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Manchester City 4 Fulham 0     Back on the Cup Trail
Sunday 26th January 2020 : GYKO at the Etihad

This was Manchester City’s 19th straight win in domestic cup competition, the holders coasting into the fifth round in a tie that neared a soporific state at times.

Pep Guardiola and his team will not care, of course. They are favourites to reach Wembley once more when facing Manchester United here in Wednesday’s Carabao Cup semi-final second leg and it may be unwise to bet against them reaching the FA Cup showpiece again, too.

The sole potential off-note came when the manager revealed that Aymeric Laporte may not be available for United’s visit. “He has some fatigue,” Guardiola said. “It is normal after four or five months [out]. Right now we are not going to take risks. We will see. If we feel he is not ready, he will not play. If he can play, he can play.”

City’s second strike took them to 100 goals in all competitions, the first team in Europe’s five major leagues to do so this season.

“Always we score since we are here,” Guardiola said of his four-year tenure at the club. “Always we have the ability to score. The problem is we concede [a] few in some games [this term].”

Within six minutes of kick-off, Fulham had lost Tim Ream. The captain pulled Gabriel Jesus over in the area, Kevin Friend pointed to the spot and showed him a red card: double jeopardy activated as he had not tried to play the ball. Ilkay Gündogan beat Marek Rodak to give City a dream start and a nightmare one for their visitors. “He’s one of the takers [now],” said Guardiola, City having missed three penalties this season.

Fulham’s manager, Scott Parker, said: “The prep you do goes out of the window after six minutes when you go down to 10 men and they score a goal.”

Riyad Mahrez was next to torment Fulham via nifty footwork that ended with him letting fly at Rodak, who saved impressively to his right. Bernardo Silva now got in on the soft-shoe shuffle act, and this time he doubled the lead.
Bernardo Silva’s effort flies past Fulham’s Marek Rodak

From the edge of the area the Portuguese became a one-man carousel spinning a group of Fulham defenders with him, finally turning a last time inside and leaving Ivan Cavaleiro gawping as he rifled in the sweetest of strikes.

The contest seemed already over – any remaining intrigue concerned how many City might score. Guardiola’s men toyed with their opponents, dialling up quality at will, as when Mahrez glided past Joe Bryan, who chopped down the Algerian. Bryan was lucky not to be booked and when Friend blew for the break Fulham could be heartened by having not conceded again. A measure of the one-way traffic, though, was found in them having had three touches in City’s area. The tally for Guardiola’s men had been near-countless.

They began the second half with another spurned chance. Angeliño traded passes with Phil Foden, then found David Silva inside the area. The captain relayed the ball to Mahrez yet from an inviting angle he blasted high.

It had Guardiola grimacing and Mahrez was replaced early in the half – by Raheem Sterling – because of a “kick” on the Algerian, the manager explained.
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Against a backdrop more akin to a summer warm-up game, Fulham’s brightest moment arrived via a free-kick in an advanced position. Stefan Johansen floated the ball in but Cavaleiro bumped into Bernardo Silva and though Parker protested Friend adjudged no foul play.

City continued to probe. Nicolás Otamendi rolled the ball to Foden, it went to Gündogan, David Silva and, once more, they could not capitalise.

Then, at last, they did. This was simple and derived from Fulham again trying to play out from the back. Bobby Decordova-Reid was caught out close to goal, the ball went to João Cancelo and Gabriel Jesus nodded home. Cancelo would end the game limping. “We will see how he recovers in the next days,” said Guardiola.

Farcically Fulham conceded via precisely the same slipshod manner three minutes later. Michael Hector was dispossessed by Jesus in front of Rodak and the subsequent sequence ended with the Brazilian finishing after the keeper beat out Foden’s effort.

Now ended Decordova-Reid’s afternoon, Parker introducing Denis Odoi for him. Yet the manager, really, might have acted more effectively by ordering his team earlier in the half to forget trying to start attacks from the back and so stop City’s high press mugging them. By the final whistle this was as easy an outing as City could have hoped for. Next up is Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s United. “Now we have three days to prepare for them,” said Guardiola.

MAN CITY (4-3-3): Bravo; Cancelo, Otamendi (Stones 74), Garcia, Angelino; B Silva, Gundogan (Rodri 75), D Silva; Mahrez  (Sterling 53), Jesus, Foden.         
Subs not used: Ederson, Aguero, Zinchenko, De Bruyne.

