May 2017 - Reports
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Watford 0 Manchester City 5     Watford Gap
Sunday 21st May 2017 : Dean Marshall for GYKO at Vicarage Road

When Manchester City examine the final Premier League table, they will wince at the unacceptable gap between themselves and the top two sides. It will be impossible for them to ignore their need to improve. Pep Guardiola is unlikely to treat himself to a summer of relaxation after enduring the first trophyless season of his managerial career, even though it ended with City securing automatic passage into the group stage of the Champions League thanks to a brutal evisceration of Watford.

They ruined Walter Mazzarri’s farewell in classic Guardiola style, with killer passing, kaleidoscopic movement and wondrous skill, but a squad containing such a vast array of talents must aim higher than third place. They must produce football of this quality on a weekly basis and prove that they possess the durability required to handle the pressure of a title race. “We finished 15 points behind Chelsea,” Guardiola said. “We have to play better.”

For City’s idealistic manager, that means greater refinement and poise. Despite facing criticism during his first year in England, Guardiola made it clear that he will not betray his principles. “We are going to try to play better,” he said. “It is the only way to improve. Not tackles. Not running harder. To play better.”

It seemed that City might win the title at a canter after the Guardiola era opened with six consecutive triumphs in the league, but that start turned out to be a deception once the first cracks in this gifted but flawed team appeared and momentum slipped away. They have underachieved in a manner that their owners cannot have envisaged when they tempted the most coveted coach in Europe to Manchester and there will be changes this summer. Pablo Zabaleta will leave on a free transfer and the defender could be followed by Willy Caballero, Bacary Sagna, Gaël Clichy, Jesús Navas and Yaya Touré, who shared a warm embrace with Guardiola after the final whistle. “I said thank you for everything,” Guardiola said. “It was an outstanding performance.”

Players such as Touré represent City’s past. While Guardiola insisted that he will not sell Sergio Agüero, whose first-half double lifted his tally to 32 goals in all competitions, this squad needs refreshing. It felt unsatisfactory that City arrived at Vicarage Road still unsure of a top-four place.

On a warm afternoon in Hertfordshire, however, they could not have asked for more obliging hosts than Watford, who lined up with a midfielder in central defence because of injury problems, a callow teenager at left-back and two goalkeepers on the bench. If this was Mazzarri’s attempt to make his bosses row back on their decision not to give him a new contract, it backfired badly. Watford’s players hardly broke sweat and Mazzarri did little to endear himself to the home fans by naming Troy Deeney among the substitutes. The Italian received loud boos on the one occasion when he stepped into his technical area.

Watford’s huddle moments before kick-off fooled nobody. Perhaps they were discussing their holiday plans. It was a disingenuous attempt to prove their commitment to the cause and it looked utterly ridiculous once the game began.

City let their sublime football do the talking and Watford held out for five minutes, Kevin de Bruyne swinging in a corner from the right for Vincent Kompany to thump a header past Heurelho Gomes. The marking was pathetic.

José Holebas had already cleared a Gabriel Jesus header off the line in the first minute and Watford’s response to falling behind was feeble. Valon Behrami was hopelessly out of depth alongside Holebas in defence and Brandon Mason, making his first league start, was powerless to stop Jesus on the left. M’Baye Niang’s failure to track back hardly helped the 19-year-old left-back, whose frailties were horribly exposed when Fernandinho charged past him on the way to scoring City’s fourth goal four minutes before half-time.

Mazzarri’s demise will not be mourned in these parts, although he defended his work this season. “When we reached 40 points, we were 10th,” he said. “A less experienced manager would have done worse.”

Yet this was one of the most inept performances from any team in any league this season. Watford offered no resistance and De Bruyne had an embarrassing amount of space to glide into when he turned away from Abdoulaye Doucouré in the 23rd minute before releasing Agüero, who swept a low finish beyond Gomes.

David Silva, as majestic as ever, created City’s third goal with a pass that sent Leroy Sané tearing away from Daryl Janmaat. Sané unselfishly squared for Agüero to tap home his second.

Agüero had chances to complete his hat-trick in the second half, but the Argentinian did play a pivotal role in City’s fifth. Watford had briefly raised their level after half-time, with Stefano Okaka forcing Caballero to make his only save with a powerful drive from the left and Niang shooting wide from a tight angle, yet City soon quelled any suggestions of an unlikely uprising. Agüero burst past Mason on the right and his chip found Jesus, who controlled expertly before scooping the ball over Gomes.

To their credit, Watford’s supporters stuck around to applaud their team during the lap of honour after the final whistle. “You give us a bit of shit from time to time,” Deeney said. “But we deserve it.”

