October  2015 - Reports
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Manchester City 2 Norwich City 1    Late Late Show
Saturday 31st October 2015 : GYKO at the Etihad

Here was the dullest of games with the liveliest of endings, thanks to clangers from each goalkeeper in the last 10 minutes of the match. Joe Hart appeared to have presented Norwich with a share of the points seven minutes from the end when he dropped Robbie Brady’s cross to leave Cameron Jerome the simplest of tap-ins, and he must have been the most relieved man in the stadium when John Ruddy returned the favour five minutes later.

The Norwich keeper came out to claim the ball and stranded himself at the edge of his area, allowing Raheem Sterling a shot at an unguarded net that Russell Martin could only divert with his arm. The Norwich captain received a red card as a result, while Yaya Touré slotted home the penalty to keep his side at the top of the table. Even then there was still time for Hart to redeem himself with a fine save from Martin Olsson that denied a second Canaries comeback, and for Aleksandar Kolarov to miss another penalty with the last kick of the game after Brady had brought down Sterling.

There was plenty to talk about in the end, though it was all packed into those final 10 minutes. Before that Manchester City had been making conspicuously hard work of seeing off a resolute Norwich side, conserving energy for their trip to Sevilla on Tuesday perhaps but displaying a lack of attacking ideas and invention that will encourage their Champions League opponents. Spanish scouts will also have noted below-par performances from Touré and Kevin De Bruyne, and the fact that Wilfried Bony is far from lethal in front of goal. “Norwich defended very well,” Manuel Pellegrini pleaded in mitigation. “They made it very difficult for us to find space.”

Norwich boasted a flat back five and a plan to stay compact behind the ball, which worked for over an hour even if it did invite the home side to camp out on the edge of their area.

Bony three times had chances to open the scoring but found Ruddy equal to his first speculative effort, then he missed the target completely from a better opportunity set up by Kelechi Iheanacho. Having swooped on to the ball and past Sébastien Bassong in one imperious surge the striker seemed to have done all the hard work, only to allow Ruddy and the Norwich goal a reprieve by firing into the crowd. Bony had just put another shot wide from De Bruyne’s pass when Norwich almost scored on the counterattack, Matt Jarvis showing more accuracy than Bony from Brady’s diagonal ball forward and bringing a good save from Hart. While it would have been completely against the run of play Norwich could have put themselves in front before the interval.

City did not have a great deal to show for almost three-quarters of the first half possession. Pellegrini was boasting in the match programme about his side having scored 18 goals in the previous four home games and at half-time he must have been demanding to know where the attacking desire had gone. Early in the second half he made the obvious change, sending on Sterling in place of Iheanacho. The 19-year-old had not looked out of place on his first Premier League start – just prior to his withdrawal he had created an opening for Bony that Bassong had to be alert to snuff out – though between them the front pair were not really giving Norwich too much to think about.

These are the sort of games in which Touré can usually step up to make a difference, though the Ivorian was quiet and when the breakthrough came it was a defender who scored from a set piece. Norwich must have been kicking themselves. De Bruyne swung over a corner in one of his last acts before being substituted and Nicolás Otamendi rose unchallenged to nod firmly past Ruddy from close to the penalty spot for his first league goal for the club.

It all felt a bit anticlimactic really, after all the goals that had rained in during October, though no one had any idea of the drama still to come. “It feels like we chucked away a point,” Alex Neil said when the dust had settled. “We thought it would be naive to go toe-to-toe with City so we set up to defend, we were doing well, and for basic errors from individual players to let us down was extremely frustrating.”

Manchester City:   Hart, Sagna, Kompany, Otamendi, Kolarov, Toure (Demichelis 90+4), Fernandinho, Navas, De Bruyne (Fernando 73), Bony, Iheanacho (Sterling 57)       Unused subs: Caballero, Mangala, Garcia, Roberts     Bookings: De Bruyne

Norwich City: Bennett, Martin, Bassong; Brady, Mulumbu (O'Neil 70), Tettey, Olsson; Howson, Jarvis (Redmond 46), Jerome (Grabban 87)
Unused subs: Rudd, Whittaker, Hoolahan, Dorrans        Bookings:  Jerome, Martin (sent off)

Referee: Richard Madley           Att:53,418

Manchester City 5 Crystal Palace 1    Iheanacho's Raid on the Palace
Wednesday 28th October 2015: GYKO at the Etihad

The Capital One Cup has lost its last representatives from the capital. Crystal Palace were left flying the flag for London but they encountered a northern powerhouse, in the shape of Manchester City, and were duly dispatched from the competition.

