Manchester City 4
Viktoria Pilzen 2 Czech Mate
Wednesday 28th November 2013 : GYKO at the Etihad
Joe Hart made a blemish-free first
club appearance for a month and Manchester City can
still win Group D although that will be difficult given
the final game is at the home of the European Cup
holders, Bayern Munich.
Each of these headlines should please Manuel Pellegrini, but City's slipshod defending and application is less palatable to a manager who demands consistent high performance. Until Alvaro Negredo tapped in 12 minutes from time and Edin Dzeko's late header confirmed the win, Viktoria Plzen were heading for a first point of the phase which, given City's superior quality, was hardly desired.
Despite fielding a B-list defence featuring Hart, Micah Richards, Martin Demichelis, Joleon Lescott and Aleksandar Kolarov, Pellegrini pointed at deficiencies in the whole side. "One of the most important things to be an attacking team is to know how to defend well," he said. "Today we did very, very bad. I am satisfied because we won the game 4-2, but I think we didn't play well – we didn't play with the intensity and the pace we are playing at home.
"I am not talking about just Richards and Lescott, I am talking about the whole team. The whole team must know how to defend. We didn't have the intensity or the pace today to do it and I am not talking about individual players."
There were kinder words for his goalkeeper. "I think Joe Hart played very well. I didn't expect that he would have to work so much during the game because I think this is the match when the other team, including Champions League and Premier League, had the most chances to score," the manager said.
Pellegrini was not prepared to say if Hart had done enough to start against Swansea City here on Sunday. "From tomorrow we will start thinking about the next game. Now we are talking about the Premier League."
Pressed again if the thinking is that Costel Pantilimon remains in his strongest side until the Romanian's form dips, Pellegrini did offer Hart a glimmer of hope. "I repeat, today I am thinking about Champions League. From tomorrow, we will start thinking about who is the best 11 to start for the next game, from the goalkeeper to the other players," he said.
Hart had been given the nod by Pellegrini in an XI containing only three first-choice players – Fernandinho, Sergio Agüero and Samir Nasri – with the rest second-stringers, a category into which the England goalkeeper has fallen.
When the Plzen captain, Pavel Horvarth, swung in a free-kick from the right it went straight at Hart for him to collect. This was the sum of all questions posed to Hart until the 24th minute, when another aerial delivery was once again taken smoothly.
Then he released Agüero quickly with a punt downfield from which the striker might have given City the lead. Instead Firat Aydinus, the referee, wrongly whistled for an infringement on the edge of the area and though Agüero went on to finish, it counted for nothing.
Hart should then have had to pick the ball out from his goal twice. He could do nothing when Frantisek Rajtoral was allowed to slip through unchallenged before fashioning an effort that if either a decisive shot or pass should have given Plzen the opener. Instead, the ball rolled harmlessly wide of Hart's right-hand post. There was an even clearer chance when Daniel Kolar left Lescott behind and squared to Michal Duris, but his glancing effort was misdirected.
Moments later, Rajtoral was adjudged to have handled in the area and the referee pointed to the spot. Agüero, on 15 goals in 15 appearances this season beforehand, duly maintained his goal-a-game ratio, giving Matus Kozacik no chance.
Yet as half-time beckoned Plzen shocked City, scant resistance from the midfield allowing Tomas Horava to collect and beat Hart with a piledriver shot to his right.
Agüero's removal for Jesús Navas at half-time proved a precaution – "Sergio hasn't any problems. He knew from the beginning that he was going to play just 45 minutes," Pellegrini confirmed – before the excellent Nasri appeared to have won the game for City by finishing from close range for his third of the season.
But a mix-up in the home area reminiscent of the away form that has handed City four losses in their last six league outings allowed Stanislav Tecl to score Plzen's second goal.
If Negredo and Dzeko had not intervened, Pellegrini would have been even more unhappy. As it was he was left a relieved man who could afford to praise the opposition. "Yes, they played very well. It is a merit of Plzen the way they play. I saw the last game they played against Bayern Munich, I thought they did really well," he said. "I talked to the players before and said if you give them space and time they will do damage."
