October 2016 - Reports
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West Bromwich Albion 0 Manchester City 4   Midland Mauling
Saturday 29th October 2016 : Keith Bale for GYKO at

The dry spell is over – in more ways than one. Manchester City had not won since Sergio Agüero’s last goal, away against Swansea City on 24 September, but seven games later the Argentina striker found the net twice in the first half to catapult Pep Guardiola’s team past an uninspiring West Bromwich Albion and back to the top of the table, where Arsenal had momentarily displaced them earlier in the afternoon.

Ilkay Gündogan, who looks increasingly comfortable, capped a terrific individual showing with two goals late on in what was perhaps City’s most dominant performance under Guardiola.

That comes with a caveat, though, because their opponents were plagued by hesitancy to such an extent that their own fans chided them sarcastically before half-time with a chant of “We’ve got the ball” when they had managed half a dozen successful passes.

Much had been said about Guardiola’s longest spell without a victory but this response was emphatic, no matter the welcoming nature of their hosts. He said the three points were the most pleasing aspect of a commanding afternoon but the performance must also be a confidence boost before the Champions League meeting with his former club Barcelona on Tuesday.

The only period they were put under any degree of pressure was midway through the second half when two goals in front. “We are still learning how to improve in the second half, it’s difficult to control 90 minutes,” Guardiola said.

Albion’s best chance when still in the game came in the opening couple of minutes when Nacer Chadli shot over, and their only attempt on target was a tame 67th-minute free-kick.

Instead they spent much of the match pinned back by a visiting side that hardly broke sweat. That Ben Foster had managed the same amount of touches as both wingers, Chris Brunt and James McClean, by the interval spoke volumes for the level of control exerted by City in the opening 45 minutes. “They didn’t push up,” Guardiola said, “so we had time to think about it.”

Agüero’s first arrived in the 19th minute following an exquisite through ball from Gündogan. The striker composed himself before rifling low past Foster from a tight angle in a slick, almost effortless move that made the West Brom back four appear mannequin-like.

The hosts’ attempt to protect a clean sheet was understandable but their dismal response to falling behind was to concede even more of the ball. Gündogan, alongside David Silva in the centre of a four-man line of attacking midfielders, seemed to enjoy every moment.

Tony Pulis, who signed a new contract on Friday much to the frustration of a substantial portion of Albion supporters, had sought to stifle City’s midfield by pairing Darren Fletcher with Jonny Evans but Gündogan and Silva found continuous joy.

Indeed, West Brom’s marking for Agüero’s second was the opposite of stifling. Neither Jonas Olsson nor Gareth McAuley were alert enough to intercept a loose ball on the edge of the area, allowing Agüero time to take possession, turn and send a stunning effort into the top-right corner from the penalty arc. His finish was immaculate but the 28-year-old should never have been allowed the opportunity in the first place.

“They were too good for us, had too much quality,” said the Albion assistant manager, Dave Kemp, who was sent by Pulis to address the media. “The players we’re playing against are top drawer. They’re not coming down from the job centre. They’re very, very good.”

Albion did grow into the game briefly when Jonathan Leko and James Morrison were sprung from the bench 10 minutes after half-time – the latter came on for Fletcher, who was harshly jeered off – but their end product remained so limited. Even when they finally made Claudio Bravo work it was bread and butter for the goalkeeper, who smothered a low, tame free-kick from Brunt.

City continued to threaten on a regular basis. Nolito, who was booked for lashing out at Craig Dawson in the first half, accidentally obstructed a pair of goal-bound efforts from Silva and Gündogan, while Raheem Sterling, turning in another lively performance on the right, shot over following a botched Allan Nyom clearance.

Foster denied Agüero a tap-in for his hat-trick in the 72nd minute when getting his leg in front of a Kevin De Bruyne cross. The Belgian, sufferer of a calf twinge against Southampton last week, was introduced for the final quarter – another boost for Guardiola before Barcelona visit the Etihad.

