November 2016 - Reports
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Burnley 1 Manchester City 2      Tough Test at Turf Moor
Saturday 26th November 2016 : Harry Robinson for GYKO at Turf Moor

Come the end of the season Pep Guardiola may reflect on this victory as one to cherish. Manchester City had to dig deep into their reserves here to overcome a spirited and tenacious Burnley who were only denied another home win thanks to two predatory Sergio Aguero goals.

After a midweek trip to Germany and doubts surrounding Aguero’s fitness beforehand, City fought back after Dean Marney’s sublime early volley and held firm to retain their pressure on Chelsea and Liverpool at the top of the Premier League.

Their goals were certainly not classics, but Guardiola will not mind. Burnley have made Turf Moor a difficult place to come this year but, while this display was a marked improvement on the capitulation at West Brom, City’s quality just edged the admirable endeavour of Sean Dyche’s men.

Not even the veteran goalkeeper Paul Robinson could keep Aguero out, the Argentinian popping up in the right place at the right time to extend City’s unbeaten league run to six matches.

The first half began with Burnley on top but ended with Dyche’s side hoping for the whistle. City took time to get going on a cold and crisp afternoon, lacking sharpness in defence during the early minutes before their quality told.

Aguero started despite concerns beforehand that a foot injury would keep him out, while Aleksandar Kolarov played alongside Nicolas Otamendi at centre-half in the absence of Vincent Kompany.

That defensive pairing was severely tested in the opening 20 minutes, as the claret shirts pressed, hurried and made the most of their own high defensive line. Robinson made his debut in the Burnley goal, starting in the Premier League for the first time since May 2012, and played a leading role at both ends.

The 37-year-old had already produced a fine low save to deny Aguero in the seventh minute, before an almighty punt upfield resulted in the opening goal. Out of nothing Robinson hoofed deep into the City half, Otamendi half-cleared with a looping header only for Marney to run onto the ball and release a precise volley past Claudio Bravo into the bottom corner.

Burnley had earned their lead, putting both City full-backs under concerted pressure and generally making life uncomfortable for their opponents, but the goal was an unexpected piece of brilliance. It was Marney’s first in the Premier League for 2558 days, since scoring for Hull against Everton in November 2009.

It was the impetus that City needed to spark them into life. Gradually they grew into the game and began to exert a period of dominance, Aguero slicing wide from the edge of the area before Yaya Toure ran free down the right and fired wide of Robinson’s near post.

But they did not wait long for an equaliser. Good work from Raheem Sterling forced a corner and, after a scramble inside the six-yard box, the ball squirmed to Aguero at the far post and he poked into the net from close range.

Both Marney and Johann Gudmundsson were forced off in the closing stages of the first half with injuries, meaning Burnley shuffled their midfield and a makeshift central four including replacements Scott Arfield and James Tarkowski hung on until half-time.

Burnley returned with renewed vigour and a crunching challenge from Ben Mee forced Sterling off injured, but as the England winger hobbled round the touchline in front of the City supporters – with Lero Sane the replacement – Aguero put his side in front.

Again it was a close-range goal, and again Aguero got his positioning just right. In the 60th minute City broke forward down the left, the ball was played centrally and after Toure tumbled to the ground amid half-hearted penalty appeals, Fernandinho hooked back across goal from the touchline and Aguero scrambled it in.

Burnley fought hard as the minutes slipped away, Michael Keane going close only to be denied on the line by Kolarov and Ashley Barnes’ late bicycle kick saved by Bravo, but City’s good form continues.

Burnley (4-4-1-1): Robinson; Lowton, Keane, Mee, Ward; Marney (Arfield 40), Defour (Barnes 80), Hendrick, Boyd; Gudmundsson (Tarkowski 43); Vokes.

Subs not used: Pope, Gray, Flanagan, Kightly.

Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Bravo; Sagna, Otamendi, Kolarov, Clichy; Fernandinho, Fernando; Toure, Sterling (Sane 57), Nolito (De Bruyne 78); Aguero (Navas 89).

Subs not used: Caballero, Zabaleta, Silva, Iheanacho.

Referee: A Marriner      Attendance: 21,794

Borussia M'gladbach 1 Manchester City 1    German Stale Mate
Wednesday 23 November 2016 : Dru Smeilhousen for GYKO at Borussia Park

Given the breadth of his achievements, qualifying Manchester City for the Champions League knockout stages was a pretty low bar for Pep Guardiola. It has, however, been a rather more troublesome journey than City’s manager might have anticipated, especially away from the Etihad Stadium.