Hart, Richards, Kolarov, Demichelis, Lescott, Garcia, Fernandinho (Yaya Toure 64), Milner, Nasri (Negredo 74), Aguero (Navas 46), Dzeko
Unused subs: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Boyata, Huws Bookings: Milner, Yaya Toure, Demichelis
Viktoria Plzen: Kozáčik, Rajtoral, Procházka, Čišovský, Limberský, Hořava, Horváth, Petržela (Kovarik 74), Kolář (Bakos 86), Ďuriš (Wagner 89), Tecl
Unused subs: Bolek, Hejda, Hubnik, Reznik Bookings: Cisovsky
Referee: Firat Aydinus Att:37,742
Manchester City 6
Tottenham Hotspur 0 Spurs
Sunday 24th November 2013 : GYKO at the Etihad
With this surrender Tottenham Hotspur may well have sealed their status as the Premier League's most expensive array of misfits.
They are the André Villas-Boas team who are supposed to be a slick winning machine following a £110m summer spend but they performed again like a group of strangers.
To be 5-0 down after 55 minutes also offered the latest evidence of the glaring gap left by a certain Welshman. After 11 matches that had yielded only nine goals Spurs came into this contest pining for Gareth Bale. He was the 26-goal man signed by Real Madrid for a £86m fee that was reinvested (plus a further £24m) in Paulinho, Nacer Chadli, Roberto Soldado, Etienne Capoue, Vlad Chiriches, Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela.
In this splurge Villas-Boas hoped major surgery would transform his squad from the Bale-and-supporting-cast show to a force that offered myriad threats coming at the opposition from all areas and angles. By the break this appeared fanciful.
While their form at White Hart Lane has been poor – winning three and losing two of their six league outings – on the road Spurs had conceded only once, so the sight of Jesús Navas doubling this tally after 14 seconds to start the longest of afternoons was hardly encouraging.
Tottenham were 3-0 down at half-time, via a Sandro own goal and Sergio Agüero's 41st-minute strike, as the view formed that this could be yet another of the routs handed out here this season.
Spurs were the latest patsies for City at an arena that has witnessed the 4-1 shellacking of Manchester United, a 7-0 humiliation of Norwich City, and the 5-2 hiding of CSKA Moscow, the standout wins of a home record that had produced a perfect 15 points, contrasting sharply with Spurs' travails before their own crowd.
As Agüero (again) and the excellent Álvaro Negredo confirmed the visitors' fate before the hour thoughts turned to the XI sent out by Villas-Boas, and the tactical uncertainty he displayed during the match.
There was no Andros Townsend. The winger who has made a flying start to the challenge of replacing Bale was named as a substitute only, and by the time the manager completed his replacements on 61 minutes he had still failed to field Townsend.
While the word was that England's newest hope was not carrying an injury and had been dropped for football reasons, at half-time Villas-Boas did find a role for Emmanuel Adebayor, whose latest incarnation as a renegade footballer had him training with the youth team until the manager included him here.
"We've taken into account that a lot of players travelled and are tired," Villas-Boas said before the match. "Emmanuel Adebayor worked extremely well during this international break. It was the right time to bring him back and he gives us further options if we want to change the system."
This was what he decided to do at the break when he substituted Lewis Holtby for Adebayor only for this new two-pronged striker shape to last a mere 15 minutes before the manager decided Roberto Soldado should also be removed for Gylfi Sigurdsson, a midfielder.
Spurs had begun in a 4-1-4-1 formation that had Sandro as the base of midfield and Lamela, the club's record £30m signing making a first league start, Paulinho, Holtby and Aaron Lennon behind Soldado. But the manner in which City were virtually welcomed through their defence by Villas-Boas's side suggested too many remain players off message and tuned in to differing wavelengths.
Sandro told the Observer on Sunday: "It's difficult when new players come for everyone to understand what the new players want. I don't know, no one knows. This takes time to understand in training and games. It's not easy for players coming from another country."