Agüero unselfishly turned architect for Gündogan’s first goal, jigging along the edge of the area before his lofted through-ball was deflected by McAuley into the German’s path. Unmarked, and with time on his hands, Gündogan finished low past Foster for his second goal in a City shirt.

His third followed in the final minute, a simple tap-in from De Bruyne’s cross from on the left, though Albion already looked to have thrown in the towel. “He has so much quality,” Guardiola said. “He is really good with the ball, especially when attacking one on one with defenders.”

West Brom: Foster, Nyom, McAuley, Olsson, Dawson, McClean, Fletcher, Evans, Brunt, Chadli, Rondon. Subs: Leko, Morrison, Robson-Kanu.

Manchester City: Bravo, Kolarov, Stones, Otamendi, Fernando, Fernandinho, Nolito, Silva, Gundogan, Sterling, Aguero. Subs: Navas, De Bruyne, Garcia

Referee: L. Mason • Attendance: 22470

Manchester City 1 Southampton 1        Saints Hold City
23rd October 2016 : GYKO at the Etiha

When Pep Guardiola travelled to the Arabian Gulf to discuss Manchester City at the end of last season, he wanted to take total control of the club in a way he had not been allowed at either Bayern Munich or Barcelona. The last few weeks would have strengthened his belief that his grip needs to be ever tighter.

Kelechi Iheanacho's eighth goal in his last 11 appearances was enough to salvage a point against Southampton and take Manchester City back to the summit of the Premier League but the club’s winless run was still extended to five matches. Their manager is likely to conclude that what City require is more rather than less Pep.

In the pages of the latest edition of Pep Confidential, written by Marti Perarnau, a journalist with unique access to Guardiola's thoughts, the Manchester City he saw beaten by Real Madrid in the European Cup semi-finals was ageing and ridden with apathy. Six months on, he watched another City side recovering from a chastening night in Spain – the 4-0 mauling by Barcelona – and the same thoughts must have flitted through his mind. For 45 minutes, Manchester City were something no Guardiola team can afford to be. They were dull and they were ordinary.

They were rescued by two 20-year-olds, Leroy Sané and Iheanacho. The former was the recipient of a fabulous diagonal ball from Fernandinho and he used to it to go past his marker and square for the young Nigerian. This was the 17th shot on target of Iheanacho's Premier League career and he has now scored from 11 of them. Not even Gary Lineker in his pomp would have boasted those kind of statistics.

The odds were that Manchester City would then force their way past Southampton for a second but they neither deserved nor looked like doing so. This is a better Southampton side than travelled to Old Trafford in August to be well beaten by Manchester United.

In the vast, imposing figure of Virgil van Dijk they possessed the afternoon’s outstanding figure and Southampton might even have snatched back the lead had not Claudio Bravo saved well from Charlie Austin.

Upon kick-off the light shone most brightly on two members of Manchester City’s imperial guard, Vincent Kompany and Sergio Aguero, men who have served so many managers.

Having been dropped for the Nou Camp, the Etihad Stadium waited for Aguero's response. There was in truth very little to suggest that Guardiola had been wrong to leave him out against Barcelona. Towards the end there was one trademark run from the Argentine that saw him charge through Southampton’s defensive screen, brush off Van Dijk and send his shot fizzing past the post. But there was little else.

Operating as one of three centre-halves, Kompany had a better match. Like Aguero, his place as one of Manchester City's greats is already secure but he had not started a league game since April – a 1-1 draw at Newcastle. Given the number of times he has broken down painfully in public since, you feared for him now.

It was, however, John Stones, the man slated to be Kompany's long-term successor, for whom the afternoon went horribly wrong. Manchester City were playing ‘tiki-taka’ on the edge of their own area when Stones pointed upfield, turned and then passed the ball behind him. Or in precisely the opposite direction he had indicated. It fooled Kompany, who had pushed up, and was completely unable to intercept Nathan Redmond as he seized on the error, took the ball past Bravo and shot joyously into an empty net. Five minutes later there might have been that kind of instant redemption that football loves when Stones met a free-kick and volleyed it in at the far post only to be called offside. He was not ready to be forgiven just yet.

