Manchester City 1 Feyenoord 0
City Make Hard Work Of It
Tuesday 21st November 2017 : GYKO at the
Manchester City were threatening to end their winning sequence at 16
until Raheem Sterling turned a humdrum evening into a celebration
with a goal two minutes from time. A 17th successive win in all
competitions means City have won their group with a match to spare,
though in fact that was already the case when Sterling played a
give-and-go with Ilkay Gündogan and raced through to beat Brad Jones
with an angled shot.
Napoli’s goals against Shakhtar Donetsk had confirmed City’s
untouchability at the top of Group F by that stage, and though this
was far from one of their most memorable performances it could be
excused on the grounds key players such as David Silva, Fernandinho
and Leroy Sané were rested. And that City kept plugging away right
until the end to achieve a win that hardly mattered. Pep Guardiola
will have been pleased to see that, and so will the home supporters
and compilers of records. “Raheem is a striker who scores important
goals,” the manager said. “But he’s young, he can still improve. We
can all do better.”
There are still some big names that even group-toppers might face in
the knockout stage, though Guardiola is unconcerned. “All we can do
is win our games and hope to keep winning,” he said. “Fifteen points
from 15 is not too bad and this is the first time City have topped
their Champions League group [actually the second, though they did
not do it with maximum points in 2015-16].”
Plenty of people maintain that David Silva remains the most
indispensable City player, despite all the eye-catching talent
brought in since his arrival in June 2010, and a fairly flat opening
to this game suggested they might have a point. Silva was left on
the bench, Yaya Touré and Gündogan came into midfield, and all of a
sudden City were not carving great holes in the opposition defence.
Gündogan and Touré lumbered about looking less than razor sharp, as
might be expected, and though Kevin De Bruyne was on the pitch he
looked a little tired, as if he too would have been glad of a rest.
The first half hour passed almost incident free, certainly in terms
of goalmouth incident. Sergio Agüero found the by-line but put too
much on his cross for Sterling to reach, then after a Nicolás
Otamendi interception had caught Feyenoord short of cover at the
back, Agüero steadied himself for a shot but sent it straight at
Surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, Guardiola had not opted to
rest Ederson in favour of Claudio Bravo, and the Brazilian
goalkeeper was nearly the unwanted centre of attention midway
through the half when he came out to clear with his feet and mis-controlled
to give Jean-Paul Boëtius a sight of the ball. Unflummoxed, Ederson
simply used his feet again to dispossess Boëtius with a well-timed
Sam Larsson went close with a low shot shortly after that, though
even operating on economy-setting City still produced the best
chances of the first half. Gündogan shot wastefully high when trying
to emulate De Bruyne’s super goal at Leicester last weekend, Agüero
headed uncharacteristically wide when perfectly picked out by De
Bruyne’s cross, and most glaringly of all Bernardo Silva could only
manage what amounted to a back pass to Jones when Sterling gave him
a clear close-range opportunity.
The second half was initially no more promising, Agüero contriving a
volley that went backwards from Danilo’s cross from the left, and
though De Bruyne pounced greedily on the rebound his effort was even
more spectacularly off target. Then De Bruyne received an almost
comical booking to earn a useful suspension by blatantly barging
over Steven Berghuis just as Gündogan was moving in to make a
legitimate tackle. Larsson put the free-kick over Ederson’s bar but
that was the signal for Guardiola to replace De Bruyne with Gabriel
Touré went close with a free kick as the game entered its final
quarter, yet the invention City were missing was highlighted when
Feyenoord created a great chance with skilful close passing. Tonny
Vilhena and Larsson combined neatly to put Berghuis through on goal
and he was only denied by a first-class reaction save from Ederson.
With 15 minutes remaining, just after some more insouciant footwork
from Ederson and a shot on the turn from Agüero that flew wide,
Guardiola brought on the 17-year-old prodigy Phil Foden for his
first taste of senior football. He did not make a startling
difference, though neither did he look out of place.
He was probably wondering, like everyone else, whether this was the
same City side he has been watching for the last few months, before
Sterling came up with the happy ending. “What we’ve shown this
season,” City’s match-winner said, “no matter if it’s Champions
League, Premier League, cup games, we’ve got the mentality that we
want to win and even if it’s sometimes ugly, we just try to make
sure we get the win.”