FULHAM (4-4-2): Rodak; Christie, Hector, Ream, Kongolo (Jasper 83); Johansen, Sessegnon, Bryan; Onomah Decordova-Reid (Odoi 78), Cavaleiro, (Cairney 67)

Referee: Kevin Friend 7       Attendance: 39,223

Sheffield United 0 Manchester City 1    City Blunt the Blades
Tuesday 22nd January 2020 : James Bishop for GYKO at Bramhall Lane

Sergio Agüero came off the bench to restore normal service for Manchester City, securing a win with a sharply taken goal when the defending champions appeared in danger of being held for a second game in succession.

Certainly before Agüero’s introduction there had been little to choose between the sides, which is as much a compliment to Sheffield United as a criticism of City’s performance. And then there was Gabriel Jesus’s first-half penalty, saved by Dean Henderson. The striker has been unsuccessful with all three penalties he has taken for club and country this season, and if Pep Guardiola is going to persist with using Agüero sparingly he may like to consider giving someone else a turn from the spot.

“I am definitely going to reflect on it,” the City manager said. “It’s not just Jesus, Agüero and Sterling have missed too, and in tight games like these penalties can make a big difference. We knew this was a tough place to come but we put in a solid performance and the big plus was the performance of Aymeric Laporte. I think he is the best left-sided central defender in the world, and when a player like that is out for five months you are bound to miss him.”

City welcomed back Laporte a few days earlier than anticipated and nearly lost him again after a mere 12 minutes when Mo Besic was booked for an untidy challenge that left the defender in a heap, though after receiving attention he was able to continue. City retained Fernandinho in a back three to match up with the home side’s formation, yet United almost found a way through in the opening minutes when Oli McBurnie played Billy Sharp behind the City backline. United briefly held a numerical advantage but Sharp was unable to pick out John Fleck with his cross.

It was United’s turn to get lucky midway through the first half when Chris Basham miscontrolled on halfway to leave Raheem Sterling sprinting clear. The winger supplied Riyad Mahrez on the right and moved up to meet the return pass with a first-time shot, only to see Henderson dive to his right to save.

While it was a good stop by the goalkeeper United had been opened up, and from a position near the penalty spot a more accomplished finisher, Agüero say, might have scored. Henderson came to his side’s rescue again just minutes later, when Nicolás Otamendi came up for a corner and managed to improvise an aerial volley that stayed low and on target but was kept out by the goalkeeper’s legs.

Henderson’s finest moment was still to come, because 10 minutes before the interval the goalkeeper on loan from Manchester United kept out the penalty. City had perhaps been a tad fortunate to see it awarded. Mahrez appeared to be losing control of the ball on a slalom through a crowded area by the time Basham arrived to bring his progress to an abrupt halt. With Agüero on the bench Jesus stepped up to take the kick and put it at a comfortable height for Henderson to save. The goalkeeper was a yard off his line when the ball was struck and VAR could theoretically have ordered the kick to be retaken but as applause for Henderson’s heroics were still ringing round the ground as the game restarted the officials wisely opted not to start a riot.

The home crowd were incensed enough by half-time as it was, after seeing Ollie Norwood booked for a foul on Fernandinho when the City player had already got away with a couple of similar tactical offences without punishment.

By the time the Brazilian did receive a caution, right on the stroke of the interval, he almost appeared to be asking Lee Mason to take action by piling into McBurnie from behind with no chance of winning the ball.

The travelling support had been singing Agüero’s name for some time before he was sent on with 23 minutes remaining. The effect was close to immediate, for with 17 minutes left the visitors were in front. All it took was one measured Kevin De Bruyne pass, expertly placed between Jack O’Connell and John Egan, and a typically well-timed Agüero run to meet the ball and tap it home.

United would have been doubly aggrieved because, moments before, McBurnie had narrowly failed to connect with a similarly inviting cross from Enda Stevens after Kyle Walker had lost the ball, though replays gave the impression a goal might not have passed a VAR offside test.

“When top sides come here we want them to go through the mixer to get a result,” Chris Wilder said. “We went toe to toe with City and that’s something to be proud of but they have real quality and they won through a world-class pass and a fabulous finish.”

