January  2015 - Reports
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Chelsea 1 Manchester City 1     Silva Point at the Bridge
Saturday 31st January 2015 : Dom Cooper at Stamford Bridge for GYKO

José Mourinho was not willing to offer his verdict on this tense struggle between the two teams at the top of the Premier League. Apparently it was the fault of Jamie Redknapp and all the other rotters in the media that Diego Costa was suspended and Mourinho, in turn, was applying his own ban. It is a siege mentality at Stamford Bridge right now and it is tempting to think they might have boarded up the press box and dismantled the television gantry if Manchester City had made the most of their superiority.

As it turned out, Costa was not too badly missed bearing in mind his replacement, Loïc Rémy, scored Chelsea’a goal. Yet they did badly miss Cesc Fàbregas given the way City’s midfield operated with the greater control. It was a strangely dishevelled performance from the league leaders and City had enough of the ball to feel like they ought to have darkened Mourinho’s mood even more.
Chelsea’s squad leaves doubts but Manchester City could learn from their hard noses

Manuel Pellegrini’s side could not add to David Silva’s equaliser but they should head back to Manchester feeling encouraged by the pattern of the game and what it said, after 87 minutes, when Mourinho signalled for Remy to come off and brought on Gary Cahill to strengthen their lines of defence. In that moment Chelsea’s manager had virtually abandoned the idea of going for a winner and settled on keeping out a late City onslaught.

His team survived but when a game between first and second ends this way it does serve as a reminder that City, as their fans like to sing, will fight to the end of this title race.

They were certainly the more rounded team and it was unusual, to say the least, to see Chelsea with home advantage being pinned back into their own half. On other occasions there was a level of carelessness that must have startled Mourinho. Silva’s goal was a calamity for Thibaut Courtois but it was not the only occasion when normally dependable players made individual mistakes in and around their penalty area and it was strange to see such an accomplished group of footballers being so generous.
Sergio Agüero provides the guile to keep Manchester City in title chase

Chelsea, to give them their due, did start to cut out the defensive lapses as the game went on but they needed to because their opponents were throwing everything at them in those stages and, if anything, seemed encouraged by the message that Mourinho’s Rémy-Cahill switch sent out.

Jesús Navas had their first effort saved by Courtois after only 17 seconds and Pellegrini was entitled to be disappointed his side could not be more ruthless bearing in mind they had a number of chances at 0-0 and the best of the play in the second half without being able to put together a really inviting opportunity.

Chelsea had set out like a team that was reluctant to blur the lines between adventure and leaving themselves open to the counterattack and, by the end, it was a full-on backs-to-the-walls operation. “Boring, boring Chelsea,” the away end sang, along with various other uncomplimentary chants about Mourinho’s tactics. Yet City should also feel aggrieved with themselves because, on the balance of play, there is no doubt it was a missed opportunity.

At one point early on, Nemanja Matic lost the ball to Fernandinho and was fortunate the Brazilian’s shot was deflected behind for a corner. Sergio Agüero had a chance not long afterwards that originated from James Milner dispossessing Branislav Ivanovic and Pellegrini will also reflect on that moment, just after the half-hour, when John Terry misread the trajectory of a long ball from Vincent Kompany. Agüero was free but pulled his shot wide and, despite their dominance in the second half, City did not get a chance of that nature again.

Chelsea opened the scoring with virtually their first attack of real penetration and the goal was a personal ordeal for Bacary Sagna given that Pellegrini had trusted him with the job of subduing Eden Hazard on the left of Chelsea’s attack. Sagna might be marginally quicker than City’s usual right-back, Pablo Zabaleta, but the Argentinian is a better natural defender and it showed when Ivanovic picked out his team-mate.

Sagna had switched off and Hazard returned the ball, first-time, across the six-yard area. Kompany withdrew his leg at the crucial moment, perhaps fearing that he might turn the ball into his own goal, and in hindsight he probably should have taken the risk with Rémy lurking behind him to fire past Joe Hart.