City: Ederson, Mangala, Otamendi, Walker, Danilo,
Gündogan, De Bruyne (de Jesus 64), Touré (Foden 75), Agüero,
Sterling (Diaz 90+1), Bernardo
Unused subs Bravo, Delph, Silva, Luiz Rosa
Feyenoord: Jones, Haps van Beek, Tapia, Diks (Nieuwkoop
72), Toornstra, Vilhena, Amrabat, Berghuis (Basacikoglu 82),
Larsson, Boëtius (Jørgensen 68)
Unused subs Nelom, St. Juste, Vermeer, Kramer
Referee: Ivan Kruzliak (Slovakia)
Leicester City 0 Manchester
City 2 Tale of One City
Saturday 18th November 2017 : John Murphy at
the King Power Stadium
There's simply no stopping
Manchester City at the moment as they overcame a mini defensive
crisis to continue their record-breaking start in the Premier
Another emphatic victory, their eleventh in twelve games, equalled
the remarkable start to the 2011-12 title triumph under Roberto
Mancini as they made brought Leicester City’s recent revival under
Claude Puel to a shuddering halt at the King Power Stadium.
Though Vincent Kompany could easily have been sent off two minutes
into his return to action and City lost England defender John Stones
to a hamstring injury, it couldn’t disrupt their title charge as
Gabriel Jesus and Kevin De Bruyne confirmed their dominance.
Jesus finished off a goal of stunning simplicity on the stroke of
half time before De Bruyne fired home a spectacular 20-yard strike
to end the game as a contest.
The only thing in doubt was the margin of victory at that stage as
Guardiola’s side looked to their impressive goal difference, but
Leicester managed to keep it to two despite living a charmed life as
the Premier League leaders showed off their striking riches.
They may be short of defensive cover with some big games to come in
the next few weeks, but in this mood, they will not have too many
Kompany’s return to the starting line-up in place of the suspended
Nicolas Otamendi had been one of the major talking points before the
game, but his first contribution only two minutes into the action
was an even bigger one.
Referee Graham Scott was left with a massive call to make when the
Belgian defender brought Jamie Vardy down in full flight, but his
decision to issue a yellow card was arguably the right one with John
Stones alongside the England striker.
While Kompany’s return could have been short-lived, Stones’
afternoon was cut short when he limped off with a hamstring injury
after pulling up clutching the back of his right leg as he chased
back when Leicester threatened.
With Eliaquim Mangala replacing Stones, that meant the Premier
League leaders’ central defensive pairing had only eight appearances
But they regained their composure to take the lead just before the
break as the highly influential Silva played a big part in opening
up the Leicester defence.
The Spaniard eventually latched onto a through pass from Raheem
Sterling and delivered the square pass to leave Jesus with the
simplest of tasks.
On the balance of play, it was no more than Guardiola’s side
deserved after they had gone close on a number of occasions with
Silva forcing a fine save out of Kasper Schmeichel when he met Leroy
Sane’s cross with a curling shot from the edge of the box.
The Premier League leaders gave themselves more breathing space
shortly after the restart by making the most of a let-off at one
Within seconds of Harry Maguire hitting the outside of the post with
a close-range shot, Schmeichel was picking the ball out of the net
at the other end after being beaten by another spectacular
long-range strike from De Bruyne.
They were clearly in no mood though to sit back on that two-goal
lead as both Jesus and Sane went close to grabbing a third in quick
Leicester were struggling to resist wave after wave of attacks and
Silva was given far too much time when he drifted into the box only
to drag his shot wide.
Yet the home side’s hopes of a dramatic fightback were raised by
Vardy as he gave City some cause for concern on two occasions,
firstly when he was flagged offside as he broke on Riyad Mahrez’s
pass and then when he had a header cleared off the line by Kyle
|Leicester City (4-4-1-1): Schmeichel, Simpson, Morgan, Maguire, Fuchs; Albrighton, (Sub Iheanacho 68 mins), Iborra (Sub
Okazaki 83 mins), Ndidi, Gray; Mahrez (Sub Slimani 83 mins);
Subs: Chilwell, King, Hamer, Dragovic.
Manchester City (4-3-3): Ederson; Walker, Kompany, Stones
(Sub Mangala 30 mins), Delph, Fernandinho, D Silva, De Bruyne (Sub Gundogan 90 mins); Sterling (Sub B Silva 84 mins),
Subs: Bravo, Danilo, Aguero, Toure.
Referee: G. Scot Attendance
Manchester City 3 Arsenal 1
A Kick Up The Arse
Sunday 5th November 2017 : GYKO at the Etihad
The essence of football is that the odds are
stacked in favour of defence. Goals are rare, and therefore so much
more valuable, because it is far easier to prevent a chance than to
create one. While you often need everything to go perfectly to score
a goal, the principles of the game are built on the fact that you do
not necessarily need to play perfectly to stop one. Until Manchester
City came along, that is.