The counter to this argument is that highly paid footballers are hired precisely because they can make a respectable fight of proceedings one game into a season, never mind 12. This and Villas-Boas's baffling selections – Jermain Defoe joined Townsend as the other head-scratching omission – are the chief concerns as the congested winter programme begins.
By the close Navas had made it 6-0 and the occasion of Villas-Boas's 50th Premier League match in charge had left him a stone-faced and lonely figure.
Of his team's triumph, Manuel Pellegrini said: "It is impossible to play better than today." For Spurs, the same is true in reverse: it does not get any worse.
On the same date last season Spurs had three points fewer than their current 20 and were a place back. But with the champions, Manchester United, at White Hart Lane on Sunday and with two straight defeats after the 1-0 loss at Newcastle United last time out in the league, the serious questions will start in the white section of north London.
Pantilimon, Clichy, Zabaleta, Demichelis, Nastasic Lescott 46), Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, Nasri (Milner 77), Navas, Negredo, Aguero (Garcia 69)
Unused subs: Hart, Richards, Dzeko, Guidetti Bookings: Yaya Toure
Spurs: Loris, Walker, Vertonghen, Dawson, Kaboul, Sandro, Paulinho (Dembele 61), Lennon, Holtby (Adebayor 46), Lamela, Soldado (Sigurdsson 61)
Unused subs: Friedel, Chiriches, Townsend, Defoe Bookings: Sandro, Walker, Vertonghen
Referee: Howard Webb Att:47,228
Manchester City 0 Another
Disaster at the Stadium of Light
Sunday 10th November 2013 : Brian Beddow for GYKO at the Stadium of Light
Wes Brown and Phil
Bardsley are emerging from very
different forms of rehabilitation but
these two seemingly reborn Manchester
United old boys revelled in reinforcing
the idea that trips to Wearside spell
purgatory for Manchester City.
Underpinned by Brown's superb central-defensive performance on his first Premier League start for 22 months, Bardsley's unexpectedly accomplished winner secured Sunderland's fourth successive 1-0 home league victory against City.
It is the sort of sequence beloved by statisticians but what really matters is that Gus Poyet's team now harbour realistic ambitions of escaping relegation. Along the way his deployment of Ki Sung-yueng as a deep-lying, smooth-passing, ball-retaining, central midfielder left Yaya Touré a study in vexation.
Many more days on the road like this, meanwhile, and Manuel Pellegrini's hopes of masterminding a title challenge will soon be scuppered. A fourth defeat in only six league away trips suggests a serious flaw in City's collective mindset.
Poyet's initially contentious decision to extract Bardsley from Sunderland's deep freeze following the full-back's exile under Paolo Di Canio in the wake of a couple of well-documented misdemeanours continues to pay dividends.
This most unlikely hero's journey gathered pace with his second goal in two games. Meeting Brown's long pass, Bardsley surged into the area, shrugging James Milner aside before looking up, cutting on to his right foot and slipping a beautifully weighted, awkwardly angled shot past Costel Pantilimon and on into the bottom far corner. Sitting on the bench Joe Hart might have been forgiven for thinking the Romanian goalkeeper should have done a little better but it was not a bad finish for a natural right-back filling a gap on the left.
Milner may argue he was the victim of a minor foul but Bardsley's assurance rewarded Sunderland for some patient, intelligent, often short passing as their five-man midfield clearly heeded Poyet's instructions to "take much better care of the ball".
Brown's ability to build play from the back proved a huge help. After nearly two years wiped out by serious knee problems during which time the 34-year-old centre half at one point resorted to controversial sugar injections in the joint and later talked Di Canio out of cancelling his contract and retiring him, he played as if on a mission to make up for lost time. It seemed far from a fluke that his reappearance coincided with Sunderland's first clean sheet of this league campaign. Indeed watching Brown and John O'Shea back in defensive tandem it was hard to credit that they were marshalling the Premier League's most porous backline against its most potent attack.
Instead the customary attacking supply lines to Alvaro Negredo and Sergio Agüero were frequently severed. Touré and Javi García appeared increasingly frustrated after being repeatedly denied room for manoeuvre by the influential Ki, adroitly screening his back four, and the almost equally impressive Jack Colback.