What followed was unusual bearing in mind Chelsea’s reputation – Bradford City aside – as the best team in the country at holding on to a lead. On this occasion it lasted only four minutes and featured the first major mistake from Courtois since his return to his parent club from Atlético Madrid. Milner’s presence might have distracted the goalkeeper as he came to punch Navas’s right-wing cross but it was not a valid excuse for completely missing the ball. Agüero, as usual, was loitering with intent and swung his left foot at the ball. The shot was going wide but Silva was there to apply the decisive touch inside the six-yard area.

After the interval, it was rare to see Chelsea being pinned inside their own half. Milner and Navas impressed on the wings. Fernandinho and Fernando made Yaya Touré’s absence not feel important and Mourinho became so agitated it required a tête-à-tête with Mark Clattenburg on the touchline. Mourinho seems permanently dissatisfied with the refereeing kingdom but Clattenburg officiated the game impressively and it was not his fault – or the fourth official Jon Moss – that Chelsea did not pass the ball with more authority.

Pellegrini sent on Frank Lampard to face his old club but Mourinho had ensured there were an awful lot of bodies to get through.

Manchester City 0 Middlesbrough 2     Shameful City
Saturday 24th January 2014 : GYKO at the Etihad

City spent most of the week in Abu Dhabi to get the horror of losing at home to Arsenal out of their system, only to find their possession game once again being blunted by another determined defence. Manuel Pellegrini admitted his side had not been at their best against Arsenal – “we had plenty of possession but just didn’t use the ball well enough” – and against Middlesbrough it was more of the same story.

With the visitors offering only token commitment to attack in the first half – not that Lee Tomlin and Patrick Bamford were unable to cause anxiety in the home defence – the traffic was overwhelmingly one way. City kept coming forward, with David Silva and Jesús Navas working hard to find a way through, but the former frequently found no one on the end of his first-time flicks and passes, while the latter was all energy and running with little in the way of a final delivery.

It took City until midway through the first half to test the Boro goalkeeper, and once they did begin to rain shots on goal they found Tómas Mejías more than capable of standing up to them. Stevan Jovetic in particular saw four decent efforts saved in the first half, with Silva, Sergio Agüero and James Milner also being denied by the goalkeeper.

If that makes it sound as though City were creating chance after chance and only goalkeeping heroics were keeping the scores level, it was not quite like that. City were not creating many clear openings, ones from which it would have been easier to score than hit the goalkeeper. Mejías was doing a good job dealing with shots coming through a crowded area but most were speculative efforts from a fair way out.

The only time City found themselves with a player on the six-yard line with just the goalkeeper to beat it was not the deadly Agüero but the less than clinical Dedryck Boyata, who scuffed his first attempt then put a follow-up effort miles over the bar. City would have been embarrassed had Bamford kept a header on target on the stroke of the interval but their discomfort was not forestalled for long, as they went behind early in the second half to one of the comedy goals of the season.

First Fernando put Boyata under pressure with an underhit back-pass, and when the City defender could not hold off Albert Adomah’s enthusiastic challenge Willy Caballero came out to clear the ball and missed. That left the ball rolling slowly towards an unguarded net and while Fernando looked capable of a goal-line clearance, after sprinting back diligently to tidy up his initial error, his last-ditch hook to safety only succeeded in striking Bamford’s shins and rebounding into goal.
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Boro taking the lead changed the game utterly. Now full of confidence, the visitors went for a second, perhaps realising that Boyata and Vincent Kompany were vulnerable at the heart of the City defence. Caballero redeemed himself for his part in the goal with a fine double-save from Tomlin then Grant Leadbitter, before standing tall to thwart an audacious attempted chip from the impressive Adomah.

Best of all was a remarkable piece of skill on the hour from Tomlin, who beat Kompany all ends up with a terrific turn, then flicked a shot against the base of an upright with only Caballero to beat and the hard work seemingly done.

