May 2014 - Reports
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Manchester City 2 West Ham United 0          We Are The Champions Again
Sunday 11th May 2014 : GYKO at the Home of the Champions


This time, they spared the emotions of their supporters. There was no late drama. No bedlam. For once, Manchester City resisted any temptation to make life unnecessarily hard for themselves. Instead, they just rolled up their sleeves and set about finishing off their work. They are the champions of England and they did it in a way that made it feel like the old City, the club they once said should carry a government health warning, were a fading memory.Man-uel of the hour: fullscreen

By the time it was all done, Manuel Pellegrini's team had clocked up 102 goals for the season and it was probably a surprise they had not managed to catch, or overhaul, Chelsea's record of 103 from four years ago. Sergio Agüero is probably thinking the same after one of Pablo Zabaleta's overlapping runs had presented him with the kind of chance he would normally score blindfolded.

No matter. Vincent Kompany's goal four minutes into the second half could not generate the mosh pit that Agüero set in motion on the final day two seasons ago but, for once, City's crowd might actually appreciate a party with a chill-out zone. West Ham were generous opponents and, for City, the only real problem was persuading their supporters to leave the pitch so the presentation could begin. "We want to see the trophy," the public announcer reminded everyone, with a crackle of irritation in his voice.

Eventually, it was brought on by three of the players – Ashley Brown, Joel Labotierre and Egan Riley – from City's trophy-winning sides at under-18, under-14 and under-11 level.

Greg Dyke, the FA chairman, had said it would be "pretty depressing" for a team to win the league with only a scattering of home grown English players. This was not a direct riposte from City (it had been planned 10 days ago). But it was still a way of making a point. What a moment for Kompany, too, bearing in mind it was his error at Anfield a month ago that had threatened to extinguish City's chances of glory.

A lesser side might have crumpled, particularly after the clumpy 2-2 draw against Sunderland that left them six points behind the following Wednesday, with only one game in hand. City have made it a victory for resilience. Their song tells us they "fight to the end." The mosaic said: "Together." Among the banners, there was the message: "Nobody remembers who comes second." And City – calm, professional, slick, assured – made absolutely certain the title race had experienced its final twist.

Pellegrini, his medal still round his neck, made sure afterwards to mention the work of his predecessor, Roberto Mancini, but there was another moment later on, analysing a "beautiful great season," when he offered a rare glimpse into some of the issues he inherited.

"Maybe the relations were not the best," he said. "It was very important to have calm, to try to convince them how we can play, and how important it was to be close, all of us."

On the pitch, Kompany could be seen coaxing some of the fringe players to the presentation stage. Joleon Lescott had set up a photograph of the English players and Joe Hart was singing: "We are the quota." Yet there is a great sense of unity among a cosmopolitan squad. As Pellegrini said, there are no factions, no cliques, no disruptions.

Just consider the number of controversies that have accompanied this success (practically zero). Super City have Gone Holistic, to borrow the buzzword they introduced after Pellegrini had replaced Mancini.

They were ahead, five minutes before the interval, when Samir Nasri took a short pass from Yaya Touré and, with nobody closing him down, let fly from 25 yards. Adrián, the West Ham goalkeeper, got his glove to the shot but it was a weak attempt to keep it out.

The ball thudded in off the right-hand post and the Etihad was enveloped in the state of euphoria that culminated in Pellegrini, this man of quiet, measured dignity, getting the bumps from the victorious players. For a few moments, there were even a couple of hairs out of place.

The crowd's nerves had already been soothed because of the news filtering through from Anfield of Martin Skrtel's own goal and Kompany's close-range finish shooed away any lingering doubts. Edin Dzeko applied the first touch and the ball brushed off Nolan to fall invitingly for Kompany, inside the six-yard area. The crowd were on their third Poznan by the time the final whistle turned the pitch into a writhing mass of bodies.

West Ham had plodded through what could conceivably be Sam Allardyce's last game in charge. They defended stoutly for the opening half an hour but it has never been the structure and organisation of Allardyce's team that is in doubt. It is the absence of any real spark or creativity and, if this was the farewell, it petered out unsatisfactorily. They did not manage a single effort on target from their three shots and there was a note of tragicomedy attached to the chance that fell to Andy Carroll midway through the second half.

From West Ham's only real opening, Carroll attempted to bring down Stewart Downing's cross and his first touch sent it out for a corner. He was substituted a few minutes later.

Touré's celebrations were slightly tarnished by the hamstring injury that had forced him out of the game early but before then he had demonstrated again he was a worthy rival to Luis Suárez for the season's individual awards. Martín Demichelis deserves more acclaim than he has actually received for the way he has justified Pellegrini's faith and when the manager was asked about Nasri potentially missing out on France's World Cup squad it was rare to hear him so opinionated. "I can't believe Samir Nasri will not be going," was his verdict. "It will be an important mistake."

More than anything, there was the sense that if City play a wise hand then the Pellegrini era, unlike Mancini's, can sustain success. "Big teams cannot be satisfied with one title," Pellegrini continued. "On Tuesday we start working for the next season."