Alan Pardew had overseen City’s elimination last season, when his Newcastle side won at the Etihad, but the sequel had an altogether sorrier ending for the 54-year-old, who suffered his heaviest defeat as Palace manager. Wilfried Bony, Kevin De Bruyne, Kelechi Iheanacho, Yaya Touré and Manu García secured a fifth win in six games for the 2014 winners, who host Hull in the quarter-finals and must be the favourites to regain this trophy.

If this was another exhibition of attacking potency, a sense of freshness was the most encouraging element. City are accustomed to seeing expensive signings strike but the presence of two products of their youth system on the scoresheet was welcome indeed for a club with aspirations to develop their own players. Their fifth goal was made in the academy, with the 17-year-old García sweeping in the 19-year-old Iheanacho’s pass.

The Spaniard made his home debut, the Nigerian his full debut. Each was an auspicious occasion. Iheanacho, who was named the outstanding player in the 2013 Under-17 World Cup, had struck a minute into his senior career against Palace last month, prompting calls from supporters for him to be unleashed sooner. It was a populist gesture by Manuel Pellegrini to grant him a maiden start. “I had no doubts,” said a manager who is not renowned for trusting teenagers. The forward scored one goal, made two more and performed with the verve and assurance to suggest he belongs on this stage.

“He is not just a striker and not just a finisher,” said Pellegrini. “He always played with his head up so he made two important assists.” Indeed, Iheanacho illustrated his passing range, along with the maturity to make the right decision. City’s second goal, just before half-time, was a case in point. He skipped clear and while everyone else converged at the near post, calibrated his cross perfectly to allow De Bruyne, arriving unseen at the far post, a tap-in.

The favour was returned for the third goal. De Bruyne provided a low centre and Bony dummied to give Iheanacho the chance to deliver a composed finish. That was a highlight of Bony’s night; so, too, was the header to open the scoring, when he stooped to meet Aleksandar Kolarov’s corner as Adrian Mariappa lost the Ivorian. “Every time they had a great chance, they punished us,” said Pardew.

That was not strictly true. De Bruyne could have had a hat-trick, with Wayne Hennessey making one outstanding save; Bony perhaps should have had one as well. His performance was akin to a curate’s egg. He scored, almost supplied another and, without touching the ball, contributed to City’s third goal. He also scuffed a shot at Hennessey and skewed another embarrassingly high over the bar after the purposeful Fernando had fashioned the most inviting of chances with a surging run.

Bony’s patchy display mirrored a stop-start City career, which has now spanned nine months and brought only five goals. With Sergio Agüero hamstrung this sequence of four successive starts is his first chance of an extended run in the side, but there is a case for Iheanacho to leapfrog him in the pecking order. “Kun is impossible to replace,” said Pellegrini. “But Bony knows he has the trust of me and the team.”

A second Ivorian joined him among the goals when Damien Delaney wrestled Eliaquim Mangala to the ground and Touré scored from the resulting penalty. García’s stoppage-time goal took City’s tally to 16 goals in three domestic games at the Etihad, rendering Sunday’s stalemate in the Manchester derby still more of an anomaly. “This is the way we normally play,” said Pellegrini. “Maybe it was an accident on Sunday that we couldn’t create chances.”

Both sides fashioned plenty. Palace were afforded hope by the wretched Willy Caballero. Pellegrini’s preference is to pick Joe Hart’s deputy, an ally from their time together at Málaga, in the cups, but his inability to cope with the crossed ball renders him a liability. The victory was achieved despite, not because, of his presence in goal. Palace’s two clearest openings were created by Caballero, first spilling Jordon Mutch’s cross at the feet of Joe Ledley, who blazed over, and then coming for, and missing, Mutch’s free-kick. Mile Jedinak’s header would have crossed the line but for Martín Demichelis, sweeping up behind the errant goalkeeper. Caballero contrived to cost himself a clean sheet by allowing Delaney’s late header to escape his grasp but the real blight on City’s night involved another Argentinian.

