Leicester City 0 Manchester
City 1 City Outfox the Foxes
Saturday 23rd February 2020 : Alan Martin for
GYKO at The King Power Stadium
What did it mean? Does it matter that a late
Gabriel Jesus goal gave Manchester City victory at Leicester? What
does any of it mean? At least when we stand on the edge of the abyss
and gaze into the void, wondering if there might be any purpose to
any of it, football usually offers the consolation of the league
table. We can cling to that, in its tallying of points find a point.
And yet now with the shadow of City’s Champions League ban, and a
probable appeal against that, and the possibility of a Premier
League points deduction, although nobody seems to know for what
season it might apply, the certainties of the table seem somewhat
If City’s ban is upheld without any delay for the appeal, fifth will
be enough for Champions League qualification. Which is great news
for Leicester, whose lead over Sheffield United in sixth is 10
points – even after a run of only three wins in 11 games. And it is
not as though Chelsea in fourth, whose win on Saturday was just
their fifth in 15 games, are breathing particularly aggressively
down their neck. And if the ban is upheld, what really have City
left to play for, other than the indisputable income that comes with
And that is where Uefa’s action and City’s response have left us, in
a limbo in which everything is contingent and nobody quite knows
what anything means. Even the defiance of City’s fans seemed a
little uncertain, the chants supporting Sheikh Mansour and promising
to see Uefa in court less vociferous than the boos with which the
home crowd greeted every touch from their former darling Riyad
Mahrez. Amid such uncertainty, what is to be done? Nothing perhaps,
but to go on, to strive against the futility and try to win football
With Wilfred Ndidi ruled out because of recurrent pain in his knee –
leading Brendan Rodgers this week to insist he had not rushed him
back after surgery – and Hamza Choudhury suspended, Leicester were
left without any holding midfielders. Rodgers’s response was to
adopt a back three for only the second time in the league this
season. The first brought a 3-0 win at Newcastle, but it is fair to
say City offer a very different threat – which is to say, a threat.
The presence of Christian Fuchs as a left-sided centre-back, though,
offered some support for Ben Chilwell, who was left horribly exposed
against Mahrez in the game at the Etihad, which City won far more
comfortably than the 3-1 scoreline suggested.
Jamie Vardy’s pace against a City side alarmingly vulnerable to the
counter-attack had been the main threat in that game and so it was
again, the Premier League’s leading scorer hitting the post after
eight minutes as he ran on to a Youri Tielemans though-ball.
Worryingly for City the chance stemmed from Aymeric Laporte first
squandering possession and then, having won it back, being caught on
the ball. After two substitute appearances it was the defender’s
first start since sustaining a knee injury at the end of August. His
return should in time bring greater stability to a City rearguard
that has been suspect at times this season, but that is a process
that may take time. There had been a theory that he would not be
risked here with the Champions League tie at Real Madrid on
Wednesday, but that early shakiness suggested he needs the minutes
to feel his way back into form before a game of that magnitude.
City dominated possession and had the bulk of the chances but, other
than an Ilkay Gündogan opportunity that he rather scuffed at Kasper
Schmeichel, City’s threat was limited before half-time.
Restricting City to long-range efforts – a deflected Benjamin Mendy
strike, a snapshot from Kevin De Bruyne, a couple of free-kicks –
particularly without either first-choice holding player suggested
Rodgers’s tweak had worked.
Or at least it had worked as far as anything can against City.
Against them, even when they are not quite at their sharpest, the
flow can seem relentless. There will always be chances. Schmeichel
made one exceptional save low to his left to deny De Bruyne and then
beat away Sergio Agüero’s 62nd-minute penalty, awarded by VAR after
Dennis Praet had blocked Gündogan’s drive with a raised elbow. It
was the fifth penalty City have missed of their last seven.
But the goal did eventually arrive, fired home by the substitute
Gabriel Jesus with 10 minutes remaining after a surging run from
Mahrez. Whether it matters is an entirely different issue.
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Even before the ban City found themselves on a mezzanine of
futility, comfortably in the Champions League places but far distant
from Liverpool. Now they are reliant on their appeal even for
European qualification. Meaning has come to feel an extremely vague
Leicester (5-3-2): Schmeichel: Pereira, Soyuncu, Evans, Fuchs
(Perez 90), Chilwell; Tielemans, Praet (James 85) , Maddison; Vardy,
Iheanacho (Barnes 45)
Subs unused: Ward (Gk), Justin, Morgan, Albrighton
Man City (4-2-3-1): Ederson: Walker, Laporte (Otamendi 58),
Fernandinho, Mendy; Rodri, Gundogan; Mahrez, De Bruyne B
Silva; Aguero (Jesus 77)
Subs unused: Bravo (Gk), Stones, Cancelo, D Silva, Foden
Referee: Paul Tierney
Manchester City 2 West Ham
United 0 Training Session
Wednesday 19th February 2020 : GYKO at the
There has been anger and unbridled aggression
from Manchester City in the five days since UEFA plunged their world
into uncertainty, though Pep Guardiola on Wednesday revealed that
the defence of your position is inestimably classier when delivered
with calm insistence.
