February 2017 - Reports
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Manchester City 5 AS Monaco 3    Crazy Night At The Etihad
Tuesday 21st February 2017 : GYKO at the Etihad

When Radamel Falcao skipped past John Stones and lifted his second goal, Monaco’s third, over a helpless Willy Caballero, any suggestion that Manchester City might still be in this competition beyond March felt preposterous. For all the ‘Road to Cardiff’ banners outside the Etihad Stadium City were looking as unserious a Champions League prospect as they ever have done.

Of course City tore back into Monaco and won 5-3. It was one of the greatest games in the history of Manchester City and could transform how the club feels about the competition. But was it the performance of potential European champions?

Before Tuesday night there was a sense that the Champions League could be opening up for City. Paris Saint-Germain’s demolition of Barcelona did not go unnoticed. Bayern Munich are not the same team they were under Pep Guardiola. Atletico Madrid are coming to the end of their cycle. Real Madrid are the best team in it but City have a better manager. So could a path open up for them?

Looking selectively at the evidence of Tuesday night, you can make a persuasive case. City have one of the best midfielders of his generation in David Silva, brilliant again against Monaco, and a dynamic colleague in Kevin De Bruyne. They have two electric young wingers, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane, who contributed one goal and one assist each. They have Sergio Aguero, back to his best and now desperate to prove a point.

More importantly than any of that they have one of the best managers in the world in Guardiola, Champions League winner in 2009 and 2011. From him they have an identity, a way of playing, which the players now understand and which is vital to European success. They could have scored six, seven, eight or nine goals against a strong Monaco side. So why not against one of the European elite?

Because Champions League football is not usually this open. Top teams manage the game better than Monaco did. Once 2-1 or 3-2 up, they would slow the game down, not keep it open, preserving their advantage and taking it back to the second leg. Guardiola spoke of Monaco’s European experience afterwards, but a truly canny team would not have folded in the second half as Monaco did.

And, crucially, they could have scored more. The reality is that City were lucky to get away with conceding just the three away goals. Willy Caballero saved a Falcao penalty and made another harder save from the same striker.
This was another game which underlined how far City’s centre-backs are from Champions League class. Nicolas Otamendi lost Mbappe for Monaco’s second and gave away the penalty. Stones lost Falcao for the first and third.

It was all very reminiscent of when Diego Costa came to the Etihad Stadium in December. He too gave Stones and Otamendi a chasing, dragging them around the pitch, holding them off, toying with them before pouncing when he had to. The way Falcao beat Stones for his second goal, in fact, looked like how Costa beat Otamendi to score that day.

That never used to happen to Vincent Kompany but the sad reality is that Guardiola has to try to build a defence without City’s captain and rock. He has had to make do with Aleksandar Kolarov and it says everything about City’s options that the Serbian left-back, who nearly joined Besiktas last summer, is the centre-back who Guardiola trusts the most.

Guardiola had no option than to play Stones and Otamendi and he cannot have been too surprised by what he saw. But he will be keenly aware that if City do get through the second leg next month, there are some very serious players lying in wait. Robert Lewandowski, Antoine Griezmann, Edinson Cavani and Gareth Bale will all have watched this game and seen how many chances City give up. They will score as many goals as Monaco did, and will not be as generous with their own defending. City’s quest for the European Cup may need one more transfer window.

Man City Team: Caballero, Sagna, Stones, Otamendi, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, Sane, Silva (C), De Bruyne, Sterling, Aguero       Subs: Bravo, Zabaleta, Fernando, Nolito, Navas, Delph, Iheanacho

Monaco Team: Subasic, Sidibe, Glik, Raggi, Mendy; Silva, Fabinho, Bakayoko, Lemar, Falcao, Mbappe
Subs: De Sanctis, Diallo, Toure, Dirar, Moutinho, Carrillo, Germain

Referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz         Attendance 53351

 Huddersfield Town 0 Manchester City 0     Stale Mate
Saturday 18th February 2017 : John Murray for GYKO at the Kirklees Stadium

Manchester City face an FA Cup replay after held by an impressive Huddersfield Town display despite the Championship side making seven changes.

On a flat day for Pep Guardiola’s side, unused substitute Raheem Sterling had a drinks bottle thrown towards him by a fan as he warmed up in the second half.

Guardiola’s main concern, however, was his side’s inability to breach the stubborn defence of Huddersfield, who created chances of their own and gave the Premier League side some real scares.

However, Terriers manager David Wagner is unlikely to relish a replay any more than Guardiola after the German signalled his attitude towards the Cup by protecting a host of first-team regulars for his side’s Championship clash with Reading on Tuesday.

City, though, were less than impressive as a pedestrian display from many of Guardiola’s stars helped Wagner’s men pull off a memorable result.

Huddersfield failed to make the most of an early chance as Rajiv van la Parra fired straight at Claudio Bravo in the City goal.

But they should have been behind moments later, only for some solid goalkeeping and excellent defending to deny Guardiola’s men.

Goalkeeper Joel Coleman dived bravely at the feet of Nolito to block the Spaniard’s low shot and captain Mark Hudson then made a crucial clearance off the line from a follow-up by Jesus Navas.

