Stoke City 0 Manchester City 2
Monday 12th March 2018 : Francis Bailey for
GYKO at the Bet365 Stadium
to be an enjoyable five-day break in the sun for Manchester City’s
players, who boarded their flight to Abu Dhabi last night enjoying
the view from the top of the Premier League, 16 points clear of
Manchester United once again, and safe in the knowledge that they
can wrap up the title against their neighbours on 7 April if they
win at Everton the weekend before.
Pep Guardiola’s side must feel like they are within touching
distance of that crown after David Silva delivered another
masterclass to enable City to register their 26th league victory of
the season and deepen Stoke’s relegation worries in the process.
Returning to the starting lineup after being allowed compassionate
leave to spend time with his wife in Spain, where the couple’s
prematurely born son continues to receive medical attention, Silva
scored two splendid goals and was a joy to watch throughout.
Raheem Sterling created the first and Gabriel Jesus laid on the
second as a cold night in Stoke presented few problems for a team
that will be guaranteed a warm welcome in more ways than one when
they touch down in the Middle East. Stoke, on the other hand, remain
second from bottom and Saturday’s home fixture against Everton feels
critically important for a side that have now won only one of their
last 11 league matches.
It tends to be a chastening experience for most clubs when they come
up against Manchester City these days and the last thing that Stoke
needed to do was concede an early goal. Yet with only 10 minutes on
the clock the home team were already behind and chasing the game
after another beautifully constructed Manchester City goal.
Sterling was heavily involved from the outset, playing a pass
infield to Fernandinho that the winger got back via a terrific
reverse ball from Jesus. Sterling’s fine run down the Stoke left
went untracked and it was a lovely cut-back that picked out Silva,
with the ball so perfectly weighted that the Spaniard never had to
break his stride. Arriving into the penalty area between Kurt Zouma
and Moritz Bauer, Silva expertly opened up his body and coolly
dispatched a left-footed shot into the far corner. Slick, incisive
and clinical, it was Manchester City at their elegant best.
Stoke were pinned in for long periods in the first half, rarely
touching the ball and chasing shadows at times, yet there was still
some encouragement for the home team to take come the interval. The
fact that they managed to prevent Manchester City from adding to
their lead prior to half-time was a source of hope and there were
also a couple of signs of vulnerability at the other end, where
Xherdan Shaqiri seemed to fancy his chances up against Oleksandr
Zinchenko. It was Shaqiri’s clever nutmeg on the Manchester City
left-back that led to an opportunity for Badou Ndiaye to equalise,
only for the midfielder’s low shot to take a deflection off
Fernandinho and slide inches wide of the far upright.
Stoke also had a bit of success when they played more direct, with
one long punt upfield from Jack Butland ending up with Kyle Walker,
under pressure from Jesé Rodríguez, nearly scoring a spectacular own
goal. Ederson, frantically back-pedalling, managed to fingertip the
England defender’s clearance over the bar.
For much of that opening 45 minutes, however, Manchester City were
in total control and creating the sort of chances that suggested it
was only a matter of time before they added a second. Jesus,
starting in place of the injured Sergio Agüero, came agonisingly
close to getting his head to a sublime Kevin De Bruyne free-kick.
In that context it was no real surprise when Silva scored his second
of the evening within five minutes of the restart. Once again there
was so much to admire about the build-up play, with Fernandinho
again involved before Silva and Jesus exchanged passes. Butland
dashed from his line to try to make life difficult for Silva as
Jesus’s lofted pass bounced in front of him, but the Manchester City
midfielder showed such composure as he effortlessly hooked the ball
past the Stoke goalkeeper and into the empty net.
Playing with a swagger, City now threatened to totally overrun
Stoke. Butland saved at Sterling’s feet and Leroy Sané, swinging his
left boot 22 yards from goal, curled a shot narrowly wide. Stoke’s
threat could be described as sporadic at best, although Lambert was
left holding his head in his hands after Bruno Martins Indi volleyed
over from inside the six-yard box. Normal service soon resumed as
Butland denied Sané and then Sterling again.
