantly inviting such dangerous players as David Silva and Raheem
Sterling to carry the ball into the final third does not seem the
most sensible of strategies, but Manchester City were short of ideas
and invention and Leicester got away with it. The best chance
Manchester City managed to create came right at the end of the first
half when Agüero rolled a cross right across the face of an
unprotected goal with no one available to tap it in.
The game was still in the balance while there was only a single goal
in it and it seemed likely that if Leicester persisted in trying to
soak up whatever their opponents could throw at them Manchester City
would at some point get back on terms in the second half. So
Leicester just repeated what they had done in the first half and
scored another early goal, two minutes after the restart, and this
time there was nothing scrappy about it.
Using Vardy in the centre as a decoy, Mahrez ran at the home defence
and ended up outstripping almost the entire back four before beating
Joe Hart with a confident finish. Pablo Zabaleta lost possession
high up the field on Leicester’s left, Nicolás Otamendi sold himself
too easily by going to ground without managing to dispossess the
ball carrier, an elegant feint took Demichelis out of the equation
and by the time Kolarov came across from the right to attempt a
challenge it was too late to prevent the shot.
It might not have been as jaw-dropping as Vardy’s effort against
Liverpool last week, but it was a goal elegant enough to light up
any game and it prevented any accusations that Leicester had merely
ridden their luck after taking an early lead.
Manuel Pellegrini made a double substitution in response,
withdrawing the ineffective Yaya Touré and the labouring Fabian
Delph. While Fernando did manage to bring a smart save from Kasper
Schmeichel with a close-range header, Leicester went another goal in
front before any tactical adjustment could take effect.
It was another from Huth at another set piece, this time a simple
matter of rising higher than anyone else and nodding Christian
Fuchs’s deep corner back over the head of a powerless Hart, though
that bald description does scant justice to the part Vardy played in
winning the corner.
Flicking the ball beyond the home defence and accelerating into the
penalty area to reach it, Vardy proved capable of terrorising
Manchester City with his pace after all. He was unlucky not to score
in the second half, on one occasion being foiled by Hart’s prompt
action in coming off his line to block, then putting a header just
wide from a corner and finally finding the side-netting with a shot
from a tight angle.
If it had been all Manchester City in the first half, it was all
Leicester City in the second. If the final score was a surprise,
there was nothing inexplicable about it. Manchester City had
struggled to create chances when they had a mountain of possession,
largely through the hard work of the indefatigable Danny Drinkwater
and N’Golo Kanté in closing them down. Agüero did grab a headed goal
back right at the end, but you would be hard-pressed to work out how
that afforded Manchester City any sort of consolation.
They had been outplayed and outthought by opponents who do the
important things in football. Defend when necessary, score when
possible. “My team defended bad and attacked bad,” was Pellegrini’s
pithy summary. “But Leicester played very well. If they can continue
like that they have a great chance of the title.”
Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Demichelis, Otamendi, Kolarov,
Fernandinho, Toure (Fernando 52), Delph (Iheanacho 52), Silva
(Celina 77), Sterling, Aguero
Unused subs: Caballero, A Garcia, Clichy, Sagna
Bookings: Zabaleta, Fernando
Leicester City: Schmeichel, Simpson, Morgan, Huth, Fuchs, Mahrez
(Gray 77), Kanté, Drinkwater, Albrighton (Dyer 86), Okazaki (Ulloah
Unused subs: Schwarzer, King, Wasilewski, Chilwell
Bookings: Morgan, Simpson
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Sunderland 0 Manchester City 1
Hard Work at Stadium of Light
Tuesday 2nd February 2016 : Dennis Stevens for
GYKO at the Stadium of Light
Manuel Pellegrini’s extended farewell to
Manchester City began on a winning note but he will surely enjoy
easier evenings before making way for Pep Guardiola in the summer.
Thanks to Sergio Agüero’s first-half winner City’s title challenge
remains very much alive, but if Sunderland can keep playing with
this sort of sheer bloody-minded determination, a team which merited
at least a draw here will not deserve to be relegated.
The verve and vibrancy of a quite formidable second-half attacking
performance from Sam Allardyce’s players stretched Pellegrini’s side
to the limit. With the home debutant Wahbi Khazri frequently fazing
the Chilean’s defence, Jan Kirchhoff increasingly imperious in
central midfield and Joe Hart performing heroics in the visiting
goal, it was small wonder the home manager pronounced himself
Pellegrini simply looked relieved. “It was very important to win
here,” said a coach whose name was chorused by the visiting fans.
