Aston Villa 0 Manchester City 4
Saturday 30th January 2016 : Brad fallows for
GYKO at Villa Park
“We’re not really here,” sang the Manchester City
fans in the North Stand, as is their wont. They were, of course; the
away end was packed. Unlike the Doug Ellis Stand and even the
sparsely populated Holte End. It was the Aston Villa fans who were
not really here, judging an FA Cup tie superfluous in this most
trying of Premier League seasons – and when their side went a goal
down in less than four minutes, it was difficult to blame them.
The absent Villa fans missed a Kelechi Iheanacho hat-trick, though
they would not have enjoyed that as much as the City support,
anyway. Or Manuel Pellegrini. “I see him every day in training, I
know what he can do,” the City manager said, before revealing he was
intending to promote the young striker to his Champions League
squad. “Kelechi is the reason we did not feel the need to replace
Edin Dzeko or Stevan Jovetic.”
Rémi Garde had pointed out in the match programme that City were his
first opponents as Villa manager, and on that day, in November, the
relegation strugglers had been greatly encouraged by a fighting 0-0
draw in a game they were expected to lose. That had been against a
full-strength City side, too. The visitors made a few changes here,
notably resting Sergio Agüero to allow Iheanacho to lead the attack
– and, from the first corner of the game, the Nigerian teenager put
his side in front.
When Bacary Sagna headed on Fabian Delph’s corner at the near post,
Fernando met the flick at the far post with a powerful header of his
own. It was blocked on the line, might even have crossed it, though
before there was time to launch an appeal Iheanacho had swept in the
loose ball to make sure.
City’s second goal, midway through the first half, was definitely
Iheanacho’s. He confidently sent Brad Guzan the wrong way from the
spot after Leandro Bacuna was adjudged to have shoved Raheem
Sterling in the area. Whether there was sufficient contact or intent
to warrant a penalty was more debatable, but Sterling went flying
instead of reaching Jesús Navas’s cross and Michael Jones found in
Having decided it was a foul, the referee could have dismissed
Bacuna but chose not to, probably reasoning that Sterling was not
certain to score, although he might have thought Villa were
suffering enough and the paying customers did not deserve to see an
even more one-sided game. He did book Bacuna, along with Sterling,
after a minor spat between the pair a couple of minutes later.
Villa’s only effort of note in a first half accurately summed up by
one disgruntled home supporter queuing for a half-time drink as “men
against boys”, was a late shot by Idrissa Gana. It was comfortably
gathered by the under-employed Willy Caballero, though replays
suggested it might have been going wide of the target anyway.
The unappetising second-half dilemma facing Aston Villa was whether
to get the game over as quickly and painlessly as possible, or try
to get back into it and have City send on Agüero and David Silva.
Better finishing from Sterling would have put them out of their
misery as the game approached the hour mark but he put one attempt
too close to Guzan from Fernandinho’s right-wing cross, then could
only head over the bar when stretching to reach a similar ball from
Carles Gil brought a decent save from Caballero with a curling
free-kick, before two goals in as many minutes killed any semblance
of a contest and resulted in a few more home fans heading for the
Iheanacho’s third came courtesy of a dreadful back pass from Gana,
inviting the striker to run into an empty half and beat Guzan at his
leisure, though it must be said he did so with some aplomb.
Iheanacho was even involved in the fourth goal, when his acrobatic
overhead kick did not quite come off but fell perfectly for Sterling
to bundle in
Aston Villa:Guzan, Bacuna, Richards, Clark, Cissokho, Gana, Westwood
(Okore 46), Veretout, Gil (Grealish 80), Sinclair (Agbonlahor 65),
Unused subs:Bunn, Lescott, Hutton, Lyden
Bookings: Bacuna, Westwood
Manchester City:Caballero, Zabaleta, Sagna, Otamendi (Humphreys 87),
Clichy (Angelino 81), Fernando, Navas, Fernandinho (Celina 76),
Delph, Sterling, Iheanacho
Unused subs:Hart, Barker, Silva, Aguero
Bookings: Sterling, Zabaleta
Referee: Mike Jones
Manchester City 3 Everton 1
Wemberleee..... Here We Come
Wednesday 27th January 2016 : GYKO at the
Manchester City will face Liverpool in the
Capital One Cup final at Wembley next month after Manuel
Pellegrini’s introduction of Kevin De Bruyne turned the semi-final
There were 23 minutes remaining and City were trailing 3-2 on
aggregate when the manager made the decision. On came De Bruyne for
Yaya Touré and 10 minutes later it was 4-3 overall to City, 3-1 on
the night, and the 24-year-old had scored the second and created
Sergio Agüero’s decisive headed third goal.