With their feet off the pedal the second half was
played out at a less frantic pace and although Stoke introduced
Peter Crouch he could do little to threaten City's reliable defence.
It was time to resort to the dark arts. The home support certainly
thought Sterling was guilty of poor sportsmanship when, after City
allowed Stoke to win a drop ball, the winger nipped in to tackle
N’Diaye and move through on goal one-on-one. As jeers rang out from
all four corners of the bet365 Stadium, Sterling hesitated slightly,
allowing N’Diaye to recover and dispossess him as he was about to
test Butland. Those jeers were louder still when Sterling was
replaced five minutes later.
However, at this point it was Game over and an early morning flight
to Dubai for some warm weather training ahead of the next game at
Goodison Park on the 31st of the month.
||Stoke City (4-3-3): Butland; Bauer,
Zouma, Martins Indi, Stafylidis; Allen, Cameron, Ndiaye;
Shaqiri, Jese, Choupo-Moting.
Substitutes: Haugaard, Johnson, Adam, Shawcross, Fletcher,
Manchester City (4-3-3):
Ederson; Walker, Kompany, Otamendi, Zinchenko; De Bruyne,
Fernandinho, Silva; Sterling (Bernardo), Jesus (Gundogan),
Substitutes: Bravo, Danilo, Stones, Laporte, Touré.
Referee : Jonathan Moss
Attendance : 29,138
Manchester City 1 FC Basil 2
Basil Brush Aside City
Wednesday 7th March 2018 : GYKO at the Etihad
Some scoffed when Pep Guardiola suggested his side cannot yet be
compared with the members of European football's elite, but on this
evidence he may have a point.
Manchester City fell to their fourth defeat of the season – their
first at home in 459 days – against a plucky, organised but
eminently beatable Basel side playing for little but pride. That,
for a club intent on world domination, is not good enough.
This was a weakened City side and, thanks to an emphatic first-leg
win, one never in danger of not reaching the Champions League
quarter-finals, but such a limp defeat should still not have been
allowed to happen, especially after Gabriel Jesus opened the scoring
Yet having been overran on their own turf three weeks earlier,
Basel's pride was hurt and Raphael Wicky's side were determined not
leave this competition quietly. If Mohamed Elyounoussi's equaliser
came as a surprise to the Etihad, Michael Lang's winner sent
shockwaves through a stadium that had not witnessed its side beaten
since December 2016.
Would Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich have contrived to lose
this game after already proving they were so superior to their
opponents? Defeat was a reminder that City still have some way to go
to establish themselves at this rarefied level.
Sunday’s victory over Chelsea came at such a leisurely pace that
changes were perhaps not necessary but Guardiola made six
regardless, and the most eye-catching saw highly-rated 17-year-old
Phil Foden start in midfield.
There was also a return for Jesus, making his first start since New
Year’s Eve, and it took him just eight minutes to end a goal drought
dating back to mid-November. The finish could not have been simpler,
into an open net at the far post, but he owed much to the in-form
Leroy Sané, whose driving run across and through a crowded midfield
had made it happen.
A routine evening’s work seemed in order at that point - perhaps
there would even be another five-goal rout - but then came a moment
that left Guardiola’s mouth agape.
When Aymeric Laporte’s proactive approach to defending saw him
caught too far up-field, Basel countered quickly through Blas
Riveros, who was given the freedom of the Etihad’s left flank.
Having burst into the penalty area virtually unopposed, the wing
back cut the ball to Mohamed Elyounoussi and, as on so many
occasions last season, Claudio Bravo was well-beaten by the
opposition’s first shot on target.
One down for Basel, four to go, but the scale of the task at hand
did not seem to intimidate the Swiss champions and they continued to
create openings. Elyounoussi found himself bearing down on goal
again just after the half-hour mark but lost his balance as he
prepared to pull the trigger. Riveros then tested Bravo from a tight
angle and this time, he was equal to the effort.