Watford: Gomes Holebas Behrami Janmaat Eleftheriou 39’ Doucouré Mason Capoue Cleverley Amrabat Deeney 59’ Okaka Niang ( Pereira 74’          Unused subs: Gilmartin, Pantilimon, Watson, Zuniga Mosquera

Manchester City: Caballero, Otamendi, Clichy, Kompany, Fernandinho, De Bruyne, Touré (Sagna 63’) Sané (Navas 63’),  de Jesus, Silva, Agüero (Iheanacho 71’)         Unused subs: Kolarov, Stones, Sterling, Gunn

Manchester City 3 West Bromwich Albion 1     Zabba Farewell
Thursday 16th May 2017 : Stuart Warner for GYKO at the Etihad

Manchester City know they have all but secured a place in the top four after a victory over West Bromwich Albion that means they can only be caught by Arsenal on Sunday by losing at Watford and also giving up a five-goal swing in goal difference.
On an emotional night marked by Pablo Zabaleta’s last home outing the victory, despite the fact that Arsenal also defeated Sunderland, means that if Pep Guardiola’s side can win at Vicarage Road they will definitely claim third position ahead of Liverpool or Arsenal in the manager’s first campaign, guaranteeing entry to the Champions League at the group stage.

“We are third so it is in our hands to finish third,” said Guardiola. “We are going to play Watford and win the game. Of course, they [Arsenal] have to score five or six goals against Everton but now we will travel to London to win the game and finish third.” Only a defeat coupled with a sizeable Arsenal win over Everton on Sunday could send City down to fifth.

Guardiola had made two changes to the side which had beaten Leicester on Saturday, dropping Gaël Clichy for Aleksandar Kolarov and Raheem Sterling for Sergio Agüero, each of these players among the night’s replacements. Tony Pulis made three changes as out went Gareth McAuley, James McClean and Sam Field, and in came Claudio Yacob, Marc Wilson and Nacer Chadli.

On 11 minutes came am chorus of “Stand up if you love Pablo”, and the Etihad rose to hail the departing full-back. Next the home fans appealed to Craig Pawson for a penalty after Leroy Sané went down as Allan Nyom challenged him but the referee was unmoved.

Guardiola greeted a hopeful Kolarov punt with frustration as it was hardly the composed pass-and-move stuff he prefers. Yet the ball came to the outstanding Agüero who, after a slip, played in Sané. The German advanced along his left-hand channel then shot but missed, heightening Guardiola’s annoyance.

City took the lead via a slick move. Yaya Touré rolled the ball to Agüero, he flicked delightfully on to Kevin De Bruyne who played in Jesus and no mistake was made. The goal broke the contest open as City doubled their advantage 106 seconds later. Once again Agüero was involved as a link man, the ball passing through him before it eventually came to De Bruyne. The Belgian fired a rocket beyond Foster.

It was the kind of cut-throat quality Guardiola complains is missing from his side. So the manager will have been delighted, but also possibly disappointed that this was only De Bruyne’s sixth league strike.

Vincent Kompany had limped for some of the opening half following a tackle so it was good news for City that he emerged for the second period. While a cheer as loud as those that followed each goal greeted Zabaleta’s trot along the touchline to warm up, Pulis waited only seven minutes to make a change, swapping Wilson for McClean.

City soon scored again, though, and it was simple. Touré played a one-two with Agüero, who dinked another superb pass on, and the Ivorian slotted past Foster.

Guardiola was effusive regarding Agüero. “Gabriel was amazing but today the key player up front was Sergio. He didn’t scored but he helped us to play the third man, he made two or three assists. He made an amazing, amazing performance. Sergio played, wow, like a long time I didn’t see. He didn’t score today but he helped us to make an assists, he made the assist for Kevin and the second one and third double pass with Yaya.

At 3-0 up the City fans could sing “we want Pablo”, and on the hour the fans got their wish. When Kompany was taken off Zabaleta was handed the armband in what was a classy touch. There was also a cuddle from David Silva and particular merriment when Zabaleta upended Salomón Róndon.

Hal Robson-Kanu added a late consolation for West Brom and Guardiola added: “Our performance was a resume of the year. We did well, created chances then conceded a goal and didn’t score as many as we deserved. Our home season was not good. We finished the last three games with a good performance. We dropped a lot of points.”

When the final whistle came the send-off to Zabaleta began. For gifts the 32-year-old who was part of two title-winning sides was given a lifetime season ticket and shirt that read “Zabaleta 333”, to mark his number of City appearances.

He said: “This is probably the hardest moment in my City career for sure. It’s been a wonderful nine years. Sometimes you have to make tough decisions and always think of the best for myself for my family and the club especially, I feel I have done enough.

It’s the right time for me to move on.”