De Bruyne’s equaliser was controversial, though. The ball was out of
play when Raheem Sterling pulled it back and Everton were infuriated
when later seeing replays. Yet there was nothing wrong with De
Bruyne’s finish and City deserved to go through due to their
impressive comeback, though there was a sour finish for the Belgian
as he was taken off on a stretcher near the end with a suspected
medial knee ligament injury.
This second leg began at a steam-train pace that did not waver until
the sides broke for half-time. Touré was positioned at the base of
the home midfield and from there he made the game’s opening run. It
was answered by the jet-heeled Gerard Deulofeu racing along the
right and leaving Martín Demichelis as a statue before he won a
corner. The Spaniard took this and it was cleared by a Willy
Caballero punch and City were warned.
The opener would come from some equally scintillating Everton
attacking play. Agüero was dispossessed by Ramiro Funes Mori near
the Everton area and he passed to Leon Osman. This was along the
left and when Ross Barkley received inside City’s half he had work
to do, and he was about to do it excellently.
The midfielder cut infield, outmuscled a hapless Nicolás Otamendi
and drilled a low 25-yard shot beyond Caballero easily. Here was a
bit of magic to light up any semi-final and it had Roberto Martínez
punching the air. It gave Everton a 3-1 aggregate lead and meant
City’s away goal from Goodison Park’s first leg was cancelled out.
The visiting fans were still celebrating when City struck back six
minutes later, though. David Silva stabbed a pass into Agüero. His
shot was blocked by Phil Jagielka and the rebounding ball fell to an
onrushing Fernandinho, who smacked it past Joel Robles thanks to a
Leighton Baines deflection that looped over the Everton goalkeeper.
Despite the leveller, at this juncture it was City who were
vulnerable whenever Everton attacked. John Stones made one mazy run
that tore straight through a home midfield that parted too easily,
and in Deulofeu, Barkley, Osman and the marauding Romelu Lukaku
Everton had a front four that terrorised the City defence.
Pellegrini had chosen a central midfield triangle of Touré, Fabian
Delph and Fernandinho that was supposed to offer a defensive shield
and a base from which the side could overrun Everton.
When City had possession the attacking part of the ploy worked, but
too often the ball was not won back quickly enough when they did
not. Yet Pellegrini’s side could still count themselves unlucky not
to have the tie’s equaliser when an Agüero rocket wobbled Robles’s
left-hand post and the Spaniard bounced back off the turf to save
from Silva’s follow-up.
As the interval arrived the Etihad Stadium had witnessed a terrific
game, so far, and Everton were heading for a first Wembley final
since 2009 if they could hold on to their 3-2 aggregate lead. Given
their inability to protect winning scorelines previously this season
the smart money was on them failing to do so, but this was the
challenge for Martínez’s side as they wandered out for the second
Everton had been good value for the 2-1 advantage they arrived with.
The caveat was the breakaway goal Jesús Navas scored at Goodison. It
came from an Everton corner, which should never occur, and again
questioned Martínez’s ability to school his players in the defensive
demands of the game.
The 3-3 draw at Chelsea two Saturdays ago came when John Terry
equalised in the 98th minute and is held up as the latest evidence
against the Spaniard. Not only were Everton also leading 2-0,
Terry’s late show mirrored Bournemouth’s 3-3 draw and Stoke City’s
4-3 win earlier in the campaign: each of these results deriving from
goals conceded at the death.
So whether Martínez would stick or twist was the big question as the
second half began. Pellegrini made the first move, taking off the
ineffective Delph for Navas, who had entered the first leg on 54
minutes to telling effect.
Inside three minutes of the restart Deulofeu spurned a golden chance
to stretch his team’s overall lead to two goals. Once again his pace
took him through the City rearguard with ease but the shot was aimed
too close to Caballero.
Now, the usually lethal Agüero missed and this was from an easier
chance. Navas hit the ball across the area and with the goal gaping
the Argentinian mistimed the attempt and Everton breathed easier.
Next Silva cursed his misfortune when his header hit Robles’s
right-hand post and the ball was scrambled away.