“It was a very tough game and a very good result.” Inevitably he was
asked about his impending departure. “I’m not thinking about that,”
came the reply. “I’m just thinking about having a good season. We’re
not thinking about the future; we’re living in the present.”
Considering Sunderland are still second bottom Allardyce has reason
to fear for the future. “I feel gutted,” he said. “It’s the most
disappointed I’ve been since coming here. A point was the least we
deserved. We created more chances than Manchester City but Joe Hart
showed why he’s the England goalkeeper. Manchester City had one
chance and Agüero scored. But I don’t know anybody who has played as
well as Jan Kirchhoff in central midfield for anybody this season.”
His revamped XI showcased a new look 4-1-4-1 formation featuring
Kirchhoff, their new £750,000 central defensive signing from Bayern
Munich – who had endured a shambolic debut at Tottenham last month –
in the anchoring role behind midfield. It was a job he would become
almost astonishingly good at.
With Lamine Koné, making an impressive bow at centre half following
a £5m move from Lorient, quickly endearing himself to his new public
by unleashing a teasing cross from the right which Martin Demichelis
was forced to hack clear, Sunderland began reasonably brightly.
Even so, local optimism took quite a dent when Yaya Touré and Jesús
Navas combined to create Agüero’s 12th goal in his last 10 Premier
League appearances. If Agüero appeared every inch the expert
marksman as he toe-poked Navas’s deflected left-wing cross into the
roof of the net from close range, Billy Jones looked a thoroughly
wrong-footed right back. Attempting to make amends, Jones launched
into a challenge as the striker shot, his studs raking Agüero down
the back of a leg and, following prolonged treatment, leaving him
with a badly torn, blood stained, sock.
Undeterred, he might have scored a second had his curling shot not
taken a deflection off Yann M’Vila. Significantly that opening was
conjured by 19-year-old Kelechi Iheanacho who showed precisely why
he had been preferred to Raheem Sterling by holding off John O’Shea
quite brilliantly before supplying Agüero.
David Silva was starting to control the tempo of the game but
Sunderland had their moments and, as Kirchhoff was proving, were far
from incapable of disrupting the visitors’ rhythm.
Koné should have equalised but made an absolute hash of an unmarked
close range header following Jeremain Lens’s excellent free kick.
Bar accidentally catching Demichelis in the mouth with a stray elbow
Jermain Defoe had been fairly quiet, but all that changed when he
turned his marker before dispatching a shot which was destined for
the bottom corner until Hart dived low to divert the danger.
Recovering rapidly, his positioning then prevented Jones from
scoring on the rebound.
Aware that, for all City’s elegant menace, Vito Mannone had had
precious little to do, Allardyce perhaps sensed it might not take
all that much to change the narrative. He duly introduced Khazri,
his £9m signing from Bordeaux, at half time, the Tunisian replacing
the injured Lens.
With Pellegrini suspecting that, despite some dazzling footwork,
Iheanacho might not be defensively streetwise enough to protect his
side’s lead, he sent Fernando on in his stead to bolster central
midfield. Sure enough Sunderland were suddenly rampant and Patrick
van Aanholt was unfortunate to see an excellent left-wing cross
fractionally evade Defoe.
If the geometry of City’s short passing exuded class, key performers
were tiring fast as the game became slightly spiky. Defoe and
Nicolás Otamendi squared up in the wake of an aerial challenge,
before a wince-inducing heavyweight collision involving Touré and
Koné. Sunderland though retained sufficient focus for Jones to
prompt another fantastic save from Hart.
The keeper subsequently did extremely well to twice deny Khazri
while Otamendi would clear Kirchhoff’s late header off the line,
ensuring City continue to cling to Leicester’s coat-tails.
Sunderland:Mannone, Jones, O’Shea, Kone, Kirchhoff, van Aanholt,
Cattermole (Johnson 75), M’Vila, Borini (N'Doye 82), Lens (Khazri
Unused subs:Pickford, Brown, Yedlin, Watmore
Manchester City: Hart, Sagna, Demichelis, Otamendi, Clichy,
Fernandinho, Yaya Toure (Kolarov , Silva, Navas (Sterling 77),
Aguero, Iheanacho (Fernando 46) Unused
subs:Caballero, Zabaleta, Celina, Barker
Bookings: Otamendi, Aguero, Fernandinho, Sagna