City dominated possession early on but Coleman was able to watch as Nolito sliced the visitors’ next shot high and wide.

Sergio Aguero was handed a public dressing down by Guardiola with the City boss urging his striker to close down defenders more quickly.

But a minute later the Argentine had the chance to put his side ahead as his brought down a high ball and wriggled free of two Huddersfield defenders but lofted a shot over the crossbar from the edge of the area.

The home side then handed a couple of warnings to City about their potency, first when Jack Payne saw his long-range effort turned over by Bravo and then when Philip Billing had the ball in the visitors’ net but was denied the opening goal by an offside flag.

Nolito then had a shot for City deflected wide but Huddersfield were holding their own and creating chances, with Collin Quaner crossing to Van la Parra, whose effort was held by Bravo.

It was City’s turn next as a clever series of passes ended with Aguero drawing a smart save from Coleman.

Just a few second into the second half, Aguero weaved his way into a shooting position but saw his effort turned away by the diving Coleman.

Some more fine footwork by the Argentine then took him away from two Huddersfield players but his pass for Fernandinho was overhit and Coleman gathered.

There was little happening on the field as the second half progressed, with the main talking point occurring on the touchline, where a bottle was thrown from the home supporters in the direction of Sterling as the substitute went through his stretches.

Back on the field, Navas reached the byline by beating full-back Jon Gorenc Stanko but his cross from the right evaded all of his team-mates.

City forced a corner which was delivered by substitute Kevin De Bruyne but John Stones’ header looped harmlessly over.

Huddersfield (4-2-3-1): Coleman; Cranie, Hudson, Stankovic, Holmes-Dennis; Whitehead, Billing; Lolley (Wells 59), Payne (Brown 72), Van La Parra (Kachunga 59); Quaner. Subs not used: Ward, Smith, Lowe, Booty.

Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Bravo, Zabaleta, Stones, Otamendi, Kolarov (Sagna 78); Fernando, Delph (De Bruyne 69); Navas, Fernandinho, Nolito (Sane 69); Aguero. Subs not used: Caballero, Sterling, Iheanacho, A Garcia.

Referee: Anthony Taylor (Cheshire)

Attendance: 24,129

Bournemouth 0 Manchester City 2   Jesus Crocked
Saturday 11th February 2017 : George Power for GYKO at the Vitality Stadium

If anyone is going to push Chelsea for the title, it will be Manchester City. They are unlikely to do it, of course, and are still eight points behind Antonio Conte’s big blue juggernaut with just 13 games left. But City, on this evidence, are easily the second best team in the country.

This was City’s fourth win in a row, an impressing 2-0 seeing-off of a competitive energetic Bournemouth side in the bitterest coastal cold. Maybe they did not play quite as well as in their recent wins at Selhurst Park and the London Stadium. But at this stage of the season no-one is turning their nose up at an away win.

City did not just have to overcome Bournemouth but the disruption of Gabriel Jesus, their new talisman, limping off after just 14 minutes. He injured his foot and will be assessed on Tuesday, although his injury did open up the door to Sergio Aguero, not a bad Plan B, and the man who helped to deliver the second goal, via a deflection off Tyrone Mings.

But even without Gabriel City still cut through Bournemouth, creating enough chances to win the game by a distance. It was all orchestrated by David Silva, performing at his brilliant best, playing as well as he ever has done this season. He controlled the whole game, seeing space, moving into it, always two steps ahead of every Bournemouth opponent. He was roared off by the City fans at the end and grabbed in a hug by Pep Guardiola, clearly still at 31 playing as well as he ever has, which after his career is saying something.

After City’s early rhythm was disrupted by Bournemouth’s pressing and the injury to Gabriel, it was Silva who took control of the game and made sure City stayed on top.

Pep Guardiola wanted Leroy Sane running at Adam Smith, and David Silva’s job was to give Sane the ball. The third time he did it, Smith slipped and Sane pulled the ball back to Raheem Sterling. He took a touch but Cook read his shot, diving to deflect it onto the post. The next time City tried that move they scored. Again, Silva found Sane, bursting forward. His low cross hit Cook and bounced up to the far post. Sterling read it fastest, putting the ball in before anyone else could react.

Bournemouth thought they had hit straight back when Josh King whipped in Jordon Ibe’s cross only for Neil Swarbrick to belatedly flag for a foul by King on Stones which was far from obvious in real-time.

Bournemouth continued to pin City back at the start of the second half and with Benik Afobe now up front alongside King, they had real presence to their press. City were forced to defend, which they do not like doing, while they hoped for a second on the break.

Just when City were starting to get anxious, when Willy Caballero had to save from Harry Arter, they finally scored their second.

After so much joy with Sane running at Smith, this time it was Sterling, one on one with the right back, beating him down to the by-line with a brilliant step-over. Sterling pulled the ball back to the near post where Aguero and Tyrone Mings slid for it, jointly diverting the ball into the net. It was an own goal, although Aguero celebrated with the enthusiasm of a man who had proven his value to the team once again.

