January 2016 - Reports
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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 City’s favour.

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 Navas.

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 exits.

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

Teams
Aston Villa:Guzan, Bacuna, Richards, Clark, Cissokho, Gana, Westwood (Okore 46), Veretout, Gil (Grealish 80), Sinclair (Agbonlahor 65), Ayew
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            Att:23,636

Manchester City 3 Everton 1     Wemberleee.....  Here We Come
Wednesday 27th January 2016 : GYKO at the Etihad

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 their way.

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 half.

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 February.

 Teams
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        Att:50,048

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 Sunday afternoon.

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 win it.”

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 performance.

For City, there remains more questions than answers. Thankfully for them, and fitness permitting, they have Agüero to call upon.

Teams
West Ham United:Adrian, Jenkinson (Byram 13), Reid, Collins, Cresswell, Kouyate, Song, Antonio (Moses 65), Noble, Payet, Valencia
Unused subs:Randolph, Obiang, Ogbonna, Oxford        Bookings:Noble, Byram

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

Referee:Craig Pawson              Att:34,977

Manchester City 4 Crystal Palace 0        Palace Scuppered
Saturday 16th January 2016 : GYKO at the Etihad

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 to it.

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 minutes later.

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 a formality.

Teams
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 66)               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 Etihad

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 sealed victory.

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 race.

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 about that.”

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 nothing.

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 are.

Teams
Manchester City:Hart, Sagna, Demichelis, Otamendi, Clichy, Fernando, Yaya Toure, Navas, De Bruyne (Silva 73), Sterling, Aguero
Unused subs:Caballero, Zabaleta, Delph, Iheanacho, Kolarov, Humphreys

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                    Att:53,796

Norwich City 0 Manchester City 3          Canaries Shot Down
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 Sergio Agüero.

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 visitors’ dominance.

“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 an angle.

“We all know how good he is,” said Pellegrini of Agüero. “He’s a player who makes a difference.”

Teams

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

Referee:Mike Dean           Att:22,000

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 Deulofeu.

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 Robles.

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 City

Teams

Everton:  Joel, Baines, Funes Mori, Stones, Coleman, Barry, Besic, Cleverley (Osman 46), Barkley, Deulofeu (Miralles 68), Lukaku (Kone 82)
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         Att:40,000

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 obvious.

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 Jurado.

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.
 

Teams
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           Att:20,676

 

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