City were still comfortable, as any team with their aggregate lead
would be, but this was far from the cakewalk they had expected.
All Basel's best work at the end of the first half was almost undone
in the opening minutes of the second, however. Rushing out of his
area, visiting goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik mistimed a clearance which
cannoned off Jesus' shins and glided over his head. The error could
have gifted City an undeserved lead, but the ball dropped mercifully
wide of goal.
With that hairy restart, what momentum Basel had began to dissipate.
Though they still struggled to find that final pass to split the
visitors' defence, City began to assume control and as they eased
towards the last eight, Guardiola felt it fit to introduce Brahim
Diaz, another talented but untested academy product.
That sense of security was misplaced, however, and Basel would come
again. It was Yaya Touré, one of City's older heads, to blame. The
Ivorian turned inside out by Elyounoussi out on the right flank.
Basel's scorer turned creator with a neat pass inside the full-back
to Lang, who finished emphatically past Bravo at a tight angle.
For Lang, it was a second decisive goal against a team from
Manchester after he downed United late on in the group stages and it
meant Basel's elimination was eased by a victory to be remembered.
For City, progression, but with a defeat that should not be
City: Bravo, Zinchenko, Stones, Danilo, Laporte, Touré,
Foden (Adarabioyo 88), Gündogan (Diaz 66), Sané, de
Unused subs : Agüero, Otamendi, Walker, De Bruyne, Ederson
FC Basel: Vaclik, Suchy, Lacroix, Frei, Lang, Riveros,
Galeano, Serey, Dié Zuffi (Oberlin van Wolfswinkel 74), Bua
(Stocker 67), Elyounoussi
Unused subs : Manzambi, Petretta, Salvi, Ajeti, Kaiser
Referee : Pavel Kralovec attendance : 49,411
Manchester City 1 Chelsea 0 Pensioners Lose
Sunday 4th March 2018 : GYKO at the Etihad
This was a match between the current champions of England and the
next champions of England, but it simply never
felt a game of such status because the latter made it such a
Just like the title race and all the intrigue around Chelsea and
Antonio Conte’s situation, everything about it felt so predictable,
as Bernardo Silva eventually got the goal that appropriately
reflected Manchester City’s dominance for a 1-0 win.
Pep Guardiola’s side and their crowd celebrated as if they knew this
was a clinching win, and the only incongruity about that was the
revelation that there was any kind of doubt about it. One of the few
questions left in this league campaign is when they will win the
title, and by how much. They now need to claim just four wins from
their remaining nine, and there is still the possibility that they
could mathematically clinch it at this stadium against Manchester
Beyond the noise that would produce, that’s what this is coming down
to now, the numbers – and in more than one sense. Can Manchester
City break the points record, break 100 points, and break Chelsea’s
own 2009-10 record of 103 goals in a Premier League season?
The threat of such feats, and the supremely-funded divine football
that may produce them, was acknowledged in Conte’s deeply defensive
approach to this game.
Another question from the afternoon is to what extent this was
actually intentional from the Italian. Did he really want to play
this deep, or did City just force them back that far because they
were that good?
It is very relevant to the Champions League that Guardiola’s side
seemed to give the English champions so many more problems than
Barcelona. They seemed to so often have them on edge, or hanging
right over it, and at times in the first half it felt a miracle that
the Chelsea goal was not breached.
Some of that might be down to the fact Conte’s side just weren’t as
pumped as they were for a big Champions League match, but that is
odd given that they so badly needed the points to get back into the
competition next season.
It was instead an oddly low-key ‘big six’ game – the words actually
quote-marked on one of the advertising hoardings at the stadium – of
the sort that happens when one side is so far ahead. There was just
felt an inevitability to it all, that City would eventually show
their superiority, that this Chelsea – and their manager – are
resigned to what feels likely to happen at the end of the season: a
change. It was deeply underwhelming from a manager and side
previously so charged. Certainly not the performance of champions.