City would never have come back from two goals down; in fact they never looked particularly like recovering from being one behind. Mejías was nowhere near as busy in the second half as he had been in the first, Boro defended capably when they had to, and though for one agonising second it looked as though their hard work was going to be undone by a Frank Lampard shot that deflected off Adam Clayton to beat Mejías, the ball struck a post and bounced harmlessly across goal.

Kike made sure of a famous victory late in stoppage time after taking a pass from the excellent Bamford, but a second goal was hardly necessary, even if it did give the travelling fans at that end a cue for wild celebration. Boro were already thoroughly deserving of a place in the fifth round.


Teams

Manchester City:
Caballero, Kolarov, Zabaleta, Boyata, Kompany, Fernando (Dzeko 80), Milner, Navas (Fernandinho 67), Silva, Jovetic (Lampard 67), Aguero       Unused subs:Hart, Demichelis, Sagna, Clichy     Bookings:Kompany, Fernandinho

Middlesbrough:Mejias, Friend, Whitehead, Ayala, Gibson, Tomlin (Reach 81), Clayton, Leadbitter, Bamford, Adomah, Vossen (Kike 86)
Unused subs:Ripley, Husband, Omeruo, Woodgate, Wildschut      Bookings:Ayala, Whitehead

Referee:Phil Dowd         Att:44,836

Manchester City 0 Arsenal 2           A Kick up the Arse
Sunday 18th January 2015 : GYKO at the Etihad

 The only possible complaint against Arsenal is that they do not do this more often. Arsène Wenger’s side have been regarded as a soft touch for longer than they will want to remember against the top sides and then they show up at the home of the champions and play in a way that makes it seem bewildering that their own title challenge has already turned to dust.

It has certainly been a long time since Arsenal have taken on one of the elite and played with the greater sense of togetherness, the better work-rate and more effective tactics. They sieved six goals here last season and their record in Manchester has been appalling since the sun started to fade on the Wenger years, featuring only one point out of a possible 21 before this fixture and a goal difference of minus 21.

Yet they played with a level of wit and gumption that has become rare among visiting teams to this ground. Santi Cazorla’s performance, combining high skill and indefatigable running, could have been set to music and, in the process, he and his team-mates blew a gaping hole in City’s aspirations of making it three titles in four seasons.

Manuel Pellegrini’s team tend to spiral into this kind of carelessness only when they hear the Champions League anthem and they had better snap out of it quickly bearing in mind their next league game is at Chelsea. There was a dishevelled look about the beaten side, out-run and out-thought by a team that took the lead through Cazorla’s 24th-minute penalty, doubled it with Olivier Giroud’s header midway through the second half and defended throughout with the nerve and conviction that has been so conspicuously absent when Wenger’s teams have capitulated in other high-level assignments over the last few years.

Not too long ago this kind of rearguard action from Per Mertesacker, for instance, would have been inconceivable. Cazorla delivered a masterclass in midfield, always wanting the ball and having the supreme football intelligence to know what best to do with it. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was another huge influence while Aaron Ramsey and Alexis Sánchez also helped to ensure that Arsenal overwhelmed their opponents in midfield.

City badly missed Yaya Touré, on international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations, and have not won a league match since last April when he has been missing. The bad news for Pellegrini is that Touré will also be missing when they head to Stamford Bridge at the end of the month.

City will not be able to get away with defending this shabbily against José Mourinho’s team. Martín Demichelis set the tone with two basic errors early on to give away the ball in his own half. The way Pablo Zabaleta lost a 50-50 challenge with Ramsey in the build-up to Cazorla’s penalty was unusual in the extreme and the defending for Giroud’s goal was even worse.

Fernando lost his man in the penalty area but not a single defender reacted when Cazorla chipped his free-kick into the six-yard box. Giroud was the only one who showed any real intent and glanced his header past the exposed Joe Hart.