You get the ball. Instantly, you see Kevin de Bruyne and Leroy Sane
hunting you down. A few yards away, Sergio Aguero is blocking the
easy pass to your right. Raheem Sterling is blocking the pass up the
touchline. Can you maybe bend the ball around David Silva? You have
fractions of a second to answer. Too late. Sane has wrapped one of
his telescopic legs around yours, De Bruyne has gathered up the
loose ball, and once more you are defending for your lives.
Multiply this scenario by 10, by 100, by hundreds, and you get some
idea of what playing City these days entails: a never-ending series
of multiple-choice problems, each with only one perfect solution.
Can you pull off the first-time back heel around the corner? Can you
find exactly the right sliding tackle that will win the ball off a
hurtling Gabriel Jesus without giving away a penalty? Where will
Sane be in exactly 2.5 seconds? Can you be absolutely perfect?
Because more often than not, you know that City will be.
Arsenal did not play appallingly here. This was certainly not their
worst performance of the season by any stretch. You could point the
finger at individuals: at Alexis Sanchez, Francis Coquelin, Granit
Xhaka, the usual suspects. You could point the finger at Arsene
Wenger, whose decision to omit Alexandre Lacazette looked intriguing
at kick-off and downright negligent by the time he had hauled
Arsenal back into the game with a powerful low finish.
But really, Arsenal were no worse than any other team to visit the
Etihad and have their dinner money taken this season. They were
simply incapable of perfection. Asked time and again to pick the
perfect pass, make the perfect run, maintain the perfect defensive
shape, they simply did what anybody else would have done under
City’s relentless interrogation. They squealed.
City’s first goal, a masterclass in the accumulation of fine
margins, was a case in point. Alex Iwobi gets bundled over in the
build-up. Nacho Monreal is brushed off just a little too easily.
Laurent Koscielny tracks Kevin de Bruyne, but not quite enough to
stop the shot going in between his legs. Petr Cech gets a fingertip
to the shot, but not quite enough to divert it around the post. De
Bruyne’s goal was thus the product not simply of a fine finish, but
City doing a dozen separate tasks slightly better than Arsenal.
And that, really, was the story of Arsenal’s afternoon. Shortly
after half-time, Sead Kolasinac almost plays Aguero offside, but not
quite. Monreal almost gets the right side of Sterling, but not
quite. A penalty results, and with 40 minutes of the game remaining,
Arsenal are as good as done.
Which makes it sound simple, but of course it's not. Even with
elementary tasks, you don’t simply get better at them overnight.
Sterling’s little burst of speed to break the offside trap was the
result of months and years of training sprints, dead-lifts in the
gym, unhealthy meals not eaten, nights out not enjoyed.
The covering runs Nicolas Otamendi made to snuff out numerous
Arsenal attacks do not simply happen, but are drilled by a honed
footballing instinct, a learned caution, pure remorseless
experience. And indeed City’s superior physical condition was
evident throughout: winning the 50-50 balls, intensifying the press,
not going to ground unless they absolutely have to.
Mentally, of course, this sort of stuff begins to take its toll
after a while. And it was interesting to note that while Guardiola
was his usual apoplectic self, Wenger and his troops seemed more
subdued than usual: plenty of open palms, plenty of hands on hips.
Even Wenger’s protests to the fourth official lacked their usual
That’s not a slight on Arsenal, by the way. Not this time, at least.
City had simply broken them: broken their shape, broken their plan,
broken their spirit. And they may already have broken the rest of
the Premier League.
Edinson, Delph, Otamendi, Walker, Stones, Silva,
Luiz Rosa, De Bruyne, Sterling (Gundogan 78’) Sané (Bernardo
87), Agüero (G Jesus 62)
Unused subs : Danilo, Touré, Bravo, Mangala
Arsenal: Cech, Monreal, Koscielny, Bellerín,
Kolasinac, Ramsey, Coquelin, (Lacazette 56’), Xhaka (Giroud
78’), Sánchez, Özil, Iwobi (Wilshere 78’)
Unused subs : El Sayed El Neny, Walcott, Debuchy, Macey
Referee : Michael Oliver
Attendance : 54,286
Napoli 2 Manchester City 4
City Lick The Neapolitans
Wednesday 1st November 2017 : Giuseppe
Elba for GYKO at The San Paulo Stadium
So, the first time that it was really put to
Manchester City this season they instead replied with a stunning
spectacle. That was the true significance to this brilliant 4-2
victory in Napoli, even though it still extended their winning run
to 14 games in all competitions and also saw them mathematically
qualify for the Champions League last 16.