This was not on the scale of the debacle at the Nou Camp, nor did it reach the frantic excitement of the 3-3 draw at Parkhead but it was still a fiercely-competitive night that saw each team suffer a sending-off.

Barcelona’s victory over Celtic meant Manchester City cannot top the group, which may not be a disaster. As it stands, both Real Madrid and Bayern Munich are on course to finish second. At Bayern, Guardiola had never particularly enjoyed his games against Borussia Monchengladbach and this was no different. The side who in Manchester in September had suffered their heaviest European defeat since a Sparta Rotterdam side featuring Louis van Gaal thrashed them 5-1 31 years before, proved they could still be a thorn in his flesh.

It had been a weird couple of days for German football. On Tuesday night Borussia Dortmund had beaten Legia Warsaw 8-4 while before this game kicked off, Bayern Munich had somehow contrived to lose 3-2 at Rostov despite having 21 shots on goal and more than three-quarters of possession.

This match, too, did not follow an expected pattern, right through to the two sendings-off. For a team that had performed so pitifully over its last six matches that Monchengladbach’s manager, Andre Schubert, remarked he was counting the days to the Bundesliga’s winter break, Borussia began very well.

They tackled, they hassled and in Lars Stindl they had someone who was not afraid to impose himself on Guardiola’s midfield. A few minutes after the interval, already on a yellow card, Stindl imposed himself rather too much on Nicolas Otamendi and was dismissed.

For someone supposedly skippering his team, it was ludicrously stupid, especially as Borussia had already lost Ibrahima Traore to injury. They now had to play a Guardiola team for 40 minutes with 10 men. In fact it was eight because Fernandinho, who was also on a yellow card, pulled back Raffael and was sent off, to the fury of his manager. The contest became a very open 10 vs 10.

Stindl's role in the opening goal was something for him to look back on with something other than frustration. Midway through the first half, John Stones had made a mess of trying to contain him. The Monchengladbach captain squared the ball for Raffael, who had scored against Manchester City here last season. The Brazilian appeared to have taken one touch too many but appearances were misleading and the 31-year-old's next touch was to send the ball thundering past Claudio Bravo.

Monchengladbach had taken the lead last year but had made the mistake of trying to nurse the lead and lost the match. Now, they kept pushing forward and when Oscar Wendt muscled his way past Fernandinho, Bravo was forced to spread himself superbly to prevent Borussia’s second.

By then, Guardiola had been forced to alter his tactics. The back three with which Manchester City had begun the evening was abandoned, a move that saw Jesus Navas playing right back and Raheem Sterling swapping flanks. Immediately, City looked a different, better-balanced team.

For a side whose last Champions League fixture had seen them sweep aside Barcelona, City had begun looking anaemic in everything but their kit. They were playing in orange and purple, the colours of the B&M Bargains logo.

It was Kevin De Bruyne who raised their play above the bargain basement. First, he produced the ball that Ilkay Gundogan brought beautifully under control and then, almost in the same movement, lashed low to force Yann Sommer into a fine save. Gundogan grew up not far from here, in Gelsenkirchen, and for his family who had come to watch, this was a moment to savour.

As the electronic scoreboard counted down to half time, Manchester City relentlessly increased the rhythm. Sterling, breaking through, probably should have shot but pulled the ball back for Sergio Aguero, whose drive was gathered by Sommer at the second attempt. Then, in stoppage time, De Bruyne, with wonderful athleticism, pulled a cross back from the byline and David Silva, anticipating brilliantly, restored the evening to its expected course.

Borussia Monchengladbach (4-2-3-1): Sommer; Elvedi, Christensen, Jantschke, Wendt; Dahoud (Vestergaard 60), Strobl; Traore (Hoffmann 41), Stindl, Johnson; Raffael.     Substitutes: Sippel (g), Schulz, Benes, Hofmann, Hahn, Rutten.

Manchester City (3-2-4-1): Bravo; Otamendi, Stones, Kolarov; Fernandinho, Gundogan; Navas, Silva, De Bruyne; Sterling (Sagna 68); Aguero.                Substitutes: Caballero (g), Fernando, Nolito, Sane, Clichy, Iheanacho.

Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey)

Crystal Palace 1 Manchester City 2    Silva Joy at Palace
Saturday 21st November 2016 : Carl Meadows for GYKO at Selhusrt Park

Pep Guardiola can presumably expect a phone call this week from Yaya Touré’s agent, the Spaniard’s bête noire Dimitri Seluk, demanding his client is handed a pay rise. After all those much publicised “misunderstandings in the past”, for which the player had recently, if belatedly, apologised, Touré is restored to the fray and contributing significantly once again. The absence has done little to blunt his dramatic timing.