In contrast to last season’s brilliantly cutting counter-attacking
victory, there felt no grand plan from Conte here, it was just
short-term cut-to-fit. How else to explain some of his selections,
other than the fact he clearly remains unenthused by some of the
club’s transfer policy. Over £70m worth of strikers were left on the
It was thereby just as inevitable that City would score in the short
term, as Bernardo Silva gave them the lead just after half-time. The
manner of the goal reflected the pattern of the game, City just
eventually forcing it over the line. SIlva’s shot was not the
cleanest but there was enough on it.
If the finish was scruffy, however, the move leading up to it was
not. This one thing about the procession, the inevitability of it
You can’t say it’s not entertaining, even if it is devoid of
competitive tension. City are often just joyous to watch, weaving
such glorious patterns. Leroy Sane has arguably come to display this
more than anyone of late with the way he glides across the pitch. He
so lusciously turned Thibaut Courtois in the Chelsea box, before
having a shot cleared off the line by Cesar Azpilicueta.
There might be one element of tension remaining in City’s league
campaign, though. That is whether they can break those records. They
need eight wins from their remaining games for 100 points, but just
21 strikes for the goals margin.
There were occasions in this game when it looked that would be very
easy for them to manage both, and it was frankly amazing that they
had only scored once.
It will almost be as amazing if Conte is still in the Chelsea job
next season. There are many reasons and arguments as regards that,
but the fundamental point is that City have left everyone in the
They celebrated with that knowledge in the rain.
City: Ederson, Otamendi, Walker, Laporte, Zinchenko (Danilo
87), Gündogan, De Bruyne, Silva (Foden 90+3), Bernardo,
Sané, Agüero (Jesus 85)
Unused subs : Stones, Touré, Kompany, Bravo
Chelsea: Courtois, Rüdiger, Christensen, Azpilicueta,
Drinkwater, Alonso, Fàbregas, Moses, Hazard (Morata 90),
Pedro (Emerson 82), Willian (Giroud 78)
Unused subs : Zappacosta, Cahill, Chalobah, Caballero
Referee : Michael Oliver Attendance :
Arsenal 0 Manchester City 3 Arsenal
Thursday 1st March 2018 : John Bailey for GYKO
at the Emirates Stadium
You could say
this felt like the end, except that’s partly the case because Arsene
Wenger has been left feeling like this so many times before. This
was just another humiliating night to go with a catalogue of them,
another Arsenal thrashing at the feet of a purported rival, another
Manchester City masterclass this season. The gap between the sides
was so vast that it was hard to say what was more influential: the
Premier League leaders’ abundant quality or Arsenal’s atrocious lack
of it. One thing was clear: Arsenal are bad, and in bad need of
Because, as grimly familiar as so much of this was - a Wenger side
was 4-0 down at half-time to Manchester United in 2001 to lose 6-1;
4-0 down to Liverpool at half-time in 2014 to lose
5-1; 4-0 down to Chelsea at half-time a few weeks later to again
lose 6-1 - this horror show still managed to fall to new depths.
It was the first time Wenger’s Arsenal had conceded three goals by
half-time in a Premier League home game, but that in front of a
stadium that surely wasn’t half full.
The official attendance of 58,420 was as much of a joke as the idea
of Granit Xhaka as Arsenal’s only defensive midfielder.
Many of those that stayed away might have done so because of the
awful weather, many because of the prospect of an awful defeat like
this, probably a combination, but those that came still managed to
come together for the loudest boos this stadium has yet heard. One
of those was when the players were actually coming back onto the
pitch by half-time.
As regards the pictures, there was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s
feeble saved second-half penalty, Hector Bellerin falling over as he
attempted to challenge a City player for the second goal, or maybe
the numerous times that Shkodran Mustafi was humiliated by the
effervescent Leroy Sane.
The German’s run for the second City goal, actually, that was the
real indictment. Sane left Mustafi for dust but what was so galling
was that he didn’t even need to offer an actual trick or a feint for
it. The cock of the foot was enough, the mere prospect of a trick or
feint enough. Arsenal were that intimated by City, that cowed by
That itself points to something else in the catalogue of criticisms
for this team. On the rare occasions when two teams who meet in a
cup final meet again in the next game, there has been a dynamic that
the initially defeated side responds with a victory. The trophy
winners tend to be temporarily sated, the losers stung into action
with their pride hurt.