However, City’s strength is their potency in attack and their wealth
of options in this area. The prime illustration came when Pellegrini
swapped Touré for De Bruyne and the tie was spun 180 degrees and
won. Now City will hope to claim the trophy at Wembley on 28
Manchester City: Caballero, Clichy, Demichelis, Otamendi, Zabaleta,
Toure (De Bruyne 65), Delph (Navas 46), Fernandinho, Silva (Fernando
80), Sterling, Aguero Unused subs: Hart, Sagna,
Iheanacho, Angelino Bookings: Otamendi
Everton: Joel, Baines, Stones (Coleman 77),
Jagielka, Funes Mori, Cleverley, Barry, Deulofeu (Kone 60), Barkley,
Osman (McCarthy 60), Lukaku
Unused subs:Howard, Oviedo, Lennon, Pienaar
Bookings: Baines, Cleverley
Referee: Martin Atkinson
West Ham United 2 Manchester
City 2 Defensive Slip Ups Cost City Again
Saturday 23rd January 2016 : Kevin Stanton for
GYKO at the Upton Park
If these are indeed the final few months of
Manuel Pellegrini’s tenure as Manchester City manager then he might
as well enjoy them and, in particular, being paid to watch Sergio
Agüero. For sure, he took delight in seeing the Argentina striker
show his clinical brilliance here. Agüero scored either side of
half-time, with his second goal rescuing a draw for his team that
they hardly deserved.
The visitors were sluggish in attack and sloppy in defence and
looked to be heading for another away defeat when Enner Valencia
scored himself for a second time on 56 minutes. The home supporters
were in raucous voice, sensing their side were heading for a victory
based on another show of vibrancy and determination at this venue,
but with time running out Agüero struck in typically expert fashion,
coolly lifting the ball over Adrián to secure his 15th goal of the
season as well as a point for City that moves them ahead of Arsenal
into second place before the Gunners’ match against Chelsea on
City deserve credit for their refusal to roll over and die, coming
back as they did twice from going behind, with Agüero cancelling out
Valencia’s opening goal after just 53 seconds via a ninth-minute
penalty. But a team of their quality and ambitions should not be in
those positions in the first place and there remains the feeling
that while they are in the thick of the title race, City will once
again fall short. Without doubt Arsenal and Leicester, who returned
to the summit after their 3-0 victory over Stoke, are playing better
than Pellegrini’s men.
Not that the Chilean saw it that way after this match, claiming that
with 15 matches to go (16 in Arsenal’s case) it is impossible to
make any judgments about who will be crowned champions and that this
match showed his team have what it takes to ultimately prevail. “It
is important when you play away against a very good team like West
Ham to try to win the three points, but if you cannot do that it is
important not to lose, and that is what we have done” said the City
manager. “We have added points and had options in the end to even
Pellegrini went on to insist his side are not overly reliant on
Agüero yet there could no denying that without the 27-year-old City
would have lost for a fourth time on the road. As has often been the
case away from the Etihad Stadium, the visitors lacked zip in and
out of possession, with Yaya Touré once again sleepwalking through
proceedings, at no point more so then when Cheikhou Kouyaté drove
past him with the ease of a man bypassing a piece of litter on the
street before delivering the cross from which Valencia swept a
close-range shot past Joe Hart to open the scoring.
Others in dark blue were also off the pace, most notably the wide
players, Kevin De Bruyne and Jesús Navas, while at the back there
was another reminder of just how clueless City can be without
Vincent Kompany. For instance, there is no way the injured captain
would have allowed Michail Antonio’s throw-in to sail past him and
into the path of the lurking Valencia in the manner Nicolás Otamendi
did in the build-up to West Ham’s second goal. “We were not
concentrating” Pellegrini said, yet the more telling reaction came
from Hart, who immediately after seeing the ball go past him berated
Otamendi for being so lacklustre.
The goal was also West Ham’s reward for taking the game to their
opponents. The hosts pressed with intensity, while their passing and
movement showed purpose and intelligence. Valencia naturally caught
the eye, as once again did Dimitri Payet, who caused City constant
problems with his vision and skill and came close to giving West Ham
a 2-1 lead at half-time with a curling free-kick on 33 minutes that
forced Hart into a high, reflex save.
Valencia did nudge West Ham back in front shortly after the break
but the individual contribution that stood out most came from
Agüero. The Argentinian was constantly on the move, constantly
looking to get behind the opposition defence, and having hit the
post with a stunning one-touch volley on seven minutes he scored
shortly after from a penalty he won himself, albeit Carl Jenkinson
appeared to make only minimal contact with the forward as he surged
into the area.
And then with nine minutes remaining Agüero was on hand to pounce
again after Aaron Cresswell inadvertently diverted Kelechi
Iheanacho’s driving run into his path. The fact he barely celebrated
said it all – this was simply another day at the office for one of
Europe’s finest finishers.
West Ham’s sense of deflation was only compounded by the sight of
Kouyaté’s stoppage-time header rattling the bar but they should take
a huge amount of encouragement from this match. Slaven Bilic
certainly did, describing himself as “proud” of his team’s
For City, there remains more questions than answers. Thankfully for
them, and fitness permitting, they have Agüero to call upon.