SHEFFIELD UNITED (3-5-2): Henderson; Basham (Robinson 78'), Egan, O'Connell; Baldock, Besic (Lundstram 78'), Norwood, Fleck, Stevens; Sharp (Mousset 59'), McBurnie              Subs not used: Jagielka, Kieron Freeman, Verrips, Osborn

MANCHESTER CITY (3-4-2-1): Ederson; Fernandinho, Otamendi, Laporte (Garcia 78'); Walker, Rodri, De Bruyne, Zinchenko ; Mahrez, Sterling (Bernardo Silva 90+2'); Gabriel Jesus (Aguero 67')           Subs not used: Bravo, Gundogan, Joao Cancelo, Foden

Referee: Lee Mason 6        Attendance: 31,825

Manchester City 2 Crystal Palace 2    Eagles Wing It
Saturday 18th January 2020 : GYKO at the Etihad

If this goes down as the day Manchester City all but mathematically surrendered their title, frustration will surely be the searing emotion. They dominated Crystal Palace and looked to have overturned Cenk Tosun’s first-half strike via Sergio Agüero goals on 82 and 87 minutes. However Wilfried Zaha raced upfield with the clock in added time and the winger hit a cross at Fernandinho, which the Brazilian turned beyond his own goalkeeper, Ederson.

This quietened the home crowd, and the draw means Liverpool can pull 16 points ahead of City if Manchester United are beaten on Sunday, with the leaders still having another game in hand to play.

On David Silva’s 300th league appearance Pep Guardiola made three changes, drafting in Ilkay Gündogan, Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling, with Roy Hodgson introducing only the on-loan Tosun as Palace’s forward.

There is no doubt Benjamin Mendy enhances City – the issue is if he can stay fit. Here the left‑back’s ability to hit a curving cross that is difficult to defend was illustrated on countless occasions, with an early one aimed at Sterling coming close to creating an opening goal.

David and Bernardo Silva, Sterling, Mendy and Kevin De Bruyne combined throughout to give Palace problems. When De Bruyne’s 20-yard free-kick crashed off Vicente Guaita’s crossbar, Fernandinho looked to finish the rebound from close in only to be put off by a shove from James McArthur. The Palace midfielder was lucky this went undetected as he had just been booked by Graham Scott for the foul that led to De Bruyne taking aim from the dead ball.

When Hodgson had a fierce word with Guaita for hitting a clearance straight to Ederson, this indicated how the visitors could ill-afford to waste the scant possession they had. Zaha is expected to carry Palace’s attacking threat and it was noticeable how Bernardo Silva and João Cancelo worked hard to go tight on him when he received.

John Stones, who was shaky throughout, may have been lucky not to concede penalty when attempting a tackle on Zaha: the Palace man went down but VAR, to the centre-back’s relief, ruled him innocent. Sterling is not renowned for headed finishes but he went near to opening the scoring from a Bernardo Silva ball in from the right.

By now the half-hour had passed and Hodgson could be pleased at the goalless scoreline. The City support, though, were becoming frustrated at having nothing to show for their team’s superiority.

Agüero looked to have fashioned a clear chance when he left James McCarthy on his backside but unfortunately for City the midfielder’s trailing leg cleared the ball. Palace then performed a classic smash-and-grab act. After winning a corner on the right McCarthy swung the ball in, Gary Cahill beat Stones and his header was turned home by Tosun.

City’s shock did not last long, with Bernardo Silva forcing Guaita to tip a shot over but when the second half began they still trailed and while Palace had hardly attacked the home side were staring at conceding further ground to Liverpool.

Guardiola’s instructions looked to be that his men should use the flanks more – Stones drawing his ire when turning infield instead. However, the centre-back’s pass reached Gündogan who found Mendy and suddenly City were advancing; the Frenchman’s dipping ball deserved to find someone on the end of it. Sterling managed to reach the ball in the Palace box moments later when found by David Silva but his effort went wide.

Mendy’s next delivery caused havoc as first Agüero and then Bernardo Silva had attempts blocked desperately, deepening the sense that Palace would soon be breached.

City were still relentless but with added edge. A De Bruyne corner was the latest to pepper the danger area but the home team’s vulnerability at the back – it has plagued them all season – was illuminated again when a Zaha chip was controlled and volleyed by Tosun, Ederson having to save sharply.

On 62 minutes, Guardiola replaced David Silva with Gabriel Jesus, the Brazilian partnering Agüero. The move nearly worked straight away as Jesus scrambled to shoot before the angle defeated him.