He was decisive with two goals to condemn Crystal Palace to yet another defeat, a fifth in succession, while hoisting Manchester City on to the shoulder of league leaders Liverpool. Touré was clapped back into the visitors’ dressing room by his team-mates and already boasts as many Premier League goals this season as Paul Pogba across Manchester with United. He will be aching on Sunday, his body screaming in protest after a first league start in six months, but a player who had felt a fading memory of a bygone era only a few weeks ago suddenly appears to be an asset again.

“I was desperate to play because it has been so difficult for me,” said Touré in the aftermath, with that a brief acknowledgement to the months of exile which were finally ended with an apology. “My team-mates are very important to me and have always been brilliant, and I was prepared mentally. I knew, one day, my manager would need me again.”

That day arrived here. Guardiola will never see eye to eye with the unrepentant Seluk, whose outbursts had prompted the schism, but the cessation of that stand-off with the midfielder could yet prove significant in this team’s title pursuit. This was a slog against a Palace side desperate to arrest a recent alarming slide, the contest degenerating into a scrap from its opening exchanges. But, where City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo kept out Christian Benteke and Jason Puncheon poked wide, Touré capitalised on the visitors’ clearest sights of goal.

He had been sauntering on the periphery up to the moment another member of the old guard, Vincent Kompany, trudged off dizzied by a head injury. With him went leadership, with Touré filling the breach. The hosts had always felt vulnerable when Raheem Sterling tested the unconvincing Martin Kelly, though Palace did not help their makeshift left-back. In the 39th minute there was indecision from James McArthur and a poorly directed pass from Andros Townsend before Kelly, unnerved by Sterling’s presence, blindly scuffed a clearance in-field to Kevin De Bruyne on the edge of the box. City patiently pulled markers out of position before Touré swapped passes with Nolito and saw his shot flick up from James Tomkins and in.

That was his first league goal since March though a second, seven minutes from time, would be required to claim victory. City had been stung by Palace’s 66th-minute equaliser, their pressure oppressive thereafter, but would end up prospering from a set piece as so many have against the home side’s rearguard to date this term. De Bruyne’s corner was clever, slid into the six-yard box with Palace braced to repel an aerial assault. The hosts had not replaced the substituted Benteke at the near post, but more mystifying was their slackness in leaving Touré, a man-mountain, unattended in the centre. Even he looked surprised to be presented with a tap-in.

“He is a special player,” said Guardiola. “I would say his performance is not down to my decision [to select him], but it’s about his quality. Yaya’s physical condition is better than ever. He’s now a real part of the team again and can help us achieve our targets. We need this kind of player. But you know the reason why he has not been playing up to now…”

Guardiola’s admission that City had been “lucky”, having been made “so uncomfortable” by Palace’s aggressive approach, was no consolation for the locals. Some of the home support, united pre-match and during the game in memory of those who lost their lives in the Croydon tram derailment earlier this month, took their frustrations out on Alan Pardew, with the team now hovering a point above the relegation zone and pointless since September.

This was a more combative and even organised performance, with Connor Wickham’s rasping shot having deservedly forced them level midway through the second half. But there is disorganisation and panic at key times, with Touré’s winner now added to a lengthy list of unforgivable concessions from set-plays. Pardew claimed that “is not us” but recent history suggests it has become the norm.

Saturday’s trip to Swansea already feels critical. “It doesn’t look good at the moment with the results we’ve had,” added Pardew. “And yet our performances suggest we can turn it around. We need to do that quickly. I’m comfortable that we have a good distance to get ourselves in a better place, and we have games coming up where we need to take points.”

Pardew’s side were watched here by the major shareholder, Josh Harris. These are tricky times.

Crystal Palace : Hennessey Dann Ward Kelly Sako 86’ Tomkins Cabaye Zaha McArthur Puncheon Townsend Wickham 46’ Benteke Lee 81’          Unused subs:  Flamini, Delaney, Speroni, Mutch

Manchester City: Bravo Sagna Kolarov Otamendi Kompany Zabaleta 38’ De Bruyne Nolito Silva 67’ Sterling Touré Fernandinho Agüero Fernando 85’        Unused subs:  Iheanacho, Sané, Navas, Caballero

Referee: Robert Madley. Attendance: 25,529.

Manchester City 1 Middlesbrough 1    No Fireworks
Saturday 5th November 2016 : GYKO at the Etihad

Middlesbrough’s last two away games have seen them come away from first Arsenal and now Manchester City with a point. Another week, another modern stadium, sponsored by a Gulf airline and another reason to believe that their return to the Premier League might last longer than a single season.