West Ham United:Adrian, Jenkinson (Byram 13), Reid, Collins,
Cresswell, Kouyate, Song, Antonio (Moses 65), Noble, Payet, Valencia
Unused subs:Randolph, Obiang, Ogbonna, Oxford
Manchester City:Hart, Sagna, Otamendi, Demichelis, Clichy, Toure,
Delph (Iheanacho 76), Silva (Fernando 83), De Bruyne, Navas
(Sterling 66), Aguero Unused
subs:Caballero, Angelino, Zabaleta, Fernandinho
Bookings: Demichelis, Fernando, Yaya Toure
Manchester City 4 Crystal
Palace 0 Palace Scuppered
Saturday 16th January 2016 : GYKO at the
Crystal Palace’s record at Manchester City is
terrible: they have lost every time they have played at the Etihad
and went down 5-1 in the Capital One Cup in October. They were not
as terrible here as the result suggests, though City still felt
comfortable enough to begin with Yaya Touré and Raheem Sterling on
the bench and were not proved wrong.
It was a strange afternoon in some respects, but the result was
never in doubt. After being held goalless by Everton in midweek,
City are now back on level points with Arsenal, while a second
defeat in five days put Palace’s top-six hopes into perspective,
especially as Alan Pardew’s side have now gone five league games
without scoring a goal.
“That was not a bad performance from us, but the goals changed the
complexion of the game,” the Palace manager said, sounding a little
trite but actually making sense. As Manuel Pellegrini said, City
scoring relatively early was the key. “As soon as we go in front we
know we will get more space,” the City manager said. “And with space
we are dangerous.”
It could so easily have been Palace in front in less than two
minutes, for two contrasting examples of goalkeeping defined the
opening half-hour. Joe Hart was in action almost as soon as the game
got under way, as the City defence did one of its famous Red Sea
partings to allow Damien Delaney a free header from the six-yard
line from Connor Wickham’s cross. Delaney was still upfield
following an early corner and could not have asked for a better
opportunity. A striker might have made more of the chance but though
the Palace captain kept his effort on target Hart reacted quickly to
scoop the ball clear.
Twenty minutes on and Wayne Hennessey did not react quickly enough
when Fabian Delph sent in a shot from 25 yards to put City in front.
It was a well-struck drive, in all fairness, but it did not seem to
take a deflection on the way through and having got down to his left
to reach the ball the goalkeeper ought to have got a stronger hand
Hennessey had the shot covered but could not keep it out. While the
defence might have spotted the danger a little sooner and done more
to close down Delph, being beaten at a comfortable height from so
far out has to go down as a goalkeeping error.
At least Hennessey could not be blamed when City extended their lead
five minutes before the interval. Already moving across goal to
cover Sergio Agüero’s shot, the keeper was left wrong footed when
Scott Dann got a head to the ball to divert it into his top-right
corner. Agüero will probably claim the goal given that his initial
attempt looked as though it was on target, though Hennessey might
have been able to save that. He had no chance once Dann intervened.
Agüero had been the focus of most of City’s attacking play, sending
a shot just too high on the stroke of the interval and at one point
managing to appeal for a penalty and hook the ball just wide of the
Palace goal at the same time.
The visitors could not keep up their early threat and spent most of
the first half on the back foot. The only time Hart was remotely
worried was when he rather dozily allowed James McArthur get in the
way of an attempted clearance.
City lost Aleksandar Kolarov to a calf injury at the start of the
second half and beefed up their attacking options with Touré a few
There seemed no real need to – the game appeared as good as won –
but Touré was involved when City scored their fourth, helping the
ball out to Kevin De Bruyne on the right for a cross that left
Agüero the simplest of tap-ins from six yards. Agüero and David
Silva had begun the move on the left and half a dozen passes later
there was too little of the defence left standing to prevent City’s
leading scorer claiming his second of the afternoon.
Agüero could have had his hat-trick six minutes from time but
unselfishly set up Silva instead. Once again there was nothing left
of the defence to beat once De Bruyne had won the ball on halfway to
send Agüero on a 40-yard sprint. Joel Ward manfully tried to keep up
but so did Silva and once Agüero squared the ball a fourth goal was
Manchester City:Hart, Zabaleta, Demichelis, Otamendi, Kolarov
(Clichy 53), Delph, Fernando, Silva, De Bruyne, Iheanacho (Yaya
Toure 57), Aguero (Navas 86)
Unused subs: Caballero, Sagna, Sterling, Humphreys
Crystal Palace: Hennessey Ward, Dann, Delaney, Souare, Ledley,
Cabaye, Puncheon, McArthur (Mutch 80), Zaha (Lee 85), Wickham (Chamakh
Unused subs: Speroni, Kelly, Jedinak, Campbell
Bookings: Chamakh (71), Cabaye (90)
Referee: Jonathan Moss
Manchester City 0 Everton 0
City Fail to Swallow Toffee's
Wednesday 6th January 2016 : GYKO at the
This was a match of supreme frustration for
Manchester City summed up in the final seconds when Raheem Sterling
was felled by John Stones inside the penalty area only for Roger
East, the referee, to fail to point at the spot.