City became more desperate, conscious of the need to engineer a win that would salvage any faint hope of catching Liverpool. They thought they had a penalty when Bernardo Silva’s cross was inadvertently kicked on to his hand by Jaïro Riedewald. The referee, pointed to the spot but VAR ruled this out: it was an apt summation of the agonising character of City’s display.

MANCHESTER CITY (4-3-3): Ederson; Cancelo, Stones, Fernandinho, Mendy; De Bruyne, Gundogan, D Silva (Jesus 62); B Silva (Mahrez 73), Aguero, Sterling (Rodri 89)               Subs not used: Bravo (Gk), Walker, Otamendi, Foden

CRYSTAL PALACE (4-5-1): Guiata; Kelly, Tomkins, Cahill, Riedewald (Ward 88); Ayew, McArthur, McCarthy, Kouyate, Zaha 7; Tosun (Wickham 81)            Subs not used: Hennessey (Gk), Dann, Woods, McGregor, Pierrick

Referee: Graham Scott 6   Attendance :

Aston Villa 1 Manchester City 6    Thriller at Villa
Saturday 12th January 2020 : Brian Harwood for GYKO at Villa Park

Manchester City reclaimed second place in the Premier League thanks to the leading overseas scorer in Premier League history. Sergio Agüero wrested that title from Thierry Henry here thanks to three goals that also took him beyond Alan Shearer’s record for the number of Premier League hat-tricks, with his 12th bringing up an extraordinary tally of 177 league goals since his arrival at Manchester City in 2011.

In addition to being a supreme predator Agüero has developed under Pep Guardiola to endanger defences in other ways too. Here, for instance, he helped to create both Riyad Mahrez goals while his fellow forward Gabriel Jesus also found the net on an afternoon when Aston Villa performed so badly that several unwitting assists could be attributed to them. Anwar El Ghazi’s late goal from a penalty certainly did not dilute their humiliation.

City were 4-0 up at half-time before Agüero added two more goals in the second period. The only positive that Villa’s manager, Dean Smith, could salvage from the rubble of this performance was that it strengthened the case for using this month’s transfer window to procure players capable of filling the holes ripped in his team by injuries even before City tore more.

While the visitors started here with two strikers, one an all-time great and the other Jesus, Villa had none at all. With Wesley injured and Jonathan Kodjia omitted, the winger El Ghazi had to fill in up front. And that was only one of the home team’s problems on an afternoon when they sank into the bottom three before kick-off owing to Watford’s win at Bournemouth. Things deteriorated from there.

One prospective signing, the goalkeeper Pepe Reina, was at Villa Park to run the rule over his potential new teammates before completing a loan move from AC Milan. If his reason for wanting to sign is to get more action, he will have been reassured. Whoever keeps goal for Villa will be very busy if their outfield players continue to dither as much as they did here.

Another loan signing, Danny Drinkwater, was cast straight into the starting lineup after arriving from Chelsea and must have wondered what he had let himself in for. At least he had an excuse for being bypassed by opponents, this being only his seventh league start since his £35m transfer from Leicester to Chelsea in 2017. An alarming number of his new teammates also struggled to keep up with City here. The home side were helpless onlookers as City strolled into a three-goal lead in the first half an hour.

Villa might have thought luck was going to smile on them when a slip by Agüero let Ezri Konsa off the hook after the defender had given the ball away with a loose pass in the 14th minute. But they were disabused of that notion within two minutes, a lovely individual goal by Mahrez heralding the start of the rout.

Mahrez collected the ball about 35 yards out after Kevin De Bruyne let an Agüero pass run to him. Then Villa were equally generous, with Drinkwater seemingly unable to do more than chug along behind the attacker, who waltzed into the box unchallenged before using Kortney Hause’s body as a shield and slotting a low shot past the unsighted Ørjan Nyland. Rather than wake Villa up, it seemed to render them even more passive.

Six minutes later Agüero took advantage of dawdling by Ahmed Elmohamady to prod the ball back from the byline. It landed at the feet of Drinkwater, whose lack of sharpness was exposed by David Silva, who nipped in to relieve him of the ball and feed Mahrez, who swished it into the net from 10 yards.

Villa deteriorated. Jesus fired just over the bar after a Konsa mistake in the 26th minute. City soon came back for more, scoring their third before the half-hour mark. De Bruyne breezed past Drinkwater in midfield before finding Agüero, who brushed aside Douglas Luiz before blasting into the net from 20 yards to equal Henry’s record. There was no chance of him stopping there. Jesus got in on the act before half-time, converting at the back post after De Bruyne had again been allowed to canter through midfield and deliver a superb low cross.