Arsenal chased after everything. They were quick to the ball, strong in the tackle, crowding out David Silva and providing a near-impenetrable barrier in front of David Ospina’s goal. It was not until the 36th minute that City managed a shot at goal and the people who keep these statistics were quickly out with the information that had not happened in a league game here since October 2012. The last time City lost one at home by two goals? Go back two more years.

Ospina barely had to get a scuff of mud on his kit and Francis Coquelin demonstrated again that he is better suited for the defensive midfield role than Mikel Arteta. Coquelin is relatively new to the side but at one point he could be seen bellowing at his team-mates, demanding they did not lower their standards.

Pellegrini, in stark contrast, should be startled by the way that kind of leadership was missing from the home side. City’s manager complained afterwards that the penalty was unjust bearing in mind the minimal contact from Vincent Kompany on Nacho Monreal. Yet the City captain was silly to take the risk, leaning towards his opponent and away from the ball, and, however much disguise he tried to apply, the referee, Mike Dean, judged it well.

Monreal had played a give-and-go with Giroud and Kompany, at his best, would have anticipated the danger. He looked rusty, returning from injury, and Pellegrini did admit it was unnecessary for Kompany to make the body movement towards his opponent.

Sergio Agüero likewise looked short of sharpness after his injury lay-off but the truth is that the service to him was generally poor. Jesús Navas is still unable to exert a huge influence on matches and James Milner did not last beyond half-time.

Briefly, there were some encouraging signs for City early in the first half and another possible feat of escapology when Frank Lampard was brought on as a second-half substitute. Giroud’s header killed that idea stone-dead and a crowd that likes to sing to the team “fight to the end” had started to disperse with 10 minutes to go.

Teams
Manchester City:
Hart, Zabaleta, Clichy, Demichelis, Kompany, Fernando, Fernandinho (Lampard 63) Milner (Jovetic 46), Navas (Dzeko 76), Silva, Aguero       Unused subs: Caballero, Kolarov, Mangala, Sagna    Bookings:  Kompany, Fernandinho, Aguero

Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Ramsey (Flamini 84), Oxlade-Chamberlain (Rosicky 66), Cazorla, Alexis (Gibbs 84), Giroud     Unused subs Szczesny, Chambers, Ozil, Walcott      Bookings:Koscielny, Ramsey, Bellerin

Referee:Mike Dean     Att:45,596

Everton 1 Manchester City 1          Toffees Hold City
Saturday 10th January 2015 :  Don Bailey for GYKO at Goodison Park

Manuel Pellegrini shrugged off two dropped points as casually as one might alter the small print in Frank Lampard’s contract while Joe Hart joked with Romelu Lukaku before departing with a wave to a familiar face in the crowd.

“Been there, done that” was Manchester City’s relaxed message from a windswept Goodison Park but they know a defining period, with no further margin for error, is upon them.

City’s manager rued poor finishing more than the result although criticism of the champions’ profligacy seemed perverse on the day Sergio Agüero returned, given they averaged 2.29 goals per game during the Argentinian’s seven-match absence and with Wilfried Bony having agreed a £25m move from Swansea City. Equally, castigating Hart for his part in Everton’s merited equaliser should be offset by his two excellent saves that prevented Lukaku putting the home side ahead.

Lukaku clearly held Hart responsible for denying Everton a first league win in five matches, pointing an accusing finger at the England goalkeeper on the final whistle before the pair dissolved into laughter and an embrace. Tragically Lukaku returned to the dressing room to be told his close friend from the Belgium youth system, the 20-year-old Wolfsburg midfielder Junior Malanda, had been killed in a car accident in Germany. The striker was central to Everton’s improvement and Roberto Martínez will monitor anxiously the extent of Lukaku’s devastation.

For Pellegrini there was encouragement in City’s assured approach play, their diminishing injury list, the imminent addition of Bony to their attacking riches and even James Milner’s contract situation. “I hope James will sign his contract in the next few days,” he said of the utility player who missed this avoidable draw with a calf problem. Evidence of concern at falling two points behind Chelsea in the title race could not be found.