On loan from Swansea, Ki may have begun on the bench had Lee Cattermole not been serving his latest suspension yet long before the end the South Korean seemed integral to the implementation of Poyet's vision.
Ki was key to Sunderland's progress, but Poyet also experienced a significant piece of luck when Sebastian Larsson escaped unpunished after a high, arguably over the top tackle on García. Had Mike Dean seen the incident properly, the referee might well have produced a red card.
Garcia did not appear for the second half due to an ankle problem triggered, presumably by the Swede's challenge. His place went to Jesús Navas in a switch which involved Milner's relocation to central midfield.
Navas made a near instant impact, dodging Adam Johnson before delivering a cross which Negredo headed over the bar. All inventive incision, the winger's arrival reinvigorated a suddenly possession-monopolising City.
Yet although Vito Mannone made a terrific save to keep out Agüero's wickedly swerving shot, Sunderland's goalkeeper – preferred to Keiren Westwood - was surprisingly under-worked for long periods. Granted Bardsley's block prevented Navas scoring following Agüero's cut back, but City's customary fluidity and seamless positional inter-changing was strangely absent.
Eventually Pellegrini, by now shaking his head repeatedly in evident puzzlement, had seen an unusually subdued Negredo tightly marshalled for long enough and replaced him with Edin Dzeko. A late visiting attacking onslaught ensued but the Chilean was still left pondering precisely how his hideously expensive, extravagantly gifted side have only accrued four points from a possible 18 on their travels.
Brown, Bardsley, Ki, Colback and company had done just enough to not only preface a bout of sustained final whistle fist pumping on Poyet's part but leave Sunderland virtually within touching distance of escaping the relegation places.
Mannone, Celustka, Bardsley, Ki, Brown, O'Shea, Johnson (Borini 87), Larsson, Fletcher (Altidore 77)Colback, Giaccherini (Gardner 72)
Unused subs: Cabral, Westwood, Diakité, Mavrias
Manchester City: Pantilimon, Richards (Zabaleta 71), Demichelis, Lescott, Kolarov, Milner, Toure, Garcia (Navas 46), Nasri, Aguero, Negredo (Dzeko 71)
Unused subs: Hart, Clichy, Boyata, Rodwell Bookings: Garcia
Referee: Mike Dean Att:40,137
Manchester City 5
CSKA Moscow 2 The Beast Mauls the Reds
Tuesday 5th November 2013 : GYKO at the Etihad
A club with Manchester City's
ambitions will always want more but, after everything
that has gone before, they will cherish what it is like
to qualify for the knockout stages with something to
spare. It is a new feeling in these parts, having
endured more disappointments in the Champions League
than they will probably care to remember, but finally
they have made it. At the very least that is a clear
sign of improvement.
True, there were times when Manuel Pellegrini's team lapsed into carelessness but not, as we have seen before, originating from the kind of anxiety that has held them back in this tournament over the last couple of seasons. The mistakes had their origins in complacency, stemming from their own superiority. This is always a risk when there is such an imbalance of talent and the home side have blitzed their opponents with three goals inside the opening half an hour.
Another two arrived in the second half, as Álvaro Negredo rounded off his hat-trick, meaning City have now accumulated 12 goals in four days. Sergio Agüero managed the first two against CSKA, on a night when both of City's forwards demonstrated their penalty-box expertise, and it was only a passing irritation that Seydou Doumbia, the Russian side's Ivory Coast international striker, scored a couple of his own. On both occasions the visitors were three goals behind, bamboozled by the speed and incisiveness of City's attacking. As Pellegrini pointed out afterwards, there were another half a dozen opportunities to add more goals.
Group D has brought its occasional traumas and nobody should get too carried away bearing in mind the memories are still vivid of Bayern Munich dismantling City on this ground a month ago. Yet CSKA and Viktoria Plzen have been obliging opponents and Pellegrini's cosmopolitan team, again featuring no Englishmen in the starting XI, won this match with a mix of panache and impatience.