That was the end of the game and City’s only regret is that they did not add a deserved third when they started to turn the screw on a tiring Bournemouth in the final 10 minutes. Sane blasted one against the bar and then ran in behind zipping his shot just wide. He should have scored a goal given how well he played but that can wait. City take the points back to Manchester, trying to keep the pressure on Chelsea if they can.

AFC Bournemouth (4-1-4-1): Boruc; Smith, Francis (Mings, 22), Cook, Daniels; Surman; Ibe, Wilshere (Afobe, 45), Arter, Fraser; King.

Manchester City (4-3-3): Caballero; Sagna, Stones, Kolarov, Fernandinho; De Bruyne, Toure, Silva; Sterling, Gabriel (Aguero, 14), Sane.

Attendance: 11129     . Referee: N. Swarbrick

Manchester City 2 Swansea City 1    Jesus Late Show
Sunday 5th February 2017 : GYKO at the Etihad

There used to be a banner at Anfield: “Jesus Saves – Rush Scores from the Rebound”. Here, just when Manchester City needed it most, Gabriel Jesus scored from the rebound to ensure Manchester City’s second successive victory since his arrival.

It was, however, nothing like the 4-0 evisceration of West Ham with which the 19-year-old from Sao Paulo had announced himself on Wednesday night. It was an afternoon which Manchester City dominated then squandered before Jesus rescued the game in stoppage time with a header that was directed straight at Lukasz Fabianski.

In a first half Manchester City had dominated the Swansea keeper had pulled many more difficult saves but he was unable to hold to the ball and Jesus did the rest. Manchester City clambered back into the Champions League places above Arsenal and point behind Tottenham but fully 10 adrift of Chelsea.

When the final whistle sounded, Gylfi Sigurdsson, who had scored Swansea’s equaliser from the edge of the area and had struck the post with a free-kick, shook his head and looked distraught. Had you asked anyone who had travelled from south Wales their expectations at half time, the majority would have hoped Swansea would escape complete humiliation so dominant were Manchester City.

Sigurdsson had almost pulled off the kind of sporting upset he and his band of Icelandic warriors had inflicted on England on the Cote d’Azur. A first-half heat map of the Manchester City area would have resembled a piece of Siberian tundra. Willy Caballero did not have a shot aimed at his goal. The City keeper might have finished on the losing side.

Whenever Pep Guardiola was asked about what reinforcements Manchester City could expect in the January transfer window, he would smile and say “Jesus is coming”. Since the question was asked rather a lot in the run-up to Christmas, it was quite a good line from the City manager.

And yet with his players struggling to regain any kind of rhythm it seemed Guardiola was pinning an awful lot of hopes on a Brazilian teenager. After two matches, which have produced three goals, three assists and two victories you could understand what lay behind Guardiola’s smile. The boy from Sao Paulo carries with him the electricity that must have accompanied Colin Bell’s first games for Manchester City half a century before.

As he drove home, Guardiola would have asked himself why his team had not finished off this match before the interval and why they were so sluggish after it. Swansea, demonstrating the kind of resilience that Paul Clement has begun to instil, did not just threaten through Sigurdsson. A header from Alfie Mawson also flashed past Caballero’s post.

Manchester City’s emphatic start to the season under Guardiola that comprised of 10 straight victories, culminated with a 3-1 win over Swansea. After that came a frantic 3-3 draw with Celtic at Parkhead in the Champions League and, bit by bit, the aura that surrounded Guardiola began to be chipped away.

It was just Swansea’s luck that their return fixture against Manchester City should coincide with the return of Manchester City swagger and for 45 minutes they were pulled and pushed apart. Jesus’ first attempt at goal, a side-footed shot over the bar, arrived after one minute and 58 seconds.

After 11 minutes, David Silva had squeezed his way through a sandwich of Kyle Naughton and Federico Fernandez and played the ball back for Raheem Sterling. His shot was blocked but Jesus anticipated the rebound quicker than Jack Cork and City were ahead.

Sterling might have had a penalty rather than a booking for diving when he clattered into Fabianski but it seemed this was a game City were bound to win. A free-kick from Yaya Toure, placed languidly over the wall drew a very fine save and one moment saw Jesus surrounded by seven white shirts as he advanced with the ball. There is a photo of Diego Maradona playing against Belgium in the 1986 World Cup that looks very similar and right now the comparisons do not seem that outrageous.

Manchester City (4-1-4-1): Cababllero; Fernandinho, Stones, Kolarov, Clichy; Fernandinho, Toure; Sterling (Aguero 83), De Bruyne (Zabaleta 78), Silva (Fernando 90), Sane; Jesus.

Substitutes: Bravo, Kompany, Navas, Delph.

Swansea City (4-5-1): Fabianski; Naughton, Fernandez, Mawson, Olsson; Routledge (Narsingh 65), Fer, Cork, Carroll (Dyer 75), Sigurdsson; Llorente (Baston 83).

Substitutes: Nordfeldt, Amat, Britton, Baston, Kingsley.

Referee: M Dean (Merseyside)         Attendance: 54065

 

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