“We showed we had a lot of confidence in our play, we created the chances but the chances we missed was our problem,” Pellegrini said. “Last time we were stronger as the season went on and we are happy with the way we are playing so far. With all the players back we will be stronger in the second half of the season. Two points at this moment is not an important deficit or a real advantage. We will see if we can finish the season strongly and we will fight for the title until the last game.”
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City’s next two league games, Arsenal at home and Chelsea away, may determine the calibre of that fight. David Silva was immaculate despite the constant shadow of his former team-mate Gareth Barry but Jesús Navas, Samir Nasri and Stevan Jovetic threatened only sporadically around him.

Jovetic worked tirelessly until being replaced by Agüero but was the main culprit as City squandered four inviting openings during a dominant first half.

That said, Joel Robles was rarely stretched in the Everton goal and Hart was the busier keeper. He twice thwarted Lukaku after the striker had turned Eliaquim Mangala inside out, was saved by the crossbar when Seamus Coleman’s shot beat him from 20 yards and by an offside flag against Steven Naismith when Phil Jagielka converted a Leighton Baines free-kick that the keeper dropped under pressure.

A 12th win in 14 matches beckoned for City when Fernandinho converted a close-range header, albeit after Pablo Zabaleta instigated the counterattack with a superb tackle on Lukaku that also dragged the ball on to an arm, but Naismith rewarded Everton’s intense second-half showing – with Muhamed Besic to the fore – four minutes later.

Hart failed to connect with another Baines free-kick, harshly awarded against Zabaleta, to allow the Scot to score a glancing header but the quality of the delivery was instrumental. Baines’ set-piece struggles this season were epitomised by one corner that led directly to a chance for Silva but this was the England left-back’s 45th Premier League assist, a record.

Hart said: “We want to be up there but there is plenty of time and we are in a really good position. We have still to play Chelsea and that is a really key game but Arsenal at home next week could be a big three points for us. We haven’t lost in the league since West Ham in October, have won the majority of those games and have been in good away form. We are on a good run, are in a good place and have plenty of players coming back ready for the second part of the season.

“Yaya Touré is in Africa doing what he has to do but we will get him back and hopefully be in a good place. We had Edin Dzeko, Sergio and Stevan all out for three games and it makes things tough when you are missing all your strikers but this is the Premier League, a tough league to be in, and we have no complaints about that. We have an amazing squad and those players are fit again.”

Teams
Everton:
Robles, Coleman, Jagielka, Stones, Baines, Besic, Barry, McGeady (Mirales 78), Naismith, Barkley, Lukaku
Unused subs:Eto'o, Oviedo, Koné, Garbutt, Alcaraz, Griffiths     Bookings:Stones

Manchester City:Hart, Zabaleta, Demichelis, Mangala, Clichy, Fernando, Fernandinho (Lampard 82), Navas, Silva, Nasri (Kolarov 90+1), Jovetic (Aguero 67)      Unused subs:Caballero, Kompany, Sagna, Sinclair     Bookings:Mangala, Fernandinho

Referee:
Martin Atkinson        Att:34,000

Manchester City 2  Sheffield Wednesday 1    Close Call
Sunday 4th January 2015 : GYKO at the Etihad

Dust off the clichés: romance, magic and all the other old FA Cup chestnuts are in the rudest of health after being given fresh life by a Sheffield Wednesday team who gave the champions of England a fair fright.

They had been trounced 7-0 by Manchester City the previous time they visited the Etihad Stadium, for a Capital One Cup tie in September. Wednesday had held City 0-0 at the break before crumpling in the second half.

This time the score was 1-1 as the closing moments were played out, Stuart Gray’s men having refused to stop hassling and harrying even after James Milner’s 66th-minute equaliser and even after the birthday boy’s winner – he is now 29 – in stoppage time. Manuel Pellegrini admitted his team had escaped. “I am relieved, because we didn’t play well,” City’s manager said. “We played very bad except the last 20 minutes when we [went up] another gear to try to create the space against a team that defend very well.”