Agüero, in devastating form over the past month, was instrumental in it and has now gone above Franny Lee as City's leading scorer in European competition, with 12 goals. Even ignoring the expertise with which he took his goals, the nutmeg on CSKA's right-back, Kirill Nababkin, late in the first half was a joy. His pass for Negredo's first goal, picking out the Spaniard at the far post, was not too shabby either. Agüero has made a habit of creating goals for his team-mates recently, a provider and finisher playing at the point of maximum expression.
Negredo has quickly established himself as a crowd favourite, serenaded with chants of "feed the Beast and he will score" in a modern variation of the old Shaun Goater song. Samir Nasri is playing with the kind of confidence that was seen too infrequently last season. David Silva, such a clever and elusive opponent, was prominently involved from the start, coaxing the challenge from Zoran Tosic that led to Agüero opening the scoring from the penalty spot. Fernandinho was culpable for a mistake in the build-up to Doumbia's first goal but City, for the most part, had control of midfield. Costel Pantilimon also had a reasonable night overall, after a slightly erratic first half that saw him make a total hash of one attempted punch.
Agüero's penalty was elegantly taken, high into the top left-hand corner of Igor Akinfeev's goal, but it was his second goal that really epitomised his confidence, latching on to Nasri's pass then turning the nearest opponent, Aleksei Berezutski, and picking his spot with a side-footed finish.
When he crossed for Negredo to make it 3-0 it was tempting to wonder whether CSKA might suffer the kind of ordeal that was inflicted upon Norwich at the weekend. Instead Fernandinho missed a challenge in midfield and suddenly Doumbia was running clear, going round Pantilimon before turning the ball into the net.
That might have enveloped the stadium in anxiety during some of their European ties in the Roberto Mancini era. Instead City quickly reasserted their authority. Five minutes into the second half Yaya Touré dinked a little chip into the penalty area. CSKA's defence did not react, hoping for an offside flag, and Nasri waited for the ball to drop then flicked it into Negredo's path for another close-range finish.
For a while the pace dropped, with any faint prospect of a CSKA comeback now extinguished. Fernandinho had gone off at half-time, replaced by James Milner, which at least meant Roy Hodgson's scouts did not have an entirely wasted trip. Silva and Nasri were also removed in the second half and, though City continued to hog possession, their passing was no longer so sharp and penetrative.
All the same Doumbia's second goal, like the first, came out of nothing, the forward wriggling past Gaël Clichy and then bundled over by the Frenchman for a penalty that he took himself. Shortly before, Negredo had almost completed his hat-trick in spectacular fashion, volleying over after a lovely, improvised turn had taken out two defenders. Instead his third goal was far more orthodox as he headed in Milner's cross at the far post. He and Agüero now have 22 goals between them this season and City, at last, can look forward to remaining a part of this competition beyond the turn of the year.
Manchester City: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Clichy, Demichelis, Nastasic, Yaya Toure, Fernandinho (Milner 46), Nasri (Navas 77), Silva (Kolarov 66), Aguero, Negredo
Unused subs: Hart, Richards, Lescott, Dzeko Bookings: Yaya Toure
CSKA Moscow: Akinfeev, Wernbloom, Ignashevich, Berezutski, Honda (Vitinho 78), Nababkin, Musa (Zuber 45), Tosic, Milanov (Elm 46), Schennikov, Doumbia
Unused subs: Chepchugov, Vasin, Rahimic, Bazelyuk Bookings: Tosic
Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo (ESP) Att:38,512
.Manchester City 7
Norwich City 0 Ruddy 'Ell
Saturday 2nd November 2012 : GYKO losing count at the Etihad
Costel Pantilimon will look back on
this afternoon with fondness, although as an audition to
become the new Manchester City No1 this was a non event.
By the time Edin Dzeko's late strike consigned Norwich City to a 7-0 humiliation the home team had their biggest win of the Premier League era – and in the top flight since recording the same score against Burnley in 1968 – and the best fillip for Tuesday's Champions League encounter here with CSKA Moscow.