Pablo Zabaleta had already had his head bandaged after a collision with Yannick Bolasie – “Yala had over 10 stitches,” said Pardew – before he thudded into a challenge with Wilfried Zaha and was carried off on a stretcher. “Pablo had the same injury he had two months ago,” said Pellegrini. “The same ligament, the same knee.” The right-back will have a scan onThursday, and a period on the sidelines seems inevitable.

Manchester City: Caballero, Zabaleta (Sagna 56), Mangala, Demichelis, Kolarov, Fernando, Yaya Toure, Navas, De Bruyne (Roberts 75), Iheanacho, Bony (M Garcia 84)           Unused subs:  Hart, Barker, Otamendi, Kompany             Bookings: Kolarov

Crystal Palace: Hennessey, Kelly, Jedinak, Dann, Mariappa, Mutch (Chong-yong 75), Ledley, Zaha, Bolasie, Delaney, Bamford (Gayle 77)
Unused subs: McCarthy, Ward, Hangeland, Campbell, Sako   Bookings: Zaha

Referee: Paul Tierney         Att:40,585

Manchester Utd 0  Manchester City 0       Bus Well and Truly Parked
Sunday 25th October 2015 : Glenn Porter for GYKO at OT

This was the first goalless draw in this famous fixture since November 2010 and given the disappointing quality on show, it was a fair result. Yet Manchester United came close to claiming the city’s 170th derby as the end neared.

Anthony Martial was the best player on show and after 84 minutes he illustrated why. Stepping inside from the left-wing position Louis van Gaal had asked him to occupy again, he flipped a precise pass in to Jesse Lingard. The second-half substitute stuck out a leg to instinctively volley and was unlucky to see the ball rebound from Joe Hart’s crossbar.

Moments later Chris Smalling struck a knockdown from Marouane Fellaini – another replacement – at Hart and he saved well.

This late action made the preceding dour fare seem all the more disappointing. Martial appears to be wasted when not operating as the No9. Wayne Rooney again played there and was as ineffective as he has been for a while, and this may have been why Van Gaal refused to answer post-match questions about the captain’s form.

Yet Manuel Pellegrini was also to blame for not seizing the initiative. With David Silva injured, Kevin De Bruyne is the natural No10 for City yet he was stuck out on the right and Yaya Touré, who is no quick-minded reader of games, played behind Wilfried Bony. “We must try to choose the starting 11 that is better for the team,” said Pellegrini when defending his selection.

Eleven minutes passed before there was a shot on goal. It came from Raheem Sterling and the pause-then-shoulder-drop inside United’s area was reminiscent of when he showed the composure that secured him a hat-trick against Bournemouth the previous weekend.

No goal followed but United had been given a warning. Moments later, City received the same. This time it was Martial. He also displayed youthful zest in skipping past Fernandinho, drawing the foul and the latter’s entry into Mark Clattenburg’s book for a yellow card. When the 19-year-old was felled again moments later Rooney sent in a dipping free-kick that was awkward though the City defence did enough to repel it.

Touré’s position at No10 meant he was expected to join the attack as City roved forward. He did so when Sterling released the ball from around halfway. Here was a chance to launch a buccaneering run at David de Gea’s goal. The 32-year-old did just that but after Marcos Rojo raced across from left-back Touré lost conviction and the Argentinian cleared.

The hope for Van Gaal would be that faith in Rooney as the leader of the attack would be vindicated by the forward offering more than at CSKA Moscow in midweek. Yet the half hour came and went and beyond his free-kick Rooney’s only headline act was to have staples administered to a head wound.

Phil Jones will not have been pleased with his standout contribution as the interval approached. A header that should have been a clearance or left for De Gea to collect was spooned out for a corner.

Five minutes before the teams wandered off Touré aimed a free-kick at De Gea’s goal that was deflected for a corner, headed wide the subsequent cross and later banged a shot wide. For United, Rooney had punted a 45-yard pass straight out of play and that was about it for the home side.

It had not been a great match and the hope was that it would get better. Yet the suspicion remained that it could be the first goalless Manchester derby since that at the Etihad Stadium five years ago.