City created chances to increase their lead before Agüero did so in the 57th minute. Again De Bruyne motored past almost stationary Villa midfielders to supply David Silva, who slipped the ball through to Agüero. The striker held off Elmohamady and sidestepped Tyrone Mings before slotting home. He completed his hat-trick nine minutes from time. Hause gave the ball to Mahrez, he helped it on to Agüero and the Argentinian made no mistake.

City’s clean sheet was lost when Ilkay Gündogan tripped Trézéguet and El Ghazi netted from the spot but there could be no wiping away Villa’s woes.

Teams :

Aston Villa: Nyland; Hause, Mings, Konsa; Taylor, Luiz (Nakamba 65), Hourihane (Trezeguet 70), Drinkwater (Lansbury 79), Elmohamady; Grealish, El Ghazi.
Subs: Kalinic, Guilbert, Chester, Vassilev.

Man City: Ederson, Cancelo, Fernandinho (Otamendi 63), Stones, Mendy, Rodrigo (Gundogan 70), D Silva, De Bruyne (Foden 63), Mahrez, Jesus, Aguero.
Subs: Bravo, Walker, Sterling, Bernardo.

Referee: Jonathan Moss      Attendance: 41,823

Manchester United 1 Manchester City 3    Guardiola Master Class
Tuesday 7th January 2020 : Guy Lightfoot for GYKO at Old Trafford

Manchester United were exposed in embarrassing fashion before the interval then somehow rallied to give themselves a lifeline via a courageous second-half display.

Manchester City remain firm favourites to reach the final with the second leg in three weeks but Pep Guardiola’s side really should have killed the tie here. For Ole Gunnar Solskjær there is relief this did not finish as a hiding that could have seriously damaged his young side.

Solskjær started Mason Greenwood at centre-forward with the recently ill Anthony Martial among the substitutes and made Marcus Rashford his sixth different captain this season – the forward’s first time leading his boyhood side.

Guardiola started with both Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Agüero on the bench, the manager deploying Bernardo Silva as a quasi-focal point in what would prove a masterstroke in a dominant first-half display. The atmosphere crackled and so did United – briefly – via a breathtaking move which featured Fred dancing around Ilkay Gündogan and ended with Rashford gliding into City’s area and pinging in a ball the holders scrambled clear.

For the opening 10 minutes or so United were impressive. Jesse Lingard, Andreas Pereira, Daniel James, Greenwood and Rashford were a unit City struggled to catch as Nicolás Otamendi initiated a series of fouls as City tried to wrest control. Silva was about to show how it was done. After the visitors at last took hold of the ball, Kevin De Bruyne rolled it to Kyle Walker. He roved forward and fed the Portuguese who fired a 25-yard finish into David de Gea’s top-right corner that gave the goalkeeper no chance. City’s support were jubilant and United were stunned. It allowed Guardiola’s team to relax with Silva the chief tormentor.

If Guardiola was unhappy with Otamendi and Benjamin Mendy’s reluctance to play quick balls along the latter’s left flank – they were visibly remonstrating with each other – he was about to be delighted with the second.

This began with a loose Victor Lindelöf header that went straight to Silva. He punished United with a pinpoint pass into Riyad Mahrez, who slipped in behind the defence, skated around De Gea, and slid the ball into the empty net. United now had to be careful: while away goals do not count a City third would have surely all but killed off their hopes of getting something from this match. Yet this is what occurred and it had a hint of farce about it. Silva – again – unlocked the door, hitting a pass from halfway into the path of Mahrez. He found De Bruyne and when Brandon Williams intervened, the young left-back ended in a heap on the turf. Solskjær believed a foul was committed but the Belgian was allowed to move on. His shot was saved by De Gea only for the ball to ricochet off Pereira and in.

United had to reach the break “only” 3-0 down as this was threatening to be a humiliation. City were rampant: Sterling fluffed a chance to add another – one of a few spurned openings – and when Mike Dean blew for half-time his whistle was accompanied by boos from the home support. Solskjær’s response was to take off Lingard for Nemanja Matic to try and even up the midfield numbers in the second half.