Manchester City (3-2-4-1): Bravo; Stones, Kompany (Navas 78), Kolarov; Fernandinho, Gundogan; Sane (Nolito 90), De Bruyne (Iheanacho ht), Silva, Sterling; Aguero. Subs not used: Caballero (gk), Fernando, Clichy, Otamendi.

Southampton (4-2-3-1): Forster; Martina, Fonte, Van Dijk, McQueen; Clasie (Hojbjerg 67), Davis; Tadic (Boufal 70), Redmond, Romeu; Austin (Ward-Prowse 83). Subs not used: McCarthy (gk), Yoshida, Rodriguez, Stephens.

Referee: Mark Clattenburg (Durham)       Attendance 53,731

Barcelona 4 Manchester City 0  
Wednesday 19th October 2016 : Rob Greenacre for GYKO at the Camp Nou Stadium

Pep Guardiola had been asked on Tuesday how he might stop Lionel Messi. The Manchester City manager simply laughed. There is no way to stop one of the all‑time greats, as Guardiola himself knows better than most from his four years in charge at Barcelona, and the Argentina international re‑emphasised the point to make this a difficult homecoming for his former manager.

Messi’s hat-trick came courtesy of three sumptuous swipes of that left foot and the latest statistic to laud his genius shows that he now has 16 goals in 15 games against English clubs. In truth he has been punishing all-comers for as long as anybody can care to remember. This was the 37th hat-trick of Messi’s career.

Guardiola felt this daunting assignment would offer a gauge of the progress of his City team and there were some positives for him to take. He was extremely adventurous with his tactics, which took in the headline decision to omit Sergio Agüero from the starting XI, in an attempt to get an extra body in midfield and he watched his players work the Barcelona goalkeeper, Marc-André ter Stegen, on a number of occasions.

There were spells when City imposed themselves while the shots-on-target count was only eight to six in Barcelona’s favour. And yet Guardiola was damned by the final scoreline and there would be the inevitable questions about the wisdom of the decision to introduce Agüero with only 11 minutes to go – in other words, when the game was gone. Barcelona had lost two of their key defenders in Jordi Alba and Gerard Piqué to injuries in the first half and it was tempting to wonder how Agüero might have troubled what became a makeshift back-line.

In the end, though, City were undone by errors. There was Fernandinho’s slip that ushered in Messi for his first goal and the loose pass from Ilkay Gündogan that found only Luis Suárez, who laid on Messi’s third. But the most horrible mistake was the 52nd minute one from Claudio Bravo, which led to the goalkeeper’s red card. Up until that point City were in the game. After it they were taken apart.

Guardiola’s fingerprints are all over this City team already and it was noticeable how keen they were to play short and cutely. It was Barcelona who were prepared to be direct. Bravo’s downfall stemmed from his attempt to make a little pass to Fernandinho, after he had left his penalty area and he got it all wrong. The ball went straight to Suárez and Bravo’s next mistake was when he instinctively saved Suárez’s subsequent attempted lob with his hands, while still outside the box. The referee, Milorad Mazic, had no option but to send him off.

Guardiola’s tactical nuances underscored the occasion. His starting formation could best be described as 4-1-4-1 but, when City had the ball, Pablo Zabaleta, the right-back, stepped up and inside into midfield, alongside Fernandinho. John Stones, the central defender, too, was encouraged to step up and so were the more advanced central midfielders, Gündogan and David Silva.

It felt as though long spells were spent in an attempt to decode it all, and the ever-evolving formations served to ask questions of Luis Enrique. Then again the Barcelona manager had Messi and that is some comfort. Remember what Indiana Jones did when confronted by the bad guy who wielded his swords so dramatically? He just shot him. Here Messi shot Guardiola.