Neither manager made a change at half-time. United’s starting XI had one adjustment from the draw at CSKA, Van Gaal reinstating Juan Mata for Lingard.

Pellegrini had provided the headline team news by selecting Vincent Kompany after omitting him from the previous two games due to disquiet at the captain’s appearance for Belgium in a Euro 2016 qualifier following a calf injury. The manager, who dropped Eliaquim Mangala, had also switched Aleksandar Kolarov for Pablo Zabaleta and Fernando for Jesús Navas.

As with the majority on show, none of these players made any material impact. Martial had done so, however, and now conjured more magic from which United might have scored. The forward’s clever footwork allowed him to offload the ball to Bastian Schweinsteiger. He passed to Mata who did the same to Ander Herrera and the latter pulled the trigger and won a corner.

From this United again threatened seriously. First Sterling might have conceded a penalty when tangling with Herrera – Van Gaal believed the winger had done so but Clattenburg was unmoved. Then, from a second corner, Mata’s delivery was headed by Smalling across Hart and the ball bounced to safety.

City were in siege mode. United had them pinned and defending desperately. Schweinsteiger can be laboured yet he still had enough about him to make a patsy of Kompany by selling him a dummy inside the area. The cross went for a corner and when this was cleared Rojo’s stabbed intervention rolled to Mata, who seemed clear until Hart punted the ball away.

The stalemate that seemed the certain result duly occurred on what was a good day for Arsenal. City move back to the top only on goal difference from them. United are two points back in fourth. City, United and the Gunners may make it a three-way fight for the title all the way until May.

Manchester United: de Gea, Valencia (Darmian 81), Jones, Smalling, Rojo, Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger (Fellaini 75), Mata (Lingard 66), Herrera, Martial, Rooney       Unused subs:  Depay, Carrick, Blind, Romero      Bookings: Mata

Manchester City: Hart, Sagna, Kompany (C), Otamendi, Kolarov, Fernando, Fernandinho, Toure (Demichelis 77), Sterling (Navas 55), De Bruyne, Bony (Iheancho 83)        Unused subs:  Caballero, Zabaleta, Mangala, Roberts    Bookings: Fernandinho, Kompany

Referee: Mark Clattenburg      Att:75,329

Manchester City 2 Sevilla 1        De Bruyne to the Rescue
Wednesday 21st October 2015 :GYKO at the Etihad

It was one of those chaotic and jubilant finales when we were reminded why Manchester City’s supporters like to sing about the way their team fight to the end. It had been a disjointed performance and, in the most awkward spells, it was difficult not to watch their latest attempt to get to grips with the Champions League and wonder whether Manuel Pellegrini will ever be capable of finding the keys to unlock the secrets. Yet they persevered and the electronic scoreboard had ticked into its 92nd minute when Kevin De Bruyne decided to take control.

What followed was a demonstration of why City have made the Belgian their £54m record signing. The elite players can deliver in the high-pressure moments and when De Bruyne took Yaya Touré’s pass he would have known it was probably his team’s last opportunity. Sevilla had been too ambitious, looking for a winner of their own with too many players out of position, but De Bruyne still had a player to beat and was outside the penalty area when he drew back his left foot to take aim. The accuracy of that shot was exquisite, skidding across the turf and going in off the post, completely changing the complexion of Group D before these sides renew acquaintances at the Estadio Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán 3 November.

City had also won their previous match, against Borussia Mönchengladbach, in stoppage time and their knack for late drama is dragging them through at a time when everyone connected with the club, whether it be in Ardwick or Abu Dhabi, must wonder when everything will finally click in Europe.

Pellegrini, so often accused of lacking tactical nous in the Champions League, also deserves some credit for the way he changed his team in the last quarter of an hour. Wilfried Bony was replaced by Fernando and that was the point when De Bruyne moved into the striker’s role. “We had gone at least 15 to 20 minutes when we didn’t create a chance,” Pellegrini explained afterwards.

A few minutes earlier Raheem Sterling had released a quick through ball and Bony did not anticipate that he could be set free. That was one of Bony’s final acts although, in mitigation, he did play a prominent part in City’s equaliser, an own-goal by the centre-half Adil Rami six minutes after Yevhen Konoplyanka had given Sevilla the lead.