The sense was, though, that United would surely secretly have been happy with the match ending 3-0. They were still something close to shell-shocked, a condition Guardiola was intent his team should exploit further.
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The manager was unhappy whenever they did not look forward, as when Walker and Mahrez engaged in keep-ball near him. Each time City attacked they looked menacing so Guardiola’s stance was understandable. Mahrez had taken over from Silva as City’s conductor-in-chief and his dazzling feet first won a corner, then had him driving a shot at De Gea. To United’s credit they continued playing. Williams is only 19 but his willingness to dribble forward and ignite a move as the hour mark neared was admirable. This did not mask the underlying issue though: City were in cruise control and could again expose United at any moment. After Rashford blasted a free-kick over, Solskjær took James off for Angel Gomes but hoping a 19-year-old would help salvage something was optimistic.

It was Rashford who did so. De Bruyne found Rodri but he was pickpocketed by Greenwood. The forward passed to the No 10 and he slid beyond Bravo and suddenly the tie was alive again.

It was barely credible yet near the end Bravo had to save another Rashford effort and United, remarkably, had been the better since the break.

Manchester United (4-2-3-1): De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Jones, Williams, Pereira, Fred, James (Gomes 64), Lingard (Matic 45), Rashford, Greenwood (Martial 81)
Subs not used: Mata, Dalot, Romero, Chong

Manchester City (4-3-3): Bravo, Walker, Fernandinho, Otamendi, Mendy, De Bruyne (Jesus 80), Rodri, Gundogan, Mahrez (Foden 86), Silva, Sterling
Subs not used: Aguero, Silva, Cancelo, Ederson, Garcia

Referee: Kevin Friend 7     Attendance: 39,223

Manchester City 4 Port Vale 1     Spirited Vale
Saturday 4th January 2020 : GYKO at the Etihad

Manchester City’s plight in the Premier League means the double treble is unrealistic but their quest to become the only club to win both domestic Cups in successive seasons continues. Port Vale were duly defeated, even if a side 75 places below City in the league ladder acquitted themselves rather better than some more illustrious visitors to the Etihad Stadium. Watford conceded eight goals here in the Premier League, Atalanta five in the Champions League. Vale only let in four while their talisman, Tom Pope, found the City net. A starting 11 assembled at a cost of nothing helped bank some £300,000 and reputations were enhanced. Oleksandr Zinchenko, Sergio Agüero, Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Phil Foden nonetheless ensured the favourites progressed.

City, often criticised for giving young players too few chances, could savour the sight of two teenagers and lifelong fans on the scoresheet. “Of course it is important for Taylor and Phil,” said Pep Guardiola, though he was quick to point out they were selected on merit, rather than for sentimentality. “It is not because they are English players. We don’t give presents.”

It nevertheless amounted to a day to remember for Harwood-Bellis. The 17-year-old became the youngest Englishman to score for City since Micah Richards, even if he knew little about his first senior strike.

Vale will recall it more for the actions of a man twice his age and with more than a century of goals to his name. Pope’s mischievous tweet last summer that he would score 40 goals a season if he were up against John Stones every week formed the backdrop. Guardiola set up a duel by recalling the England defender. Pope, however, showed a veteran’s nous by isolating himself against the rookie Harwood-Bellis to meet David Amoo’s cross with a brilliant header, angled beyond Claudio Bravo.

The City goalkeeper conceded to the opposition’s first attempt, something that happens so frequently it almost constitutes his party trick. Vale’s official Twitter account, perhaps not realising the new year honours list has already been announced, called for Pope to be given a knighthood.

He almost cemented a status as Stones’ unlikely nemesis, blocking the defender’s casual pass for the substitute Tom Conlon to put a diving header just past the far post. He gave their travelling support of 8,000 much to enjoy. These clubs rubbed shoulders in the second tier in 1999 and had not met since then as their paths have diverged. Briefly, Pope brought parity.

His antics apart, however, City were predictably dominant. Vale retained their shape well and the goalkeeper, Scott Brown, excelled, with fine saves from Foden, Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva, whose header he tipped on to a post.

City had 22 shots and ought to have scored more. David Silva has been a byword for precision but was responsible for a terrible miss, failing to convert an open goal after a centre from Ilkay Gündogan. The German’s passing verged on the majestic as he sprayed the ball around with elegant incision, but it took a stroke of fortune to give City the lead.