A meeting has been arranged in Abu Dhabi with Sheikh Mansour. It is just a pity City's owner does not make an appearance in Manchester. He would enjoy what he sees.

Teams
Manchester City:
Hart, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Demichelis, Kompany, Garcia, Yaya Toure (Negredo 86), Silva (Milner 76), Nasri, Aguero, Dzeko (Fernandinho 69)        Unused subs: Pantilimon, Clichy, Jovetic, Lescott   Bookings: Demichelis, Aguero

West Ham United:Adrian, Reid, McCartney, O'Brien, Tomkins, Taylor, Noble, Nolan (Jarvis 64), Diame (J Cole 81), Downing, Carroll (C Cole 72)    Unused subs: Jaaskelainen, Armero, Vaz Te, Collins    Bookings: Nolan, Noble

Referee: Martin Atkinson           Att:47,407

Manchester City 4 Aston Villa 0  One More Point
Wednesday 7th May 2014 : GYKO at the Etihad

They think it's all over, and it probably is now. The difference in demeanour between Manchester City's players at the end and Liverpool trooping sadly out of Selhurst Park on Monday was marked. City were in celebratory mode here, playing to the cameras rather than pushing them away, raising their arms in salute rather than raising the collars of their shirts to hide their tears of disappointment.

This result finally puts Chelsea out of the title equation, and leaves City needing just one point rather than three to secure a second championship in three seasons. The goal difference is up to 13, something not even Liverpool will be tempted to chase after their chastening experience at Palace, not even in a home game against Newcastle.

It would appear that the only danger facing Manuel Pellegrini's side now is to regard this as the finishing post rather than the game against West Ham on Sunday that closes the season. They could be forgiven for feeling that way after Edin Dzeko's double unleashed a tide of emotion and late goals from Stevan Jovetic and Yaya Touré added gloss to proceedings after more than an hour of rising tension. However, given City's experience against Queens Park Rangers on closing day two years ago, that seems unlikely to happen. The patience they brought to bear in this game should also stand them in good stead.

Pellegrini was not here two years ago, but he knows the story. Most of the players were, and they know that there is no such thing as a certainty in sport, especially in this part of the world. Even the City fans have incorporated the giddy events that brought the 2011-12 season to a conclusion into their matchday routine with a chant – "we fight to the end" – that positively obliges Manchester United supporters to point out that a team that twice goes behind in a game that is supposed to be a title parade will usually have to.

Not that many United supporters have the stomach for an argument after the season Old Trafford has just endured. The team that made a virtue out of fighting until the end has little option but to accept that their rivals have stolen both their schtick and their place at the top of the table.

Without the sharpness and mobility of Sergio Agüero the home side made a slow start, enjoying over 75% of possession in the first half hour but doing little with it other than peppering Brad Guzan's goal with a succession of hopeful shots and over-ambitious pushes into the penalty area. Villa have not managed an away win in over two years without Christian Benteke in their side, so there was every reason for City to adopt a patient approach.

According to Brendan Rodgers, a lack of patience was what cost Liverpool dearly in the title race, not against Crystal Palace but against Chelsea. To an extent the home fans appreciated that.

There was no need for Roy of the Rovers football against a Villa side of extremely limited ambition – although Andreas Weimann did give Pablo Zabaleta a run for his money just before the interval when City were caught with far too many players upfield at a corner – but the City crowd had not turned up in the expectation of Billy's Boots football either.

For anyone unfamiliar with that particular comic book hero, Billy was the one who could play like a prince but only in a certain pair of boots. When he mislaid them, had them confiscated, stolen or sabotaged, all events that used to occur with astonishing regularity, he was a terrible footballer, frequently annoying his team-mates with inexplicably laughable misses. That pretty much summed up City's first-half performance, and by the time Touré, Samir Nasri, David Silva (twice) and Aleksandar Kolarov had made Guzan's job easier, rather than harder, by missing the target with plenty to aim for, the locals would have been happy to see the storyline take a turn towards Roy of the Rovers.

Why, it began to be asked, was Álvaro Negredo on the bench when Dzeko was all too clearly having one of his less effective games, whether or not he scored two goals at Everton that put City in this position?

Why were City all buildup and no finish, with an apparently endless succession of low crosses played in towards the six-yard line when Villa were having no difficulty whatsoever in clearing them?

City were seeing plenty of the ball, just failing to use it like a team within reach of the title. Had Guzan been performing heroics in the Villa goal it would have been another matter, but at the interval a thoughtful silence descended over the Etihad. It looked suspiciously like one of those occasions where City might prove capable of beating themselves, or at least allowing their opponents to escape with a barely deserved draw.

Guzan did keep out a goal bound drive from Kolarov at the start of the second half but the pattern remained the same, City were all but beating their fists in frustration against Villa's back line of six.