This had Manuel Pellegrini’s team and supporters in uproar but while
an injustice, given the chances spurned, City should have already
They failed to score at home for the first time in nearly a year,
the last occasion being a 2-0 FA Cup defeat to Middlesbrough on 24
January 2015. It meant their domination of Everton ended in the
dropping of what may prove crucial points in this wide-open title
Of the Sterling penalty claim, Pellegrini said: “I don’t think I
need to give my thoughts about that action. The whole stadium could
see it was a penalty. It was so clear, so near for the referee and
both legs of Raheem were taken and it was a clear foul from Stones.
But if the referee doesn’t whistle for it, we can’t say anything
Roberto Martínez offered a bullish take on the incident, seeming to
suggest Sterling was hoping to deceive the referee into awarding the
kick. “The way I saw it live and I haven’t seen the replay, I saw
John Stones go to ground to block the trajectory of the ball, the
direction of the ball. All of a sudden, Raheem Sterling is quite
happy not to play the ball and he wants to invite some sort of a
contact. Not long ago we were on the receiving end of a really poor
decision right at the end in the last minute against Stoke.”
The Everton manager was referring to a Marko Arnautovic penalty in
Everton’s 4-3 defeat at Goodison Park. “It was the wrong decision at
that time. What you want as a manager is a referee that is 100% when
he gives that sort of decision.”
Pellegrini had felt unable to start David Silva, who was a
substitute, so he asked Sterling to operate at No10, Jesús Navas was
on the right and the disappointing Kevin De Bruyne on the left.
The Sterling-De Bruyne partnership was lively. The England man won
the opening corner which was taken by the Belgian, though it came to
nothing. Later they combined as De Bruyne sprinted into the area
from Sterling’s pass in what was a second warning to the visitors.
Everton arrived with only three away victories but on the half-hour
Leon Osman suggested they had no fear of the Etihad. Romelu Lukaku
chipped a ball in from the right and Osman let go a sweet left-foot
volley that went narrowly wide.
After creating this chance Lukaku showed why he is the League’s
joint top scorer, with 15 goals. Stones sliced City open with a pass
along the right and the centre-forward sprinted into the area but as
he shot Nicolás Otamendi did enough to put off the Belgian.
Although neither manager made a substitution at the interval
Pellegrini tinkered with his personnel, swapping the positions of De
Bruyne and Sterling. If he hoped for a dividend from the latter’s
pace down the left he came close to an instant yield. Taking the
ball along the corridor Sterling’s speed allowed him to tear towards
Tim Howard but the attempt was a disappointment, so off target it
came closer to being a throw-in than to giving City the lead.
Yaya Touré’s form has enjoyed a recent upturn and a buccaneering run
and shot that forced a corner again showed the force he can be for
City. De Bruyne, who previously scuffed a delivery from the right,
this time aimed better as it came at Sergio Agüero at speed and the
No10’s header needed the excellent Howard to be sharp to repel it.
This was now City’s best passage of play. Sterling again might have
taken himself into double figures for City this season but he could
not convert. Next up, De Bruyne had a cross-cum-shot that came to
After Martínez brought on Steven Pienaar and Arouna Koné for Osman
and Gerard Deulofeu, Pellegrini made his own move. De Bruyne was
replaced by Silva, the manager looking for the player he views as
City’s X-factor to fashion a third league victory in four outings.
But the player nicknamed “Merlin” could not affect the outcome. City
probed but could not find the ruthless edge required. They will hope
not to look back with regret at this come the end of the season.
Pellegrini had to concede this had been a missed opportunity to
close the gap with the leaders. “Yes of course. Not because you play
at home and you drop points, it’s because we had a lot of merit,
especially during the second half, to win this game, in a clear way.