The opening goal owed everything to Fernandinho’s slip, because he was the favourite to get to the ball before Messi, after it had squirted loose following Stones’s challenge on Andrés Iniesta. Guardiola’s approach was utterly meticulous but he cannot be relied on to check whether his players are wearing the correct studs. Messi’s finish was marked by class and composure.

Barcelona had chances in the first half to add to their lead. Suárez found the side-netting with a shot; Ivan Rakitic headed over from Messi’s free-kick and Bravo had to back-pedal, leap and tip over his own crossbar, after he had only half-saved a shot from Suárez.

But City, too, had their moments in a purple patch before the interval; flashes when they got in behind Barcelona. Guardiola could enjoy a dividend from his elaborate attempts to win space. Silva played in Nolito and Ter Stegen had to make a regulation save, and minutes later the Barcelona goalkeeper was extended fully by Gündogan, after he had skipped past Piqué. In first‑half stoppage time Stones headed wide of the near post from Silva’s free‑kick. It was a glaring miss.

The tie turned sharply after the red card. Messi scored his second when he jinked and threaded a low shot into the corner from the edge of the area and the hat-trick followed Gündogan’s aberration and Suárez’s assist. Neymar added the fourth, after dancing and shooting inside the area, having earlier seen a penalty saved by City’s substitute goalkeeper, Willy Caballero. It had been awarded after a burst from Messi – who else? – was crudely halted by the sliding Aleksandar Kolarov.

For City there were further flickers. Kevin De Bruyne and Kolarov extended Ter Stegen but by then it was too late. The Barcelona substitute Jérémy Mathieu’s dismissal for a second yellow card on 73 minutes was a footnote. After the draw at Celtic in their previous Champions League tie City have it all to do

Barcelona : Ter Stegen; Mascherano, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Busquets, Iniesta, Rakitic; Messi, Neymar, Suarez.
Subs: Masip, Arda, Rafinha, Alcácer, Digne, André Gomes, Mathieu

Man City : Bravo, Zabaleta, Otamendi, Stones, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Gundogan, Silva, Sterling, Nolito, De Bruyne
Subs: Caballero, Fernando, Aguero, Maffeo, Clichy, Sane, Navas

attendance:- 96,290                Referee- Mazic

Manchester City 1 Everton 1       City Pay The Penalty
15th October 2016 : GYKO at the Etihad

Ronald Koeman has always been one to teach Pep Guardiola a few tricks. At Barcelona, Johan Cruyff told the young Catalan to observe the way the Dutchman operated as the defensive shield at the back of his Dream Team’s midfield. He eventually succeeded him in the role. Koeman drove a Mercedes and Guardiola a second-hand Opel in those days: that’s how the pecking order worked.

The new Everton manager might be in the younger man’s slipstream now, desperately ambitious and looking ultimately to manage Barcelona as Guardiola once did, but this was the day when he contributed once again to the younger man’s education. The lesson was about the brutal challenge of the Premier League - a division in which you can dominate, excel, express yourself and still be wounded. The panic was setting in and two penalties had come and gone before Manchester City finally found the goal that saved them against a goalkeeper, Maarten Stekelenburg, who repelled everything they threw at the task.

The statistics told the story of City’s first half fluidity and superiority: 150 passes in the attacking third for the home side (119 successful); 25 for Everton (nine successful). The challenge, though, was to convert the dominance into chances and for at least an hour that did not happen nearly enough.

Guardiola had thrown every available resource into the effort, deploying a three-man defence and allowing Leroy Sane the full width of the pitch to mount much of their attacking intent – seemingly intuiting that he would need the full artillery to find a way through . But though the 20-year-old German was City’s outstanding performer of their first half – the one player who consistently drove at Everton and delivered effective balls in from both flanks – City struggled to for the incisive finish to top off the architecture of their performance.

Guardiola had opted to keep Sergio Aguero on the bench, with the ultimate challenge of Barcelona awaiting on Wednesday, and in his place Kelechi Iheanacho offered no offensive threat, giving the Everton defence time to focus on those other City players who were buzzing around the edges of the area. Bryan Oviedo, who had both Sane and Kevin de Bruyne attacking his channel, did most to demonstrate the new defensive muscle which Koeman has brought to his team.