Without Sergio Agüero and David Silva it was probably inevitable that City would not be at their most exhilarating. Pellegrini, incensed by Vincent Kompany playing for Belgium during his rehabilitation from a hamstring injury, also chose to leave City’s captain on the bench for a second successive match, preferring to go with Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolás Otamendi as his centre-back partnership.

Pellegrini is entitled to be annoyed but Kompany is still the best organiser City have in defence and there was a makeshift feel to this back four. Mangala did plenty of good things but he and Otamendi also leave the impressive sometimes that if the opposition keep pressing a mistake will eventually happen.

There are also signs that the Argentinian Pablo Zabaleta is not the player he once was and it was probably no coincidence that Sevilla also threatened on the side where Bacary Sagna was filling in as left-back. City were susceptible in the full-back positions all night.

Sevilla are 13th in La Liga but they have beaten Barcelona recently and the Europa League champions quickly made it apparent they wanted to examine City’s occasionally brittle nerve in this competition. They moved the ball quickly and with imagination and they also had that knack of knowing when to speed up play and when to slow it down. Konoplyanka was a constant threat and they had enough chances to feel they ought to have won the game.

Konoplyanka had already thudded a free-kick against the upright, with Joe Hart and the entire City defence anticipating a cross, before the Ukraine international opened the scoring on the half-hour, capping off a 10-minute spell of concerted pressure.

Vitolo had run free on the right and the cutback fell invitingly for Konoplyanka in the middle of the penalty area. His right-foot shot picked out the bottom corner and at that stage the home crowd could have been forgiven for a feeling of deja vu that this was another night when City’s deficiencies might be laid bare against European opposition.

The equaliser was fortunate in the extreme and, though the public announcer credited it to Bony, it would be enormously generous if it was not logged as an own goal. Bony had merely jutted out his left leg after Sterling’s shot came back off the goalkeeper Sergio Rico.

Jesús Navas, facing his old club and having one of his best games for a while, started the move. Yaya Touré eluded Timothée Kolodziejczak on the byline and from Bony’s leg the ball took a final ricochet off Rami to wrong-foot Rico before plopping into the corner of the net.

City continued to ride their luck bearing in mind the moment, 10 minutes into the second half, when Kévin Gameiro turned a header over the crossbar from only six yards out. Gameiro was unmarked and at this level that sort of chance is rarely spurned. Sevilla had let the home side off the hook and De Bruyne made them pay.

Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta (Kolarov 60), Mangala, Otamendi, Sagna, Yaya Toure, Fernandinho, De Bruyne (Kompany 90+2), Navas, Bony (Fernando 76), Sterling          Unused subs: Caballero, Demichelis, Barker, Glendon    Bookings:  Bony

Sevilla: Rico, Tremoulinas, Rami, Kolodziejczak, Coke, Krychowiak, Iborra, Konoplyanka (N'Zonzi 79), Vitolo, Banega (Krohn-Dehli 66), Gameiro
Unused subs: Soria, Reyes, Andreolli, Llorente, Ferreira      Bookings: Iborra, Gameiro

Referee: Bas Nijhuis       Att:45,595

Manchester City 5 Bournemouth 1          Stirling Performannce
Saturday 17th October 2015 : GYKO at the Etihad

This was a day when Raheem Sterling offered a sweet answer to those who believe his finishing is powder-puff. By the break, the Manchester City forward had three goals to become the 11th player under 21 to net a hat-trick in the Premier League era.

Manuel Pellegrini said: “He is improving and I’m sure he will score more goals than when he played for Liverpool.”

With City’s big three of David Silva, Sergio Agüero and Vincent Kompany missing, Sterling showed precisely why he was purchased and the depth of quality the Sky Blues possess.

With Silva and Agüero already out having suffered injuries while playing for Spain and Argentina respectively, Kompany joined them as an absentee from the starting XI. The captain played for Belgium in their Euro 2016 qualifier against Israel despite a recent calf injury and his training was restricted on his return; a critical Pellegrini said: “Kompany was on the bench having only worked one day.”

City required only 11 minutes, though, to suggest the gilded trio would not be missed. They were 2-0 ahead, Sterling had his third for the club and Wilfried Bony a first of the campaign.