That was in truth always academic and the
evidence of this game suggests they should have absolutely nothing
to fear once they get there as the Stadio San Paolo saw another step
in their impressive evolution under Pep Guardiola. They found
another way to win, as Napoli went at them and gave them problems
like no other side has done this season.
It also meant this wasn’t just any other game, but maybe among the
best the Champions League will see this season. It was that good,
that intense, that entertaining, and the sublime Sergio Aguero’s
blistering strike that fitting a winner before Raheem Sterling
really rounded it off.
If the consistent hope for so many rivals this season is that City
will begin to buckle once they face a proper setback and their
rhythm is disrupted, the response to that precise problem here
should be ominous.
The fact Napoli had clearly so intensely dwelt on how to do exactly
that should only deepen that feeling.
Maurizio Sarri had said the only way his side could possibly get a
result out of this game was to prevent City starting in the way they
usually do and getting the early goal they usually do, and Napoli
resoundingly succeeded in that by giving City the kind of problems
early on they haven’t usually faced. The Serie A leaders just
hounded and pressed Guardiola's team in the way we haven’t seen for
some time. It also meant that City went behind for the first time in
some time, as Lorenzo Insigne finished a sweeping one-two.
As brilliant as the Italian’s strike was, though, the real beauty of
the move was in Dries Mertens’ divine first-time outside-of-the-foot
return ball at the edge of the box. It took five City players out
and, really, took the breath away.
This was the first time City had been a goal down in any game since
26 August away to Bournemouth, and thereby the first challenge
they’ve faced in some time. It didn’t help that they weren’t being
able to pass the ball in the same way, as Napoli had a much greater
share of possession at over 50 per cent.
That was something else City weren’t accustomed to, but they
responded impressively. Even if they were helped by the fact the
lively Faouzi Ghoulam had to come off injured, so many of their
players began to properly switch on. Ilkay Gundogan began to run the
midfield, and the attackers around him ran with more purpose.
Warning was served for Napoli on 32 minutes when a surging break
ended with Sergio Aguero having a shot deflected just wide, but the
Italians couldn’t heed it.
That is perhaps the extra challenge of facing this City, and the
difficulty of striking a balance against them. To start against them
in the way that Sarri said he so needed, you need to put in the kind
of running that is so unsustainable. Napoli were already drastically
dropping back when, on 35 minutes, Nicolas Otamendi rose highest to
head in Gundogan’s cross and make it 1-1.
It was all City now, as Otamendi missed another chance, John Stones
hit the crossbar, and Raheem Sterling might have had a penalty after
Elseid Hysaj had taken him down.
The young English winger’s running and weaving was giving Napoli all
manner of problems, and almost saw him give City the lead after
working his way into the box, only for Raul Albiol to excellently
get across and block. That it required this showed how far City were
pushing, how close a goal was. Within moments, they just got it over
the line, literally. A Sane cross was headed off the bar by Stones,
but crucially bounced just inside the goal.
It was as if Sarri had prepared so much for all the sophistication
of City’s attacking that he had forgotten to look at something much
more basic: how to defend set-pieces.
Napoli had more to offer themselves, though, and a thunderous shot
against the bar from Insigne from distance was to signal to push up
much more. On the hour, they had the equaliser, as Sane fouled
Albiol in the box and Jorginho stroked the penalty into the corner.
With the score at 2-2 and with half an hour, the game was itself at
a gloriously open stage, both teams willing to throw everything at
each other. The 70th minute displayed that perfectly. In one moment,
Jose Callejon was missing a supreme chance after a better run and
pass from Mertens. In the next, Aguero was put through on goal to
fire the ball past Pepe Reina.
In an end-to-end game, that was the way to appropriately finish it,
but they weren't done yet as Sterling finished another breakaway to
get a deserved personal goal. City, meanwhile, may just be getting
Napoli: Reina, Hysaj, Albiol Koulibaly, Ghoulam (Maggio
31’), Marques, Loureiro (Rog 75’), Frello, Filho (Ounas
80’), Hamsik, Insigne, Mertens, Callejón
Unused subs Chiriches, Zielinski, Diawara, Sepe
Manchester City: Ederson, Stones, Danilo, Delph,
Otamendi, Sterling, Sané (de Jesus 90’), Fernandinho,
Gündogan (D Silva 70’), De Bruyne, Agüero (Bernardo 76’)
Unused subs : Touré, Bravo, Mangala, Walker
Referee : Felix Brych (Germany)