When half-time arrived City had been outmuscled by Wednesday who hunted in packs in midfield. Fernando, the £12m summer signing who is yet to impress, was too often beaten to the crucial 50-50s that decide who controls proceedings.

City had dominated possession but lacked the skill to make this tell. Pellegrini’s men started off by forcing two corners in succession after a Bacary Sagna attempt was deflected behind. Before Atdhe Nuhiu gave Wednesday the advantage City twice broke with menace but there was no end product.

Wednesday were about to show precisely how to slash a side open and make it count. Kieran Lee threaded a pass in behind Eliaquim Mangala to Stevie May. As the £40m defender struggled, the No7 zipped over a cross that was met with first-time perfection by Nuhiu, the Austrian forward, who beat Caballero easily.

During half-time Pellegrini must have offered stern words to his men to up their speed of thought and execution and was rewarded by a brighter opening to the second half. A pass from Jesús Navas skimmed across the area and Frank Lampard just failed to connect, then Yaya Touré had a shot blocked.

After 55 minutes Wednesday were already in siege mode, readied for a long fight in the hope of glorious reward but they still looked composed. When Touré hit a diagonal pass, Liam Palmer’s decision was not a wild flail but a cool header back to Chris Kirkland.

Too many City players were enduring an off day. Top of this list were Fernando and Stevan Jovetic and the striker and the ineffective Lampard were replaced by Samir Nasri and David Silva.

The replacements were an instant hit. Nasri found Silva and the Spaniard, in turn, delivered one of those superbround-the-corner passes that are his calling card, to the onrushing Milner: the finish went through Kirkland’s legs for the equaliser.

Yet Wednesday fought back and Jacques Maghoma twice came close to re-establishing their lead when bursting into the area. Then Milner, oddly for a man who had just scored, opted to square the ball when again clear, this time to the left of Kirkland’s goal, and the chance fizzled out.

With the game all but over, Silva had a chance but a strong shot was saved superbly by Kirkland. Wednesday deserved to survive but Navas’s ball was turned home by Milner, who had again prospered as a false No9.

Milner’s contract ends in the summer but Pellegrini could not confirm if a new deal might be signed soon. “I hope we will find an arrangement,” he said.

Gray was left to hail his team’s spirit. “I’m very proud. Last time here we lost 7-0 and we have pushed the champions until the last minute. But you can see why they are the champions,” he said.

Teams

Manchester City:
Caballero, Sagna, Mangala, Boyata, Kolarov (Clichy 75), Yaya Toure, Fernando, Lampard (Silva 61)Milner Navas, Jovetic (Nasri 61)    Unused subs: Hart, Demichelis, Fernandinho, Bersant

Sheffield Wednesday: Kirkland, Dieina (McCabe 85), Loovens, Semedo, May, Palmer, Helan, Lee, Maghoma, Lees, Nuhui (Maguire 75)
Unused subs: Dawson, Lavery, Corry, Young, De Havilland

Bookings: Palmer

Referee: Michael Oliver      Att:44,309

Manchester City 3 Sunderland 2   Shaky Defence Holds On
Thursday 1st January 2015 : GYKO at the Etihad

For a second successive game, Manchester City somehow contrived to lose a two-goal lead at home against a team they would normally expect to ease out of their way. This time, however, they spared themselves another ordeal and it was another moment to demonstrate why the Premier League champions have leant on their sister club, New York City FC, to keep Frank Lampard in Manchester rather than Manhattan. They may not like it in New York but when Lampard is making such a rich contribution for Manuel Pellegrini’s team the decision-makers in Abu Dhabi can hardly be blamed for deciding to extend his stay and abandon the initial plan of making him Major League Soccer’s new poster boy.