City’s approach had palpably slowed when half-time arrived and they struggled for a way through the yellow wall before them. The second half was 15 minutes old when they were taught what attacking pace looked like and were stunned by it. Romelu Lukaku, until that moment a bystander in a side seemingly incapable of holding onto the ball, took on a long pass that Yannick Bolasie had flicked on, accelerated past Gael Clichy and fired beyond Claudio Bravo before the goalkeeper could blink. John Stones was the player who had made to intercept on the half way line and who found himself stranded high up the pitch.

There happened to be a defensive weak link for City exploit. On two occasions, Phil Jagielka simply did not possess the speed of response to deal with the quick feet of the forwards and he justifiably paid with penalties.

Raheem Sterling was the first to draw a poorly timed tackle out of the 34-year-old, who extended a leg which the forward toppled over on the edge of the six-yard box, two minutes before the break. Stekelenburg made his first significant contribution to what would become a big afternoon when he put out the fire, diving left to save Kevin de Bruyne’s right footed penalty.

Aguero had arrived for Iheanacho when the second penalty came. It was the Argentine whom Jagielka's trailing leg caught on 69 minutes. Aguero stepped up and Stekelenburg saved again. It was City’s fourth penalty miss from eight this season a carelessness no Premier League side can afford.

Stekelenburg was being talked of as Edwin van der Sar’s successor at Manchester United five years ago but has drifted around the edges in the past three years, barely playing for Fulham, then hardly shining on loan at Southampton last season before joining Koeman on Merseyside. The 34-year-old had two more outstanding saves to make before the day was done - palming away the shot Aguero had worked from a one-two with an outstanding David Silva and leaping to touch a 35-yard Kevin de Bruyne effort onto the post.

City had Manuel Nolito to thank for saving them from a defeat they did not deserve. It was he who leapt to meet Silva’s 72nd minute cross to equalise with a fine header. Guardiola was chasing to do a ball boy’s work as City drove to win the game. He looked desperate but the winner was beyond his side. There will be more of these tough days ahead for him as his Premier League education continues.

Manchester City (3-1-4-1-1): Bravo; Stones, Otamendi, Clichy; Fernandinho; Sane (Nolito, 71), Gundogan (Kompany, 90), Silva, Sterling; De Bruyne; Iheanacho (Aguero, 56).

Substitutes not used: Cabellero, Zabaleta, Fernando, Kolarov.

Everton (4-2-3-1): Stekelenburg; Coleman, Jagielka, Williams, Oviedo; Gueye, Barry; Cleverley (Funes Mori, 90+1), Bolasie (Mirallas, 84), Deulofeu (McCarthy, 57); Lukaku.

Substitutes not used: Robles, Barkley, Valencia, Holgate.

Referee: M. Oliver (Northumberland)          Attendance: 54512

Tottenham Hotspur 2  Manchester City 0  Blank of London
Sunday 2nd October 2016 : Robert Ardern for GYKO at White Hart Lane

If Mauricio Pochettino never takes charge of another game his managerial career will have a couple of lovely winning bookends: victories over expensively-assembled Pep Guardiola teams.

His first win as a coach was against Guardiola’s Barcelona back in 2009 and now he can add this devastating 2-0 victory by his Tottenham side over Manchester City at White Hart Lane that has taken some of the gloss off the Etihad club’s impressive start to the season that had them crowned champions elect in some quarters already.

Spurs, whose goals came from an own goal and the golden-booted Dele Alli, were quite simply superb – and even missed a second-half penalty. On this form they deserve to be considered title challengers every bit as much as City for whom this was Pep’s first defeat. Can Spurs maintain this high-tempo brand of football or will they run out of puff as they did last season is the question?

Well, the squad is deeper and new signing Victor Wanyama ran midfield on Sunday adding steel alongside Mo Sissoko while Heung-Min Son, Alli and Christian Eriksen brought the style to the party.