Zinchenko let fly from 25 yards but his shot took a crucial deflection off Leon Legge as it flew past Brown, coming off the Vale captain’s leg. Minor milestones followed for one of Britain’s oldest clubs; for the first time, a Vale game was affected by VAR decisions. Two marginal decisions brought City’s second and third goals.

Agüero bundled the ball in after Gündogan’s delightful chipped pass and Foden’s volleyed centre, with the youngster ruled just onside. Harwood-Bellis had been deemed offside when Stones’ shot diverted in off his shin, but the decision was overruled after replays were consulted. “It was a little bit of a weird goal,” said Guardiola, concerned that celebrations were put on hold while technology was consulted. “Two VAR goals and a deflected shot,” rued the Vale manager John Askey.

The fourth was simpler and smoother, Foden slotting in Angeliño’s cross. Come the final whistle, City invited the League Two players into their dressing room. “They have had a bit of a laugh, especially about Popey and John Stones,” added Askey. Not that the Vale scorer managed to swap shirts with the target of his taunts. “I managed to get Zinchenko’s,” he said. “The rest of them pied me off.”

Man City (4-4-1-1):  Bravo; Cancelo, Harwood-Bellis, Stones, Zinchenko; Foden, Gundogan (Doyle 77), B Silva (Mahrez 77), Angelino; D Silva; Aguero     
Subs not used: Carson, Walker, Sterling, Jesus, Garcia

Port Vale (4-5-1):   Brown; Gibbons, Legge, Smith, Montano; Amoo, Joyce, Taylor (Atkinson 61), Burgess (Conlon 61), Worrall; Pope (Cullen 79)
Subs not used: Maddison, Browne, Bennett, Brisley

Referee: Lee Mason 6.5     Attendance :

Manchester City 2 Everton 1         Sticky Toffees
Wednesday 1st January 2020 : GYKO at the Etihad

Manchester City end the festive period with nine points from their four games after two Gabriel Jesus strikes handed Carlo Ancelotti a first defeat in charge of Everton via a characteristically relentless display.

Pep Guardiola said: “We played top, I am so delighted about the performance. Teams who have been champions and are far away from the leaders can give up and finish seventh or eighth. Maybe we will but not because we don’t try.”

City’s sole reverse of the Christmas programme came last Friday at Wolves in a result that, surely, killed any hopes of catching Liverpool. Instead, their FA Cup defence begins on Saturday, with the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg against Manchester United on Tuesday, then in February the restart of the Champions League; all competitions on which City can now focus intently.

The notable name in the home lineup was Claudio Bravo, the hardly reliable goalkeeper playing a second successive time because of Ederson being ill following a one-match suspension. The last time Bravo faced Everton – in January 2017 – he allowed four goals from four shots and he added to the count here by being culpable for Richarlison’s consolation.

Ancelotti initially made the same number of changes as his opposite number before Bernard suffered a cut leg in the warm-up, so Tom Davies was drafted in for the Brazilian.

The opening period proved low grade. An error from Ilkay Gündogan had Guardiola muttering and Davies pouncing as Everton transformed defence into an attack that ended with Gylfi Sigurdsson flipping the ball to Séamus Coleman: his effort was tipped behind for a corner by Bravo.

When Gündogan later tried his own chip into Riyad Mahrez, Jordan Pickford was less sure: he dropped the ball and Everton were relieved to clear.

João Cancelo has struggled for form since joining City yet he appeared to have created an opener for Phil Foden only for VAR to rule Mahrez offside. Ancelotti had a consoling word for Guardiola who smiled and later agreed with the decision. “I think it was offside,” said the Catalan.

VAR’s next involvement was confused as it checked for a possible penalty despite Mahrez seeming to be flagged for offside or handball or both. The spot-kick was not given but the contest had been disrupted and, inevitably, the invective-filled anti‑VAR chants had a second airing.

At this juncture both benches were unhappy regarding their respective players’ output. For Guardiola it was Kevin De Bruyne and Foden momentarily losing their deft touch; for Ancelotti it was his men’s sluggish pace and an insistence on passing back to Pickford, instead of looking forward and for the positive.

Better from City was a Mahrez swivel and shot, then a Gündogan effort which also warmed Pickford’s fingers. Really, though, the entertainment level was down, in a sign perhaps of the Christmas and New Year slog. Another was found in the number of offsides committed by tired players – Mahrez a particular perpetrator.