But for different reasons we couldn’t score. But we have another 17
games and the important thing is to try to continue in the way we
Manchester City:Hart, Sagna, Demichelis, Otamendi, Clichy, Fernando,
Yaya Toure, Navas, De Bruyne (Silva 73), Sterling, Aguero
Unused subs:Caballero, Zabaleta, Delph, Iheanacho, Kolarov,
Everton: Howard, Baines, Funes Mori, Jagielka, Stones, Barry, Besic,
Osman (Kone 70), Barkley, Deulofeu (Pienaar 70), Lukaku
Unused subs:Robles, Oviedo, Mirallas, Lennon, Galloway
Bookings: Besic (49)
Referee: Roger East
Norwich City 0 Manchester City
Saturday 9th January 2016 : Dave Carr for GYKO
at Carrow Road
It may be that Pep Guardiola will replace Manuel
Pellegrini as Manchester City manager no matter how many trophies
they win this season, but what is certain is that number – and it
could still be four – depends hugely on the fitness of striker
Making only his 13th start of an injury-hit season, the Argentinian
was a class apart, certainly as far as the Norwich City defenders
were concerned, scoring a quite brilliant first-half goal
(remarkably, his 11th of the season) and setting up another for the
promising Kelechi Iheanacho on the half hour.
With the result secured, the visitors simply cruised through the
rest of the game, taking as little as possible out of themselves
against a passive Canaries side, before Kevin De Bruyne, on as a
substitute, ensured that the scoreline more accurately reflected the
“If you have a winning mentality you want to be involved in every
competition until the end,” said Pellegrini, who made seven changes
to the side beaten 2-1 at Everton in the first leg of the Capital
One Cup semi-final on Wednesday.
While there was no Joe Hart or David Silva, and Yaya Touré was left
at home nursing an ego cruelly bruised by his failure to win a fifth
consecutive African Player of the Year award, Pablo Zabaleta
returned to boost City’s creaky back-line, and Agüero started
alongside the 19-year-old Iheanacho, whom many City supporters would
like to see given an extended opportunity.
It was the visitors who had the first shot on target, when Sébastien
Bassong’s poor touch gave Agüero the chance to find Iheanacho. The
teenager’s power from a narrow angle required the Norwich goalkeeper
John Ruddy to palm the ball over the bar.
Ruddy also had to dive to push away Aleksandar Kolarov’s low shot
and, having gained momentum, the visitors made it count. Agüero’s
run was as strong as it was skilful, beating four attempted tacklers
in a drive into the penalty area that ended with him poking the ball
past Ruddy as the goalkeeper came out to narrow the angle.
Agüero almost made it two 10 minutes later, a clever volley testing
Ruddy. Such was the visitors’ dominance that Carrow Road was quiet,
and with good reason: Agüero’s touch and awareness resulted in him
giving Iheanacho enough room to withstand a feeble challenge and
side-foot the ball calmly past Ruddy.
The teenager’s finish was almost as unflustered as the setup and,
given it was his fifth goal in just over 300 minutes of first-team
football this season, it was not hard to see why Pellegrini has said
he is not in the market for another striker this January.
The Norwich manager, Alex Neil, did eventually send on Kyle Lafferty
to give Cameron Jerome some support, but Jesús Navas hit the angle
of post and bar before De Bruyne thumped the ball under Ruddy from
“We all know how good he is,” said Pellegrini of Agüero. “He’s a
player who makes a difference.”
Norwich City:Ruddy, Bennett, Martin, Bassong (Lafferty 72), Wisdom,
Dorrans, Mulumbu (O'Neil 64), Olsson; Howson (Redmond 63), Odjidja,
Jerome Unused subs:
Whittaker, Mbokani, Andreu, Rudd
Bookings: Martin, Dorrans
Manchester City: Caballero, Kolarov, Otamendi, Demichelis, Zabaleta,
Delph, Fernando, Navas, Sterling (De Bruyne 61), Aguero (Clichy 70),
Iheanacho (Celina 85)
Unused subs: Hart, Sagna, Humphreys, Horsfield
Everton 2 Manchester City 1
First Leg Blues
Wednesday 6th January 2016 : Phil Holton for
GYKO at Goodison Park
Manuel Pellegrini’s problems with Catalonian
coaches do not cease with Pep Guardiola. Roberto Martínez called on
Goodison Park to overcome recent anxieties, show faith in his
Everton team and intimidate Manchester City in the Capital One Cup
semi-final. His players obliged too, and the tantalising prospect of
an all-Merseyside final remains alive following a merited first-leg
victory over the competition favourites.
Goals from Ramiro Funes Mori and the irrepressible Romelu Lukaku,
his 19th of the season, sandwiched a rare composed finish from Jesús
Navas to give Martínez the advantage he craved and the tangible
reward he needed to convince the growing doubters. But both
semi-finals remain precariously balanced and it was a confident –
though aggrieved –Pellegrini who stated afterwards that City
required only a 1-0 win at the Etihad Stadium to advance (after
extra time) and would not deserve to reach Wembley if they fell
short. “That’s why I trust us absolutely,” added a manager who will
spend the rest of the season under the spectre of Guardiola
regardless of what he achieves.