Sterling’s opener came when Fernandinho swept a diagonal ball on to Pablo Zabaleta’s head. He nodded the ball back into the danger area, Bony stuck a foot in and Sterling, hanging near Adam Federici’s right post, slotted the finish.

Bournemouth were trying to steady themselves when Pellegrini’s team doubled the lead. This was an untidy affair for Eddie Howe’s side. Bacary Sagna, operating at left-back due to Aleksandar Kolarov’s hamstring injury, pinged over a cross. Federici, fatally, spilt this, and Bony was ruthless. Federici was in the XI only because Artur Boruc felt “discomfort in a thigh” during the warm-up, Howe said, though he did not offer this as an excuse.

Was this now to be the proverbial duck shoot for City? The answer, on the evidence thus far, seemed in the affirmative. But the defensive frailties that are often the corollary of Kompany’s absence cost the home team. Glenn Murray was the lone forward in Howe’s 4-5-1. He had seen close to nothing of the ball yet when possession came to him he ran at Eliaquim Mangala, the defender stood too far away, and he fired a 25-yard shot past Joe Hart.

That was 2-1 and only 22 minutes had gone. The game’s fourth goal arrived before the half-hour. This time all from Sterling was supreme. Kevin De Bruyne placed a lovely pass into the England man, who proceeded to skate past Steve Cook and Sylvain Distin, before shooting beyond Federici.

Going forward City were smooth operators; when the Cherries took the contest to them they could be disjointed. Nicolás Otamendi offered an illustration when up-ending Charlie Daniels. The Argentinian was booked and Matt Ritchie swung a free-kick at the home rearguard that dropped into the area and was awkward to repel.

Sterling’s first-half parade was about to be completed. The referee, Mike Dean, was in look-at-his-watch territory with half-time approaching when Hart hoofed a ball downfield. As Federici hesitated Jesús Navas received the ball and, after creating space, took aim. The rebound came off Federici to Sterling. With one of those feints defenders hate, he bought a fraction and banged the ball in for the hat-trick.

Sterling said: “It’s my first and I’m delighted. I get quite a lot of chances and it’s something I’ll keep working on and hopefully get better at.”

For the second period City lined up without Yaya Touré, who was replaced by Fernando. “It was not with Sevilla [in the Champions League] in mind, it was with Yaya in mind – to give him a rest,” Pellegrini said.

It made scant material difference to them when moving forward. Bony should have added a fifth when shooting at Federici but found the keeper’s gloves. Sterling also spurned a golden chance. Bony threaded the ball to him and the attempted rolled finish went wide.

Bony, did, finally, make it 5-1, to follow the 6-1 here against Newcastle. It meant City confirmed their status as leaders and Sterling could depart smiling broadly

Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Mangala, Otamendi, Sagna, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure (Fernando 46), Navas, De Bruyne (Nasri 62), Sterling (Iheanacho 78), Bony      Unused subs: Caballero, Kompany, Demichelis, Roberts      Bookings: Sagna, Otamendi  

Bournemouth: Federici, Daniels, Francis, Distin, Cook, Gosling, Surman, Smith (Pugh 78), O'Kane (MacDonald 65), Ritchie, Murray (King 74)
Unused subs:Bennett, Cargill, Kermorgant, Tomlin

Referee: Mike Dean      Att:54,502

Manchester City 6 Newcastle United 1    King Aguero
Saturday 3rd October 2015 : GYKO at the Etihad

Sergio Agüero scored five goals in 20 minutes as Manchester City moved back to the top of the table by running riot against Newcastle. As remarkable a scoring feat as that is, it was all the more astonishing for being utterly impossible to predict at half-time, when City were jeered off the field by their own supporters.

For poor old Newcastle, still searching for their first win and in front for much of the first half, this result was even more cruel than Chelsea’s late comeback on Tyneside last week. At least they salvaged a point from that match. Here, despite more than holding their own in a first half they shaded, they were blown away by a second half explosion that appeared to come from nowhere.