Spurs started brilliantly with Kyle Walker, Sissoko and Son combining from the kick-off with quick, neat interplay down the right. Son found space in the box with a clever touch before driving his shot over the bar. Seconds later Danny Rose almost threaded a pass through to the Korean playing in the No 9 role he took up for the last 20 minutes in Moscow in midweek and in such rich goal-scoring form of late. There was barely a minute on the clock and the Spurs intent was there for all to see.

This match was the resumption of the Guardiola-Pochettino rivalry they had enjoyed in La Liga when they were in charge of Barcelona’s two clubs, Barca and Espanyol respectively. Pep had said before kick-off how much he admired Pochettino teams who had always sought to be attacking – rather than containing – against his sides. High praise, of course, given the calibre of Pep’s Barca and the no doubt huge temptation to park the bus when confronting them.

And Spurs, just like Espanyol, were certainly not overawed by Pep’s players and their perfect start to the league season on Sunday running City ragged in the early stages.

There was a Jesus Navas cross that dribbled through the six-yard box but that was a rare trip into enemy territory for City and John Stones had to deny Son with a brilliantly-timed sliding tackle in the box as the Korean continued to threaten.

On nine minutes, the imposing Wanyama stole the ball back in midfield as City tried to pass their way out of their half. He fed Danny Rose on the wing and the England full-back whipped in a vicious, dipping, swerving cross. Aleksander Kolarov at the back post missed with his swinging right foot as he tried to clear, the ball instead diverting in off his standing leg. So much for Pep teams playing it calmly out from the back.

Son broke through again and Claudio Bravo saved with his feet as the white waves washed over sinking City. Alli was next in on the act, his nifty footwork and attempt to play Son in resulting in Nicolas Otamendi going to ground and handballing. Eriksen’s free-kick was inches wide.

Pep joined Pochettino on the sidelines now fearing the worst - and he was right to as Spurs doubled their lead in the 37th minute. Alli tried to find Erik Lamella breaking into the box but the ball ran to Son who fed Alli. The midfielder swept past Bravo.

City stuck to Pep’s philosophy of playing the ball out from the back but the Tottenham energy was too much for them to do it comfortably. Bravo’s bravado often caused mild panic in the City back four. Apart from in Stones perhaps, so easy on the ball, who at one point weaved through four Spurs tackles.

The second half continued in the same manner as the first with Son and Wanyama shooting dangerously, the first narrowly wide the other tipped away by Bravo.

Bravo then highlighted why Pep wants a passer in goal as his long ball to Navas cut out several pushing Spurs players and led to Sergio Aguero getting in for a shot that bobbled off Hugo Loris and on to the post.

Most of the action, though, was in the other penalty area and Spurs had the chance to kill the match when Fernandinho clipped Alli as he broke on to a loose ball and charged into the area. Alli needed no great encouragement to collapse. Lamela’s left-footed penalty was too weak and the perfect height for Bravo diving to his left to beat away.

The miss could have been costly had substitute Kelechi Iheanacho scored when through but Loris saved and then he did so again when Aguero shot. For all this, Spurs never really looked in trouble.

TOTTENHAM (4-1-4-1): Lloris; Walker, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose; Wanyama; Sissoko (Dier 72), All (Nkoudou 86), Eriksen, Lamela; Son (Janssen 90)     Subs not used: Vorm; Trippier, Davies, Winks     Booked: Wanyama, Rose   Goals: Kolarov own goal 9; Alli 37   

MANCHESTER CITY (4-3-3): Bravo; Zabaleta (C), Otamendi, Stones, Kolarov; Fernando  (Gundogan 53,), Fernandinho, Silva; Navas  (Iheanacho 65), Aguero, Sterling (Sane 87)

Subs not used: Caballero; Sagna, Clichy, A. Garcia    Booked: Otamendi, Sterling

Referee: Andre Marriner (West Midlands)        Attendance: 31,793


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