Lampard had been on the pitch only four minutes when he announced his presence with the fifth, decisive goal of a wild 15-minute spell that had felt utterly incongruous to everything that preceded it. It was his seventh goal for the club, despite largely being restricted to substitute appearances, and it is clear why City have been willing to risk a transatlantic PR disaster, which could conceivably get worse over the coming months.

The awkwardness of what has happened – leaving one supporters’ group in New York proclaiming themselves to be outraged – will hardly be eased by Pellegrini letting slip that he could not guarantee Lampard would even move to the United States at the end of the season, and the revelation that the former Chelsea player does not actually have a proper contract in place with the club that announced him as their signing last summer. Yet what cannot be disputed is the wisdom of the decision for City, the Mancunian version. Lampard, even at 36, has made himself almost indispensable when he is capable of getting his team out of a hole in this way.

After 66 minutes, City had looked as though they would coast through the final exchanges, courtesy of a majestic shot from Yaya Touré and a delightful finish nine minutes later from Stevan Jovetic. Instead that was the cue for Sunderland to ditch their ploys of conservatism and, lo and behold, discover that City are vulnerable when they are put under pressure and missing their captain and chief organiser, Vincent Kompany. Gus Poyet later apologised for “boring” the crowd in the first 45 minutes and maybe in hindsight the Sunderland manager will regret not setting up his team to be more adventurous from the start, especially when Willy Caballero was in the opposition goal and had looked so erratic earlier in the season. Joe Hart had been given a day off, perhaps owing to a couple of mistakes in his past two games, and a more ambitious side might have done more to test Caballero.

Pellegrini will certainly be startled by the way Jack Rodwell and Adam Johnson scored within three minutes of one another and the fact these are both former City players merely added to the feeling, following on from the 2-2 draw against Burnley, that the home side were in danger of suffering what used to be known here as the dreaded “Cityitis”.

As it turned out, we were reminded that the modern-day side found the cure a long time ago but that was an alarming period for City as Rodwell headed in from a corner and Johnson scored a penalty after Pablo Zabaleta had scythed down Billy Jones. Sunderland had barely ventured into the opposition’s half until that period, with Johnson and Will Buckley dropping back as extra full-backs and Rodwell playing just in front of defence. This was not the first time City have encountered these kind of smothering tactics but the game dramatically changed after the 57th minute when Touré let fly, 25 yards out, to score a beauty, still rising as it soared into the top corner.

Jovetic’s goal was clever in its own way, the forward playing the ball out to Gaël Clichy on the left and then continuing his run into the penalty area to meet the cross and flick the ball past Costel Pantilimon. At other times, City missed the attacking edge Sergio Agüero would usually provide. Touré was hugely influential, showing why he will be such a loss when he goes to the Africa Cup of Nations, with the prospect of missing matches against Chelsea and Arsenal. David Silva was also prominently involved, though not quite able to emulate his form of recent matches and perhaps showing a few signs of fatigue.

City do, however, have a great habit of holding their nerve when the heat of the battle is suddenly turned up. They responded to Johnson’s equaliser as if affronted by Sunderland’s temerity and missed more chances than they will care to remember in the final quarter of an hour. Lampard fits in seamlessly and his precise header, from another of Clichy’s left-wing deliveries, was the compelling evidence why one City’s gain is another’s loss.

Teams

Manchester City:
Caballero, Zabaleta, Mangala, Demichelis, Clichy, Yaya Toure, Fernandinho, Nasri (Kolarov 85), Silva (Milner 90), Navas, Jovetic (Lampard 70)    Unused subs: Hart, Sagna, Sinclair, Boyata    Bookings: Nasri, Zabaleta

Sunderland: Pantilimon, Vergini (Coates 78), Jones, Brown, O'Shea, Rodwell, Larsson, Gomez (Giaccherini 58), Johnson, Buckley (Alvarez 65), Wickham   Unused subs: Fletcher, Cabral, Altidore, Mannone    Bookings: Larsson, Jones, Brown

Referee: Roger East          Att:45,367

 

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