That didn’t happen here. City just kept hurting Arsenal more, and
The gap between the sides was this time more visible in the actual
play than the scoreline, since that ended the same as Sunday’s 3-0
but really felt like a 6-0.
City were playing - and, really, gliding - on such a different level
that single touches were instantly putting them into yards of space,
while leaving Arsenal players literally falling over each other.
That was especially the case for the brilliant break-away third
goal, as Sane got the strike he deserved. He will rarely get one as
easily. Bernardo Silva pushed the ball onto Sergio Aguero with one
wondrous touch, the Argentine did the same for Kevin De Bruyne with
another, and the Belgian then teed up Kyle Walker to square the ball
for the German.
There is an argument that it was City’s best goal of the season, but
that is immediately mitigated by the poverty of opposition, as
illustrated by Bellerin’s fall.
There was also the painful reality that, when Arsenal attacked, it
was still City that looked more likely to score. They were left with
that much space to so lusciously play, and that much time to do so,
given how early the game was won.
Just like on Sunday, any Arsenal challenge faded after City went
ahead, this time after just 15 minutes. There was barely a challenge
for that first goal as Sane ran right through the half to feed
Bernardo Silva. Sead Kolasinac then seemed to show the playmaker
onto his left, Silva saying thank you very much and gloriously
curling the ball into the top corner.
It was difficult to know what was better, that finish or David
Silva’s touch for the sublime second.
At the other end of the scale, it’s difficult to know what was
worse: this Arsenal humiliation, or any of the copious others you
could put alongside it.
It has put Wenger in a worse position than he’s ever been in at the
club, and that doesn’t apply to his future. Arsenal are now 30
points behind the leaders, who moved within five wins of the title.
A Wenger side has never been this far off the pace. That should
apply to his future. New depths, and time for a new manager.
Any sense of hope at this stadium was as barren as the stands by the
time it ended.
Arsenal: Cech, Koscielny, Mustafi, Bellerín, Kolasinac,
Welbeck, Mkhitaryan, Xhaka, Özil, Ramsey, Aubameyang
Unused subs Ospina, Chambers, Iwobi, El
Sayed Elneny, Maitland-Niles, Holding, Nketiah
City:Ederson, Otamendi, Walker (Zinchenko 72), Danilo,
Kompany, Gündogan, De Bruyne, Silva (Jesus 86), Agüero (Yaya
Toure 82), Bernardo, Sané
Unused subs Bravo, Stones, Laporte, Foden
Referee : Andre Mariner Attendance : 58,420
Arsenal 0 Manchester City 3
Sunday 25th February 2018 : GYKO at Wembley
At the final whistle Pep
Guardiola carried the air of a man who was perfectly accustomed to
these kind of occasions. He embraced his staff, he clasped the hand
of the losing manager, Arsène Wenger, and then he made his way on to
the pitch calmly to congratulate the players who had given him the
first trophy of his Manchester City years.
The first of many, one assumes, even if Wigan Athletic blew a gaping
hole in the theory that Guardiola’s team could win the lot this
season. A treble is still on, however, and the Premier League might
as well be engraved with their name, given the way City have turned
the title race into a procession. Guardiola’s men will have to play
better than they did here if they are to join the list of Champions
League winners. Yet it was still another occasion to suspect the Abu
Dhabi masterplan – target: worldwide domination – is gradually
In the process it was also a stark reminder for Arsenal about how
far they have fallen behind the elite. Wenger has still not won the
League Cup during 21 years as a manager in England and Arsenal now
have the unwanted record of losing six finals in this competition.
Nothing, though, will be more galling for Arsenal than the
realisation it was they who used to dismantle teams this way. They
looked what they are: 27 points short of City in the league,
carrying far too many passengers and led by a manager whose peak
years can feel a long time ago.