Pellegrini was adamant Everton’s opening goal should have been
disallowed for offside and that Navas should have had a penalty for
a clip from Kevin Mirallas, whose careless substitute’s display
contrasted starkly with the composure and confidence shown by his
team-mates. Only the penalty claim had substance. City were again
largely subdued away from home and there could be little complaint
at the outcome. Everton ended with 10 men after Seamus Coleman
limped off with all three substitutes deployed but there was no late
flourish from a visiting team who, with Fernando replacing Kevin De
Bruyne after the Irish defender’s departure, appeared content to
settle for 1-2.
As against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, Martínez’s men sat deep
initially to plug the gaps that have led to 20 goals being conceded
at Goodison in the Premier League – no team has let in more at home
this season – and allowed the visitors to control possession in
central midfield. City began confidently and with purpose but the
pattern changed once the restored Muhamed Besic, who was impressive
again, began to stamp his authority on the midfield battle, flicking
the ball over the head of David Silva and rousing the home fans with
a fully-committed, clean tackle on Yaya Touré for good measure.
Gareth Barry again provided the brains in the operation. Both
managers persisted with their cup keepers, Joel Robles sparing Tim
Howard another run-in with his critics on the Gwladys Street and
Willy Caballero replacing Joe Hart, but neither had a save to make
until Everton opened the scoring in first-half stoppage time. The
goal had been coming.
Everton served notice of their intent when Gerard Deulofeu slipped
Lukaku into the visitors’ area only for the striker’s first touch to
enable Nicolás Otamendi to intervene. The home side then had two
goals disallowed for offside in the space of five minutes, rightly
so on each occasion. Barry and Funes Mori were both beyond the last
defender when Leighton Baines floated a free-kick to the far post
where the former City midfielder headed back for John Stones to
convert from close range. Lukaku also beat Caballero but was two
yards behind the visiting back-line when he received a pass from
It was a case of third time lucky for Everton when Tom Cleverley
delivered an inswinging corner from the right on the stroke of
half-time. Barry was again first to the cross, glancing on to Ross
Barkley who, despite injuring his foot early in the game, unleashed
a powerful drive that Caballero parried into the path of Funes Mori.
Lukaku was offside when Barkley struck but the Argentina defender
was not and gleefully swept home his first goal at Goodison.
City had barely troubled the Everton goal before the interval.
Otamendi headed wide from a De Bruyne corner while a combination of
Stones, Robles and Funes Mori prevented Sergio Agüero capitalising
on slips from Barkley and Baines. Otherwise, their bright start
faded and prompted Pellegrini to make two substitutions before the
hour mark, Martín Demichelis replacing the hamstrung Mangala at
half-time and Jesus Navas injecting his pace at the expense of
Fabian Delph. The latter change was to have the intended effect.
Agüero sliced wide, Fernandinho headed straight at Robles and De
Bruyne forced a smart save from the Spanish keeper as Everton were
pressed back. The counterattack suited the hosts, with Barkley
breaking several times only to lack the killer final touch, but they
were undone by one from their own corner as City levelled late on.
Touré’s clearance found Agüero who spun superbly away from Coleman
and threaded a pass behind an exposed home defence for Navas to beat
The City celebrations were still in full swing when Everton retook
the lead. Baines, Barkley and Barry combined on the left, the
veteran midfielder swept a delightful cross over the head of
Demichelis and Lukaku was perfectly placed to head home his 19th
goal of the campaign, injuring himself in the process. Everton need
him fit desperately. Pellegrini needs, and expects, a reaction from
Everton: Joel, Baines, Funes Mori, Stones, Coleman, Barry,
Besic, Cleverley (Osman 46), Barkley, Deulofeu (Miralles 68), Lukaku
Unused subs: Jagielka, Lennon, Howard, Galloway
Manchester City: Caballero, Sagna, Mangala (Demichelis 46),
Otamendi, Clichy, Delph (Navas 54), Fernandinho, De Bruyne (Fernando
90+1), Toure, Silva, Aguero
Unused subs: Hart, Kolarov, Sterling, Iheanacho
Bookings: Delph (51)
Referee: Robert Madley
Watford 1 Manchester City 2
City Bridge Watford Gap
Saturday 2nd January 2016 : Ged Warhurst for
GYKO at Vicarage Road
While Sergio Agüero has been known to leave it
even later before sparing Manchester City’s blushes in the past, he
could hardly have picked a better time to offer a reminder of the
devastating qualities that make him the most potent striker in the
Premier League when his troublesome hamstrings are not playing up.