At times in City's troubling past six months, Guardiola has looked
and sounded like he would much rather be somewhere else, though he
was a remarkably fine advocate for his club in the face of that UEFA
ban which threatens to remove him and them from Europe for two
He is no lawyer, he admitted. He is having to take what City
executives tell him about financial manipulation on face value. He
did not shy away from the word 'sentence' when discussing legal
ramifications. But his articulation of how City feel and will
respond – the first anyone has offered in plain view, out from the
sanctity of controlled club media – provided more encouragement than
anything City's fans have received so far.
When the UEFA line of question had been closed down and Guardiola
was making to leave, a Spanish journalist made it clear he wanted to
ask more. The subject was closed, he was told, but Guardiola
insisted that the individual be heard. What, Guardiola was asked,
did he make of the Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu
applauding UEFA's actions?
'Don't talk too loud, Barcelona - that is my advice because
everybody is involved in situations,' Guardiola replied. 'We are
going to appeal and hopefully in the future we can play in the
Champions League against Barcelona.' Yes: this was certainly an
object lesson in class.
There will be noise in the months ahead, too. The anthems of protest
are in gestation already. 'UEFA cartel, 'See you in court' and 'UEFA
mafia' were among the banners here.
But for one night, at least, some of the greatest players assembled
within these shores could demonstrate how shrewdly City have spent
the money now under dispute.
There was Kevin De Bruyne, anchor and architect of yet another of
those regulation victories here. From him, a goal and assist of
artistry to erase the present troubles. Guardiola's side had entered
the match on the back of consecutive defeats – to Tottenham in the
Premier League and Manchester United in the Carabao Cup – but any
suggestion of further drama quickly evaporated.
A Champions League clash with Real Madrid was the occasion that City
really needed, in the aftermath of UEFA's announcement. That is the
occasion when the club can make a statement transcending anything
their executives have to say. Winning the Champions League – the one
trophy which has eluded them: that is the ultimate response.
A re-arranged fixture against a side with as little ambition as West
Ham was something rather more prosaic. It can by no means be said
that every home seat was taken up for the occasion and with away
fans leaving a large section of their allocation unused, the stadium
was not exactly the scene of an insurrection.
The chant of 'f*** UEFA' sounded on the half hour. Guardiola's name,
and the reminder that the fans here are City till they die did seem
to take on more profound meaning. But the first half felt like a
training routine at times in front of David Moyes' brittle five-man
It would have also helped to get a revolution started had Gabriel
Jesus had shown a sharper edge. Twice in the first 20 minutes, the
wonderful artistry of David Silva seemed to have set him on his way.
Twice, he dithered.
But City went ahead with easy inevitability when Rodri's arcing
header from a De Bruyne corner, executed from well outside the
six-yard box, looped into the net just before the arriving Aymeric
Laporte got a foot on it.
De Bruyne doubled the lead, exchanging passes with Bernardo Silva on
the right side of the box, then locating the Portuguese again in
penalty box space before racing forward to take the ball off his toe
West Ham's failure to register a scintilla of threat was shocking to
behold. Once behind, the side had nothing to lose, yet nothing to
offer. Five touches in the opposition area and not a single shot at
goal until Michail Antonio blasted over with 15 minutes left. The
last time they were in the relegation zone at this stage, as they
are now, they finished bottom.
'We did a decent job but not good enough,' said David Moyes. 'There
will be very few teams who will come here and be open.' That was
Guardiola embraced his players and prepared for a half hour of
questions in which he could not have been more equivocal about his
intentions to see his contract through to its conclusion at the end
of next season. Now for the hard part: the weekly grind of a Premier
League campaign in which the title is lost, with the European
uncertainty and all that brings swirling around in the background.
There are far bigger demons than West Ham up ahead.