Superior as City were, there is even a reasonable argument that
Guardiola’s side did not reach their more exhilarating peaks. Kevin
De Bruyne can pass the ball more imperiously than he did here. David
Silva was eight out of 10 when frequently it is nine. Guardiola said
he was unhappy with his team’s first-half performance and, no
kidding, there were even rumours De Bruyne had kicked one pass out
for an Arsenal throw-in. Maybe that explained why Guardiola was not
dancing on the pitch afterwards.
Ultimately, though, City did not have to be at their absolute best
when their opponents, to quote Gary Neville in the television
gantry, were “spineless” and there was a mass walkout in the Arsenal
end after Silva had drilled in the third goal. Sergio Agüero’s 30th
goal of the season had given City an 18th-minute lead, after some
dismal defending by Shkodran Mustafi, and there was never any doubt
that it would be Vincent Kompany lifting the trophy once the captain
had stabbed in the second goal shortly before the hour.
Kompany was the outstanding performer, seldom troubled by Pierre-Emerick
Aubameyang and, when he can play this majestically, what a shame it
is that his career has been so undermined by injuries. On the big
occasions, when his legs are not failing him, there is no better
centre-half in the country.
In the end it was almost a surprise City did not score more and the
ironic “olés” from City fans mocking Arsenal's passes at 3-0,
probably summed up the disaffection from their end of the stadium.
Wenger has heard worse in recent years and admitted afterwards a lot
of the damage was “self-inflicted”. They are 10 points adrift of the
Premier League’s top four, out of the FA Cup and their only
realistic hope is the Europa League, a competition they used to
regard with disdain.
At least Jack Wilshere played with the spirit of a man who was
repulsed by the idea of meek defeat. There were others, however, in
red and white who preferred to spend the game on the edges. Mesut
Özil had one of his wishy-washy games, reminding everyone he will
never be a chaser of lost causes. Aaron Ramsey was overwhelmed and,
defensively, Wenger’s decision to revert to a back three simply did
At this level it has been clear for some time that Calum Chambers is
simply not up to it. Nacho Monreal injured himself with a mistimed
challenge on Kyle Walker and his replacement, Sead Kolasinac, let
Silva spin away from him for the third goal. But this was a
collective failure. Arsenal were weak, vapid and outclassed.
The irony is that when Agüero ran clear to open the scoring it was
possibly the most unorthodox goal ever scored by a Guardiola team –
originating from a long punt over the top from their goalkeeper,
Claudio Bravo. Maybe Guardiola had been watching old television
replays of Wimbledon from the 1980s. Except, of course,
centre-halves knew how to defend in those days. Mustafi was the
wrong side of Agüero and all it needed was the slightest nudge to
take him out of the equation. Agüero was just too good for him, too
alert and much too clever, and it was a beautifully measured lob to
lift the ball over the oncoming David Ospina.
Wenger tried to argue afterwards that City’s second goal should have
been disallowed for offside against Leroy Sané. Ilkay Gündoğan had
the first attempt, 20 yards out, from De Bruyne’s corner and Kompany
jutted out his boot to divert the shot into the opposite corner. Yet
it was the third goal that revealed the most about this City team.
This time the killer pass came on the left and it was one that De
Bruyne would have been proud of. This was City’s left-back, Danilo,
slicing open the Arsenal defence. Guardiola was waiting to embrace
him by the touchline and the Arsenal fans were heading, en masse, to
Arsenal: Ospina, Koscielny, Mustafi, Chambers (Welbeck
65), Monreal (Kolasinac 26), Ramsey (Iwobi 73), Xhaka,
Bellerín, Wilshere, Aubameyang, Özil
Unused subs : El Sayed Elneny, Cech, Maitland-Niles,
City: Bravo, Otamendi, Walker, Danilo, Kompany,
Gündogan, De Bruyne, Sané (Jesus 77), Silva (B.Silva 52)
Agüero (Foden 89)
Unused subs : Stones, Santana de Moraes, Laporte,
Referee Craig Pawson