At Arsenal, they had spoiled the celebrations for Arsene Wenger’s 67th birthday and here they pricked the afterglow of Manchester City’s fabulous victory over Barcelona on Tuesday night.

Middlesbrough ought to have gone the same way as the Catalans but in stoppage time George Friend sent in a deep cross that Marten de Roon met with a header that powered the ball past Claudio Bravo.

Pep Guardiola, in long, knee-length overcoat, looked flabbergasted to see a game that ought to have been won by a landslide snatched from his grasp. On the final whistle, De Roon flung his shirt into the delirious away supporters while those who wore blue walked away from the Etihad Stadium in the realisation that not all football flows to a consistent pattern – especially when you do not take your chances.

The game turned when Sergio Aguero converted one of the many chances City created because it forced Middlesbrough to alter their tactics.

Bryan Robson, the man who briefly made football in Middlesbrough glamorous, used to say that most futile possible tactic when Manchester United were in their pomp was go to Old Trafford and play for a goalless draw. Sooner or later you would crack.

These days, you try for a 0-0 in the blue half of Manchester at your peril. The wonder was not that Middlesbrough cracked, it was that they held out for so long. When Aguero put Manchester City ahead it was the 18th shot aimed at Victor Valdes’s goal. Put another way, City were having a shot at goal once every two-and-a-half minutes.

No team could expect to receive that kind of pounding and survive and, two minutes from the interval, Kevin De Bruyne produced a low, diagonal ball that Aguero ran between Boro’s two central defenders to clip past Valdes for his 150th goal for Manchester City. There were two-and-a-half minutes remaining, time enough for another shot which Jesus Navas sent crashing on to the outside of the post.

As someone who was Jose Mourinho’s assistant at Real Madrid, the Middlesbrough manager, Aitor Karanka, would have had considerable experience of going head-to-head with Guardiola.

Aguero’s goal at least forced Boro out of their own half and within a minute of the restart Alvaro Negredo almost brought them level in extraordinary circumstances.

Negredo was more than a bit-part player during his time at the Etihad and had his wife not wanted to take the family back to Spain, he might have really established himself in Manuel Pellegrini’s side.

When he scored twice in the League Cup semi-final against West Ham in January 2014, it was the 23rd goal of the season for a centre-forward who traded under the nickname of ‘The Beast’. It was mid-January and, whether or not it was because the need to return home was starting to make itself felt, there were to be no more.

However, he remains a fine player and now he picked the ball up on the halfway line and, spotting the almost unemployed Bravo wandering on the edge of his own area, he launched a shot that but for some furious back-peddling from the Manchester City keeper might have drawn Middlesbrough level.

Tuesday night’s fabulous victory over Barcelona manifested itself both in the surging confidence that swept Manchester City forward in the early part of this game and the tiredness that came calling for them as the match wore on.

The first half was played almost wholly in the Middlesbrough half and increasingly in Boro’s area, where Victor Valdes, who had kept goal for Guardiola in the Nou Camp, pulled off some fine saves. A fall-out with Louis van Gaal turned Valdes’s time at Old Trafford into a wasteland but now he was able to show a part of Manchester precisely what he was capable of.

Manchester City: (4-2-3-1) Bravo; Zabaleta, Stones, Kolarov, Clichy; Fernandinho, Gundogan (Nolito 74); Navas (Garcia 86), De Bruyne, Silva; Aguero (Iheanacho 90). Substitutes: Caballero (g), Kompany, Sane, Maffeo.

Middlesbrough: (4-1-4-1) Valdes; Barragan, Chambers, Gibson, Friend; Clayton; Downing (Fischer 78), De Roon, Forshaw, Traore (Stuani 90); Negredo. Substitutes: Guzan (g), Fabio, Espinosa, Leadbitter, Nugent.

Referee: Kevin Friend       Attendance: 54294    

Manchester City 3 Barcelona 1     Barca Battered and Bruised
Tuesday 1st November 2016 : GYKO at the Etihad

It was a thrilling, breathless night, full of everything that football at its highest level should be, and when it was all done Manchester City could reflect on the kind of result they have craved since the bags of gold arrived from Abu Dhabi and the story of this club changed forever. They had not only beaten Barcelona but they had done it the hard way, coming from behind, and they have spent so long waiting for a victory of this magnitude it automatically takes its place as their most gratifying in the Champions League to date.

Any success against a side featuring Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez has to be cherished but perhaps the most satisfying part for Pep Guardiola’s team is what it showed about their competitive courage and the shift in mentality compared with City’s previous attempts to overcome perhaps the most beautifully constructed club side there has ever been.