Pellegrini threw on Jovetic, as he had to, with his side beginning to run out of attacking ideas, and as the rain fell steadily on a typical Manchester night both managers took a technical-area soaking as they contemplated the ongoing stalemate. Finally, as he had on countless previous occasions, Silva slipped a ball through to Zabaleta and this time the ball slid along the six-yard line found Dzeko stealing in ahead of Ron Vlaar and Ciaran Clark.

It was the only time it had happened all night, but it only needed to happen once. The crowd burst into life, Steven Gerrard mockery was back on the hymn sheet, and with the pitch becoming increasingly sodden and sapping, City could see an endgame and begin to relax.

There was even something distinctly Roy of the Rovers about Touré's closing goal, which shows how quickly things can change in a match. With Villa hitting the bar with a chance to bring the game back to 2-1, City should accept the encouragement and heed the warning.

Teams
Manchester City: 
Hart, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Demichelis, Kompany, Garcia, Milner (Jovetic 60), Yaya Toure, Nasri, Silva (Fernandinho 76), Dzeko (Negredo 86)         Unused subs: Pantilimon, Clichy, Lescott, Richards

Aston Villa: Guzan, Lowton, Vlaar, Clark (Robinson 79), Baker, Bertrand (Grealish 88), Westwood, Delph, El Ahmadi, Weimann, Bowery (Bacuna 59)   Unused subs: Steer, Sylla, Holt, Grealish, Tonev        Bookings: Delph

Referee: Michael Oliver                Att:47,023

Everton 2 Manchester City 3      City on the Brink
Saturday 3rd May 2014 : Joe Harris for GYKO at Goodison Park

Two years ago, Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko scored the dramatic late goals that made Manchester City champions. Their contribution at ­Goodison last night was just as vital, as Manuel Pellegrini’s men survived an Everton onslaught to lay one hand on the title. Dzeko scored twice after Aguero had struck to cancel out Ross Barkley’s sensational opener. And the visitors then had to call on all their powers of ­resistance to repel the Toffees after Romelu Lukaku’s reply set up a grandstand finish.

Everton did Merseyside proud – but could not halt City moving to the top of the table on goal difference.

They have a nine-goal  advantage over Liverpool and will lift the Premier League trophy next Sunday if they can beat Aston Villa and West Ham at the Etihad in the space of the next seven days.

Perhaps the title was always going to be decided on ­Merseyside. Steven Gerrard’s slip and Liverpool’s defeat to Chelsea last week prompted opportunity to knock once more for City. City’s record of just one win on Everton soil since 1992 was wretched, given the scale of the revolution that has taken place at the Etihad in the last six years.

Last season, Roberto Martinez tied up Roberto Mancini in knots in the FA Cup Final by employing a three-man defence that enabled him to pack his Wigan midfield. He used the ploy again. And for most of the first period, it had the same effect. Even so, Barkley’s 11th-minute strike was all about technique than tactics. Leighton Baines rolled a pass into Steven Naismith, who found Barkley with a first-time pass.

What happened next was astounding. Thirty yards out, he looked up to see where Joe Hart had positioned himself before curling a glorious right-foot shot into the top corner. It was as if the clock had been turned back 11 years and 16-year-old Wayne Rooney was wearing royal blue. Yes, it was that good. Surely the World Cup calls for the 20-year-old from Wavertree.

Everton had appeals for a penalty waved away when Barkley tumbled under Vincent Kompany’s fine tackle.

And moments later, in the 22nd minute, City were level. Yaya Toure found a pocket of space to link with Aguero, running down the side of Antolin Alcaraz, and the Argentine’s crisp finish flew past Tom Howard at his near post. It was Aguero’s 27th goal of an injury-ravaged season – and he hit the ball with such force that he pulled a groin muscle and limped off.

City’s change of formation at least enabled them to get a grip of the game. And they took the lead a minute before half-time through Dzeko. The Bosnian was thwarted by the legs of Howard after breaking clear. But, when James Milner returned the ball towards the penalty spot from the right, he leaped to direct his header into the corner.

It took a brilliant save by Hart to prevent Naismith bringing Everton level.

But City’s response was to score again in the 48th minute. Samir Nasri teased John Stones before whipping a low ball across the six-yard box and Dzeko couldn’t miss his 23rd goal of the season.

But Everton were back in it in the 65th minute when City’s offside trap broke down and Lukaku met Baines’ cross with a downward header beyond Hart. City had to survive more than six minutes of injury-time to go to the top of the table. But their celebrations at the end said it all.

Teams
Everton:
Howard, Baines, Stones, Jagielka (Deulofeu 66), Alcaraz, Coleman, McCarthy, Osman (McGeady 83), Barkley, Naismith, Lukaku    Unused subs: Robles, Hibbert, Distin, Garbutt, Ledson

Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Clichy, Demichelis, Kompany, Garcia, Yaya Toure (Kolarov 66), Nasri (Silva 74) , Milner, Aguero (Fernandinho 28), Dzeko    Unused subs: Pantilimon, Lescott, Negredo, Jovetic        Bookings: Garcia, Dzeko, Demichelis

Referee: Lee Probert                      Att:39,454

Manchester City Fixtures and results  -  season  2013/14
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