Manchester City: Caballero Otamendi Kompany Stones 74’ Fernandinho Kolarov De Bruyne Sané Touré Fernando 81’ de Jesus Silva Zabaleta 62’ Agüero      Unused subs: Sterling, Gunn, Clichy, Navas,

West Brom: Foster Wilson McLean 52’ Evans Dawson Nyom Livermore Morrison 65’ Yacob Brunt Chadli Fletcher Rondón Robson-Kanu 71’      Unused subs: Field, Leko, K Wilson, Myhill

Referee  Craig Pawson.       Attendance: 53624

Manchester City 2 Leicester City 1
Saturday May 13th 2017 : Gary Cooper for GYKO at the Etihad

A strange, scrappy end-of-season game will be remembered for one of the oddest penalty incidents ever seen in the Premier League.

Leicester were trailing 2-1 with 15 minutes to play when Riyad Mahrez stepped up to take a kick awarded for a trip on him by Gael Clichy. Mahrez has an impressive record from the spot; an equaliser looked the likely outcome. As his kick sailed into the net past goalkeeper Willy Caballero, the visitors celebrated. Prematurely, as it turned out. The Algerian winger, slipping as he took the penalty, had hit the ball with his left foot on to his right. The laws of the game do not allow a penalty taker to touch the ball again until another player has done so. Referee Robert Madley ruled out the goal.

Pep Guardiola was unsympathetic. “In golf it is the same,” he said. “It is the same rule.” Even so, on the weekend that they officially relinquished their Premier League title to Chelsea, Leicester could only curse their misfortune.

It was not their first bad luck of the afternoon, either. Craig Shakespeare’s side had a strong case for arguing that Manchester City’s opening goal should have been disallowed.

Shortly before the half-hour mark, Leroy Sane burst down the left to deliver a low ball into the middle, met by a David Silva mis-hit that bobbled into the net. Raheem Sterling, who looked to be standing in an offside position, swung a leg and missed the ball on its way in. Leicester’s argument that Sterling was interfering with play went unheeded by referee Madley.

“I felt Sterling made an effort for the ball but I wasn’t sure if he is in an offside position,” said Leicester manager Craig Shakespeare. “Having seen the replay, I can see he is in an offside position. It is a clear offside decision.

“A lot of more experienced managers than me have said about the importance of getting support for the referees in terms of video assistance. In terms of the real crucial decisions, that is one that has gone against us today.”

Those two strokes of luck went a long way to securing a City win that moves them a step closer to Champions League qualification. In truth, Guardiola’s side should not have needed those breaks. They looked set to win comfortably after Gabriel Jesus scored a penalty to add to Silva’s opener. The Brazilian striker converted coolly after Yohan Benalouane had sent Sane arcing into the air with a wild sliding challenge.

That City made such a meal of the game after that says much about the improvements Guardiola needs to wring at the Etihad Stadium this summer. The manager has indicated that he plans changes; whether next season’s squad will have room in it for Sergio Aguero is open to debate.

Aguero, City’s 31-goal leading scorer, was fit again after recovering from a groin injury, but played only for the final 12 minutes as a substitute, with Guardiola deciding to stick with the team who had defeated Crystal Palace 5-0 seven days earlier.

That was a stroll. This was not. Having fallen two goals behind, Leicester responded with an outstanding goal shortly before half-time. Mahrez played a ball wide to Marc Albrighton, who had all the time he wanted to deliver a cross, and swung a ball over for Okazaki to lean back and volley viciously into the top of the net.

The second half became an increasingly physical contest, after Albrighton was caught by Fernandinho’s trailing arm as they chased down the touchline for a loose ball. The Leicester winger was furious that the Brazilian escaped without punishment, and the tone of the match became increasingly sour after that.

Jesus was left flat out soon afterwards, having been bodychecked by Christian Fuchs as he ran towards goal, while Albrighton was substituted – perhaps for his own safety – immediately after getting revenge on Fernandinho with a clattering challenge.

Amid the increasingly fractious quality of the contest, Guardiola still found room for sentiment. Pablo Zabaleta, widely expected to leave City this summer after nine years at the club, was brought on as a substitute for the final nine minutes to wild applause. He did his bit to ensure City held on for the win. They just about deserve to be in next season’s Champions League, but they can do far, far better than this.

“In the second half, we didn’t know whether to attack or defend,” Guardiola admitted. “But if we get one more win, we are mathematically qualified for the Champions League, and then we can go to Watford and try to finish third. We are trying to finish the season well.”

Man City (4-1-4-1): Caballero; Fernandinho, Kompany, Otamendi, Clichy; Toure; Sterling (Aguero 78), De Bruyne (Zabaleta 81), Silva, Sane; Jesus (Navas 90).       Substitutes: Gunn, Kolarov, Fernando, Nolito.