Agüero’s first goal since 21 November was a wonderful late header
that capped a stirring City fightback, earning Manuel Pellegrini’s
side their first away win in almost four months and keeping them
within touching distance of Arsenal.
As long as Agüero is able to string an extended run of matches
together, having been disrupted by a number of niggling injuries
this season, then City will be entitled to feel that the title is
theirs to lose. However that belief was heavily tested by Watford,
who were left to reflect on not capitalising on a breathless spell
when they had City on the ropes early on and the moment when Étienne
Capoue wasted the chance to make it 2-0 shortly before Yaya Touré
crashed in the equaliser with eight minutes left.
The winner arrived two minutes later, Heurelho Gomes rooted to his
line as Agüero’s header looped into the top-left corner, and Quique
Sánchez Flores knew that Watford had squandered a glorious
opportunity. Watford’s manager could not stop apologising afterwards
and while the manner of the turnaround demonstrated that City are
capable of scrapping in testing circumstances, their overall
performance left much to be desired. “It’s very hard, because twice
in one week we have the same feeling,” said the Watford manager,
referencing his side’s late defeat to Tottenham Hotspur last Monday.
One of the most impressive features of Watford’s season has been
their refusal to lay out the welcome mat for any visitors to
Vicarage Road, as Liverpool discovered two weeks ago, and when
Aleksandar Kolarov headed Ben Watson’s corner past Hart in the 55th
minute, City looked ragged. They had little margin for error.
Arsenal’s late victory over Newcastle United earlier in the day
meant that City were six points off the top before kick-off.
The signs were ominous for City in the opening stages, with Watford
determined to demonstrate that they were not cowed by their
illustrious opponents. Passing the ball swiftly and sharply in
midfield and using the movement, brawn and skill of Troy Deeney and
Odion Ighalo to great effect in attack, the hosts created four clear
opportunities in a frenetic opening 15 minutes.
Almen Abdi whistled a drive inches over from 20 yards and Ighalo had
the clearest opportunity, spinning Nicolás Otamendi far too easily,
only for Joe Hart to smother his shot. Deeney had a penalty claim
waved away by Martin Atkinson, who correctly saw nothing wrong with
Kolarov’s challenge, and the extent to which City miss the assurance
of the injured Vincent Kompany in central defence was painfully
Ighalo clearly had the beating of Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala,
while Touré, playing in a midfield two alongside Fernandinho, had
his ego pricked by a couple of dainty touches from José Manuel
City slowly came into the game as the first half wore on, Gomes
keeping out efforts from Kevin De Bruyne and Fernandinho, and some
of Watford’s early zip had disappeared by the time Allan Nyom was
booked for a risible attempt to win a penalty in the 38th minute.
That shabby moment aside, Nyom embraced the challenge of marking
Raheem Sterling with such relish that the City winger was replaced
by Jesús Navas after 60 ineffective minutes, while there were times
when Agüero looked like he was playing on one leg. The old Agüero
burst failed to materialise whenever City tried to pick him out with
balls over the top, and when the striker isolated Craig Cathcart on
the edge of the Watford area, he was unable to slip past the
centre-back and work the ball on to his right foot.
Watford were good value for their lead when they went ahead moments
after Fernandinho had missed a free header at the other end. Ighalo
hassled Mangala into conceding a corner on the left – Pellegrini
felt that it should have been a goal-kick – and Watson’s cross
towards the near post flicked off Kolarov’s head and past Hart.
Pellegrini had to gamble. Mangala was hauled off and Wilfried Bony
joined Agüero up front. Even so, the damage would have been
irreparable if Capoue had shown more composure when he barrelled
through and fired over with only Hart to beat.
That miss allowed Kolarov to redeem himself by sending in the corner
that Touré volleyed past Gomes at the near post, before Agüero sent
the travelling fans into ecstasy, expertly heading in Bacary Sagna’s
cross. Agüero operated on the fringes for the majority of the
contest, but he only needed half a yard to leave his mark.
Watford: Gomes, Nyom, Cathcart, Britos, Holebas, Capoue, Watson,
Abdi, Deeney, Jurado (Guedioura 80), Ighalo
Unused subs: Arlauskis, Prödl, Behrami, Anya, Berghuis, Oulare
Bookings: Nyom (38)
Manchester City: Hart, Sagna, Otamendi, Mangala (Bony 75), Kolarov,
Yaya Toure, Fernandinho, De Bruyne, Silva, Aguero (Demichelis 86),
Sterling (Navas 60) Unused subs:
Caballero, Zabaleta, Fernando, Clichy
Referee: Martin Atkinson