City played with a level of self-belief that has never been witnessed in these assignments. No one could accuse them of being cowed in the presence of the team Guardiola described as “the best” and there has never been a night when so many of their A-listers have reached the point of maximum expression all at once. Kevin De Bruyne can reflect on an evening when he outshone a four-time Ballon d’Or winner. Ilkay Gündogan, with two of the goals, had his finest game yet in City’s colours and, finally, after six attempts, this fiercely ambitious club knows what it is like to confront Barcelona and do the tormenting rather than the other way around.

True, there were long, difficult periods when Messi, Neymar and Suárez bewitched them with their speed, thought and movement. Nicolás Otamendi still does not seem to comprehend that the most accomplished centre-halves stay on their feet and Guardiola’s first comment in his post-match press conference was to find fault with the team’s first-half display. Yet City had their own attacking trident in De Bruyne, David Silva and Sergio Agüero and, ultimately, those three wore down their opponents. De Bruyne’s free-kick to make it 2-1 was a peach but his through ball in the buildup to Gündogan’s second goal was another reminder of his exquisite ability. Raheem Sterling added his own menace and, as a test of nerve, Guardiola’s men passed with distinction.

More than anything, they did not seem afflicted by the inferiority complex that has shaped previous encounters. They rode their luck at times, most notably when the ball came off Agüero’s hand before the final goal. There was a period in the first half when the game threatened to run away from them – “we were really in trouble,” Guardiola reflected – and Messi’s goal, following a stunning breakaway, was not the only time the home side left the suspicion they still lack a certain amount of defensive knowhow.

Yet City deserve immense acclaim for refusing to buckle and they can also look back to the moment, 11 minutes in, when the Hungarian referee, Viktor Kassai, made the kind of mistake that felt incongruous for a night of football royalty. Kassai was badly mistaken to think Sterling had tried to deceive him into awarding a penalty and City would have gone away with legitimate grievances if they had lost the game from that point.

Television replays confirmed Samuel Umtiti had clamped his left foot on Sterling. It was a clear penalty and for a while the soundtrack to the night was of raucous disgruntlement. Too much was happening, however, for the crowd to linger on the injustice and, if nothing else, that incident might also have encouraged the home side to think Barcelona were vulnerable at the back.

Guardiola had talked beforehand about Barça’s habit of “provoking mistakes” from their opponents but now it was happening the other way around, too.

“In the first 38 minutes we saw the best team in the world,” Guardiola said of his former club. But everything changed with the calamitous pass that Sergi Roberto subsequently aimed across his own half. Agüero was first to the loose ball, turning it to the right for Sterling to drive into the penalty area. Sterling decided against shooting and his pass across the six-yard area was weighted perfectly for Gündogan to turn in the equaliser.
Selfless Sergio Agüero lights spark that fires Manchester City to victory

Suddenly the home side looked reinvigorated, with De Bruyne becoming increasingly influential after the interval. The Belgian’s free-kick was the outstanding moment of the night, aimed expertly into the top corner of Marc-André ter Stegen’s goal, and he was superb during those exhilarating passages when City attacked from every angle and there was the rare sight of a Barça team looking rattled in the extreme.

There were still plenty of occasions when City’s opponents showed, in flashes, their attacking brilliance and an almighty scare for the home team when John Stones and Otamendi both reminded us of their occasional frailties only for André Gomes, teed up by Suárez, to thud his shot against the crossbar. That, however, came at a point of the game when City were creating chance after chance. Agüero was fortunate not to be penalised for the handball that left Gündogan with a simple finish for his second goal but it was also true that Barça suffered during the second half in a way that is seldom seen. That alone made it feel like a special occasion.

The downside for City was Fernandinho’s injury and they will have to learn they cannot defend as recklessly as they did for Messi’s goal, stemming from an attack of their own that left seven of Guardiola’s players, including three-quarters of their defence, stranded at the other end of the pitch. Overall, however, there was the sense that City had reached new heights. They looked like a team with nothing to be afraid of.

Man City: Caballero, Zabaleta, Otamendi, Stones, Kolarov, Sterling, De Bruyne, Fernandinho, Gundogan, Silva, Aguero.
Subs: Gunn, Kompany, Fernando, Nolito, Jesus Navas, Clichy, Iheanacho.

Barcelona: ter Stegen, Sergi Roberto, Mascherano, Umtiti, Digne, Rakitic, Busquets, Andre Gomes, Messi, Luis Suarez, Neymar.      Subs: Cillessen, Denis Suarez, Turan, Rafinha, Alcacer, Nili, Marlon.

Referee: Viktor Kassai (Hungary)     Attendance: 53340


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