Leicester (4-4-2): Schmeichel; Simpson, Benalouane, Fuchs, Chilwell; Mahrez, King (Amartey 68), Ndidi, Albrighton (Gray 80); Okazaki (Slimani 73), Vardy.       Substitutes: Zieler, Wasilewski, Musa, Kapustka.

Referee: Robert Madley (West Yorkshire)

Attendance: 54,407

Manchester City 5 Crystal Palace 0   Riot at the Palace
Saturday 6th May 2017 : GYKO at the Etihad

A match between Pep Guardiola and Sam Allardyce offers one of the Premier League’s more fascinating style clashes. As it turned out, their meeting was barely a contest.

Guardiola’s Manchester City had the guile and style. Allardyce’s Crystal Palace did not show enough of the work ethic required to rough up the aristocrats. The result was a straightforward home win.

David Silva’s return from injury gave City just the pep their manager required; the playmaker marked his 200th Premier League start with a well-taken goal inside the first two minutes, and once Vincent Kompany had made it 2-0 early in the second half, the home side never looked back.

Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Nicolas Otamendi added gloss with further goals to ensure a City win, and increase the likelihood of Champions League qualification. After a fair few stumbles over the last two months, this was a very welcome victory for Guardiola.

The manager has pinpointed a failure in both penalty areas as the chief reason for their failure to mount a title challenge this season. Too often, City have failed to take chances, while conceding too freely. Guardiola’s first season in England has disproved the idea that possession is nine-tenths of the law.

They started well against Palace, they looked as if they would revert to bad habits. Silva’s early goal was followed by half-an-hour of domination with nothing further to show for it, before City nearly lost the lead out of nowhere. The wobble was overcome, though.

“If we had arrived in the last 20 minutes of the game at 1-0, then we would not have won the game,” Guardiola said.

“I said that at half-time to the players: ‘Score a goal or forget about it – we are not able to win.’ It has happened a lot of times this season. I hope next season, we improve on that.”

The opener, City’s fastest in any game this season, came with just one minute and 54 seconds played, as Silva starting and finished the move.

Back from a fortnight out with a knee injury, the Spain playmaker angled a chip towards Raheem Sterling and then, when the cross was half-cleared by Martin Kelly, timed his run perfectly to sidefoot a volley into the corner of the net.

The Palace defence was stretched repeatedly as City sought more, and goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey was alert to beat out two shots from Leroy Sane, who had cut in from the left to drive at goal on both occasions.

Yet for all their pressure, City could easily have lost their lead 10 minutes before half-time, when Andros Townsend got down the right to cross, Christian Benteke climbed above stand-in right-back Fernandinho to head down, and Willy Caballero made a fine one-handed save.

However, Guardiola’s side recovered their composure and extended their lead three minutes after the restart.

After De Bruyne’s corner had been cleared, Silva worked the ball back to the Belgium international, who rolled a pass inside for Kompany to sweep in with a vicious first-time shot.

De Bruyne almost made it three with a dipping 25-yard free-kick that brushed the top of the crossbar, before Hennessey was called into action twice more to deny Fernandinho and Sane.

With his growing influence on the game, De Bruyne deserved a goal, and it arrived shortly before the hour mark, steering a shot under Hennessey and just inside the post after Sterling had held off Schlupp to reach Silva’s header forward and set up the chance.

By now, City were in total control, and the fourth goal had the feel of a training ground exercise about it. Yaya Toure had all the time he wanted to play a diagonal ball towards substitute Pablo Zabaleta, who guided a header back for Sterling to finish from 20 yards.

Palace then suffered what, for Allardyce, must have been the ultimate indignity: Conceding from a set-piece. Their defence dozed as De Bruyne swung in a free-kick, and the unmarked Otamendi could hardly believe his luck as he dived to head in.

Allardyce was not a happy man. “All five goals could have been avoided if we had defended properly,” he said. “That is the biggest disappointment.

“Manchester City, normally when they beat you here, produce outstanding skills but we gifted them easy chances to score and they thrashed us.”


Manchester City (4-1-4-1): Caballero; Fernandinho, Kompany, Otamendi, Clichy; Toure; Sane (Navas 84), De Bruyne, Silva (Zabaleta 67), Sterling; Jesus (Iheanacho 84).   Substitutes not used: Gunn, Sagna, Kolarov, Fernando.

Crystal Palace (4-3-3): Hennessey; Ward, Kelly (Delaney 76), Schlupp, van Aanholt; McArthur, Milivojevic (Flamini 67), Puncheon; Townsend (Lee 57), Benteke, Zaha.    Substitutes not used: Speroni, Sako, Remy, Campbell.

Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland)        Attendance: 54,119

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