Manchester City (4-3-3): Ederson; Walker,
Otamendi, Laporte (Stones 65), Mendy; De Bruyne (Gundogan 78),
Rodrigo, D Silva (Foden 84); Aguero, Jesus, B. Silva
Subs not used: Bravo, Fernandinho, Mahrez, Cancelo, Foden
West Ham (5-4-1): Fabianski; Fredericks (Zabaleta 60), Diop,
Ogbonna, Cresswell, Masuaku; Snodgrass, Rice, Noble, Soucek; Antonio
Subs not used: Randoplgh Balbuena, Anderson, Lanzini, Bowen, Haller
Referee: K Friend (Leicestershire)
Attendance : about 40,000
Tottenham 2 Manchester City 0
City Fire Blanks
Sunday 2nd February 2020 : Kim Beresford for
GYKO at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Some might call it efficiency, some might call it
a Jose Mourinho masterclass. The man himself will call it the only
thing that actually matters: victory. And maybe a bit of
For Manchester City, you might call it part of an ongoing meltdown
that is costing them their title in record time, Or
perhaps, just one of those days. If this 2-0 Tottenham Hotspur win
over Manchester City did feel a long way from the best days of the
Pep Guardiola-Mourinho rivalry, it did recall one of the
Portuguese’s key principles from that time, and something he used to
say to the Real Madrid players a lot. He might repeat it with a
little more pride in the Spurs dressing room after this: “Whoever
has the ball is more likely to make a mistake.”
City of course made many more mistakes, having naturally had so much
more of the ball. They were particularly error-strewn with Ilkay
Gundogan’s missed penalty, Oleksandr Zinchenko’s foul for the red
card and so many missed chances.
There, crucially, Spurs didn’t make a mistake once. The stats after
the clinching second goal recorded them having a mere two shots.
They scored from both. The first was a peach of a finish and a peach
of a moment. Promising new signing Steven Bergwijn celebrated his
debut with a divine volley on the turn. That was the turning of the
The second - from Son Heung-Min - was a little cruder, given it came
from a deflection, but still told the story of the game. Spurs’
minimalist directness beat City’s overwrought elaboration.
On another day, to be fair, the defending champions - something they
won’t be able to say for much longer - could have been 3-0 up after
an hour. That is why the merits of the tactics shouldn’t be
overstated. It was, really, one of those days. Spurs did get lucky.
But you still have to actually use that luck, and go and do it.
That’s the only way to describe their performance. They went and did
it. It was so basic but, against this anxiety-ridden City,
Spurs’ main attacking play seemed to be getting the fast players -
usually Son Heung-Min - to run at goal in a straight line. It
initially seemed so easy to read, but eventually broke Spurs, mostly
through that Zinchenko red card. His foul on Harry Winks was
certainly easy to read. Zinchenko’s willingness to get involved in
the confrontation after the penalty came back to cost him.
In contrast to such straight lines, City were putting together all
matter of patterns. But maybe too many. This was one of those
matches where it seemed they over-elaborated, that in itself then
only deepening the anxiety and second-guessing about actually
scoring. How else to explain so many missed chances?
Well, one fair explanation for a lot of those chances was that too
many - the penalty, and two efforts right in front of goal - fell to
Gundogan. It was not his day either.
The penalty was so tame, but perhaps worse was his third effort.
Coming just moments after he’d skied that admittedly awkward
opportunity from the open goal, the chance saw the ball pulled back
to him, only for Gundogan to completely miss it.
This was the story of City’s display. It was one of those games
where they had so much of the ball, but then so little poise with it
once they got within 15 feet of Lloris’s goal.
Perhaps the elongated penalty incident scrambled their mindset,
fostering a doubt. There should really be no doubt about the actual
decision itself. Serge Aurier did indeed make contact with Sergio
After that, though, everything seemed to suddenly combine so City
were gradually pulled apart. The penalty ended up proving a set-back
as Gundogan missed. The confrontation from Sterling’s controversial
fall allowed Spurs to get into their heads. It saw Zinchenko pick up
the yellow card that eventually resulted in his red.
After that, and Bergwijn’s brilliant finish, the space was there for
Son to cut City open. Guardiola’s side had had most of the ball and
pretty much all the chances - but also made all of the mistakes. The
Catalan will now look to whether there have been errors in
recruitment, and there will surely be those around him wondering
whether it might be a mistake to stay on. That talk is only growing,
in tandem with City’s loosening grip on the trophy.
It is why this might just have been one of those days, but similarly
can't be written off that. It is part of bigger problems that have
come to cost City time and again this season. It is starting to
create doubt about the future.
Tottenham: Lloris; Aurier, Alderweireld, Sanchez, Tanganga; Winks,
Lo Celso; Son, Alli (Ndombele 70), Bergwijn (Lamela 70), Moura (Dier
Subs not used: Gazzaniga, Vertonghen, Sessegnon, Fernandes
Manchester City: Ederson; Walker, Fernandinho, Otamendi, Zinchenko;
Gundogan, Rodri, De Bruyne; Sterling (B. Silva 84), Mahrez (Jesus
72), Aguero (Cancelo 64)
Subs not used: Bravo, Garcia, D Silva, Foden
Ref: Mike Dean Attendance : 61,022