On the day Joe Hart finally heard the executioner's song as Manuel Pellegrini axed him for Pantilimon, the news got better for the 26-year-old after John Ruddy, a prime contender for his England jersey, had a shocker of a first half.
Explaining his decision, City's manager said: "For this game I think that Joe needs a rest, it could be useful for him. He played the last two and a half years every match here, every player can have a bad moment and we will work hard behind Joe so that he can return to his normal best performance as soon as possible."
Pellegrini was vague regarding the time Hart might return. "I don't know. I only know that he must work very hard, he knows he must do it," the Chilean said. "I am sure he will return to his normal performance."
By the time the teams wandered off at the break it was 4-0, the contest felt over, and Ruddy had been at fault for two of those goals while also appearing unsure under the high ball.
With Pantilimon watching from the metaphorical armchair at the other end, Ruddy's opening howler allowed City to go two up. This occurred when the excellent Samir Nasri, who led City's symphonic attacking forays, swept a left foot pass into Sergio Agüero.
The Argentinean, who remains the standout performer at the club, considered the shot. Instead, from the left of Norwich's area, he played the ball to David Silva. The Spaniard let fly but instead of repelling the shot Ruddy allowed it to creep under his body.
While the 27-year-old had not been at fault for City's opener – a Silva shot ricocheted off Russell Martin before Agüero's follow-up took a deflection from Bradley Johnson beyond Ruddy – the goalkeeper was liable for the third.
This arrived on 25 minutes. Nasri floated in a corner from the right that landed on Matija Nastasic's head and though there was a slight bounce off Martin, Ruddy, diving to his left, saw the ball creep under an arm.
At this juncture Pantilimon, on his Premier League debut, probably felt life among the elite was a stroll and Hart might have been found cursing his luck at missing a canter of an outing.
Álvaro Negredo, who would be replaced at the break by Dzeko, added the fourth when Agüero coasted into the area and rolled the ball to his striker partner to slot in.
The prevailing sense now was that City could clock up as many as they wished. By the hour mark the count was 5-0. Yaya Touré continued his new habit of curling a 25-yard free-kick from the left past the opposing goalkeeper. The offering that beat Ruddy in this fashion was his fourth, to follow those against Newcastle United, Hull City and Fulham.
In the first half Pantilimon had actually been called into action. He began this sequence by acquitting himself finely by stretching his 6ft 8in frame to his right to tip Anthony Pilkington's long-range shot wide. But from the ensuing corner Hart's replacement was indecisive as the ball looped in front of him before bouncing to safety.
Yet with Agüero later adding a sixth deep into the second half ahead of Dzeko's finish this was a mere footnote as the focus moves to Tuesday and whether Pellegrini retains Pantilimon.
For Chris Hughton the inquest starts, with Norwich's manager confident he can turn around a side with eight points from 10 games. He said: "I have confidence in my own ability and in the players. We have been in this position before, although not after a defeat like we have had today. We need to put it to bed as quickly as possible and be far better next week. You have to be resilient but you can't concede the goals we did. For our standards they were too soft, except the Yaya Touré free-kick and one that was offside."
What Roy Hodgson, the England manager, made of the unconvincing display from Hughton's No1, as a pretender to Hart, is of material interest in this World Cup season. Despite two sharp saves from Jesús Navas and Martin Demichelis towards the end of the game, for the Norwich keeper, after fluffing his big chance, today had proved an unfortunate case of "Goalkeeping: Ruddy, hell."
Manchester City: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Clichy, Nastasic, Demichelis, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, Silva (Navas 73mins), Nasri (Milner 71mins), Aguero, Negredo (Dzeko 46mins)
Unused subs: Hart, Richards,
Kolarov, Lescott Bookings: Zabaleta
Norwich City: Ruddy, Martin, Olsson, Johnson, Turner, Bassong, Whittaker (Murphy 46mins), Howson, Hooper (Elmander 46), Fer, Pilkington Unused subs: Bunn, Hoolahan, Garrido, Becchio, R Bennett Bookings: Turner
Referee: Phil Dowd Att:47,066