City could have taken the lead in the first few minutes when Tim Krul could not quite hold a Kevin De Bruyne free-kick at the foot of his right post. An almighty goalline scramble ensued but somehow Newcastle survived. A couple of minutes later Kevin Mbabu got in the way of a close-range Agüero header and that was all the home side managed to create in the first half-hour, despite fielding their first-choice attacking quartet for the first time in the Premier League.

Considering the amount of money involved in bringing in De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling over the summer, City’s lack of penetration was a worry for the home support, particularly as Newcastle appeared capable of opening up their opponents with ease. Kevin Mbabu, the makeshift left-back who was again impressive, set up a chance for Aleksandar Mitrovic that Joe Hart had to be alert to foil, though the concern for City was that one decent ball into the area had left the Newcastle striker with only the goalkeeper to beat.

That happened on a number of occasions in the first half. A couple of times City were reprieved by borderline offside decisions, Hart also came to the rescue again by sticking out a leg when Mitrovic really should have scored, so there was no question that Newcastle deserved the lead they took midway through the first half with a goal that fully exposed the uncertainty that usually afflicts this defence whenever Vincent Kompany is missing. First Mbabu knocked the ball past Pablo Zabaleta on the left and confidently beat him for speed. Mbabu’s cross was not particularly well-directed and Eliaquim Mangala managed to cut it out, but only succeeded in setting up Georginio Wijnaldum to have another go, and this time a better delivery that left the central defenders struggling to regain position and allowed Mitrovic to beat Hart with a free header from the six yard line.

The only good news for City was that Newcastle did not add to their lead in the period when they were on top. As half-time approached the home side gradually clawed their way back into the game, with first Agüero and then Fernandinho sending shots narrowly wide, and just as against Chelsea last week Newcastle found themselves asking for trouble by defending too deep.

An equaliser finally arrived three minutes before the break, Fernandinho heading David Silva’s cross back across goal for Agüero to finish from close range. There were half-hearted boos as the players left the field at half-time. Not full-throated, angry dissent, just a low level expression of disappointment. City were supposed to be better than this. Newcastle are winless at the bottom end of the table yet they played the best football. It was no surprise that Sterling was replaced by Jesús Navas for the second half, because it was exactly what some of the home fans had been demanding.

It should not be said that the substitution changed the course of the game, for Navas was not immediately into the action and Newcastle contributed to their own downfall by dozily surrendering possession in their own half to invite Agüero to score a quick second. Nevertheless, the fact remains that a mere five minutes into the second half City were 3-1 in front and Steve McClaren’s side were back on duty as cannon fodder.

There was a touch of good fortune about Agüero’s second goal, a deflection off Yoan Gouffran made life difficult for Krul when the goalkeeper might otherwise have had the shot covered, yet there was nothing streaky about the third, fourth or fifth. The Argentinian’s hat-trick arrived in the 50th minute, his third goal coming just eight minutes of play after the first, when he latched on to De Bruyne’s through ball and instinctively lifted a shot over Krul. Then on the hour the Newcastle defence unwisely stood off the striker to allow a shot from the angle of the area with wholly predictable results, before a fifth goal in 20 minutes came when Agüero turned up on the end of a neat passing triangle involving Silva and De Bruyne.

The Agüero-fest was only interrupted when De Bruyne scored City’s fourth, arguably the best of the afternoon, meeting a Navas cross from the right with a perfectly executed volley to loop the ball over Krul and into the far corner.

There were more grumbles from the home fans when Agüero was taken off shortly after his fifth, though this time they were clearly intended in jest. Had he remained on the field against a dispirited Newcastle side he might easily have approached double figures and Wilfried Bony must have had mixed feeling about coming on as the follow-up act.

Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Otamendi, Mangala, Kolarov, Fernando, Fernandinho, Silva (Iheanacho 75), Sterling (Navas 46)_, De Bruyne, Aguero (Bony 66)       Unused subs: Caballero, Demichelis, Sagna, M. Garcia       Bookings: Fernandinho, Zabaleta

Newcastle United: Krul, Janmaat, Mbemba, Coloccini, Mbabu (Lascelles 53), Sissoko (Tiote 66), Anita, Gouffran (Thauvin 66), Wijnaldum, Perez, Mitrović           Unused subs:Elliot, Williamson, de Jong, Cissé       Bookings: Anita

Referee:   Kevin Friend


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