Still, City had dominated the ball and when they do they often prosper. Foden had a snap-shot, gathered by Pickford, and as the break neared Mahrez had two clearer chances but steered the first wide and seemed surprised to receive the second.

The average fare continued after the interval. Benjamin Mendy sold De Bruyne short so he had to stick a boot out and watch the ball sail into no-man’s land, much to Guardiola’s chagrin. Next Bravo punted possession straight out when Cancelo was the target.

Then, though, came a moment to remember. Gündogan slipped a pinpoint pass into Jesus, who in an instant had beaten Pickford with a finish that was the Brazilian’s 13th goal this season.

From the restart Everton claimed a corner – to Guardiola’s annoyance – but despite a second one following when Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s header deflected out there was no equaliser.

The contest had opened up. Suddenly Eric García was curving a ball along the left to Mahrez as City upped pace and so opportunity. Soon they had a second goal, with this one straight from the Guardiola playbook. De Bruyne passed to Foden, who found Mahrez, who in turn played in Jesus and he calmly finished low past Pickford.

City were coasting but then Bravo added to the catalogue of howlers by passing direct to Richarlison. From here there was an inevitability about how the No 7 would bundle home Theo Walcott’s deflected attempt.
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Guardiola defended the Chilean. “It happens when you play that way but thanks to him [continuing to pass out] you can make a buildup better.”

At the close Calvert-Lewin upended Fernandinho. The managers disagreed as to whether the booking the foul received was sufficient punishment but it did not affect the outcome.

:Man City : Bravo, Joao Cancelo, Garcia, Fernandinho, Mendy, Gundogan, Rodri, Mahrez, De Bruyne, Foden, Jesus
Everton :    Pickford, Coleman, Holgate, Mina, Digne, Sidibe, Sigurdsson, Delph, Bernard, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin

Manchester City Fixtures & Results 2019/20


Date Kick Off Opponent Venue  Comp Result
Su 04/08/2019 15:00 Liverpool Wembley CS D 1-1*
Sa 10/08/2019 12:30 West Ham United A PL W 5-0
Sa 17/08/2019 17:30 Tottenham Hotspur H PL D  2-2
Su 25/08/2019 14:00 Bournemouth A PL W 3-1
Sa 31/08/2019 15:00 Brighton & Hove Albion H PL W 4-0
Sa 14/09/2019 17:30 Norwich City A PL L  3-2
We 18/09/2019 20:00 Shakhtar Donetsk A CL W 3-0
Sa 21/09/2019 15:00 Watford H PL W 8-0
Tu 24/09/2019 19:45 Preston North End A LC W 3-0
Sa 28/09/2019 17:30 Everton A PL W 3-1
Tu 01/10/2019 20:00 Dinamo Zagreb H CL W 2-0
Su 06/10/2019 14:00 Wolverhampton Wanderers H PL L  2-0
Su 20/10/2019 17:30 Crystal Palace A PL W 2-0
Tu 22/10/2019 20:00 Atalanta H CL W 5-1
Sa 26/10/2019 12:30 Aston Villa H PL W 3-0
Tu 29/10/2019 19:45 Southampton H LC W 3-1
Sa 02/11/2019 15:00 Southampton H PL W 2-1
We 06/11/2019 20:00 Atalanta A CL D 1-1
Su 10/11/2019 16:30 Liverpool A PL L 3-1
Sa 23/11/2019 17:30 Chelsea H PL W 2-1
Tu 26/11/2019 20:00 Shakhtar Donetsk H CL D 1-1
Sa 30/11/2019 12:30 Newcastle United A PL D 2-2
Tu 03/12/2019 20:15 Burnley A PL W 4-1
Sa 07/12/2019 17:30 Manchester United H PL L  2-1
We 11/12/2019 17:55 Dinamo Zagreb A CL W 4-1
Su 15/12/2019 16:30 Arsenal A PL W 3-0
We 18/12/2019 19:45 Oxford United A LC W 3-1
Sa 21/12/2019 17:30 Leicester City H PL W 3-1
Fr  27/12/2019 19:45 Wolverhampton Wanderers A PL L  3-2
Su 29/12/2019 18:00 Sheffield United H PL W 2-0
We 01/01/2020 17:30 Everton H PL W 2-1
Sa  04/01/2020 17:31 Port Vale H FAC r3 W 4-1
Tu  07/01/2020 20:00 Manchester United A LC SF 1L W 3-1
Su 12/01/2020 16:30 Aston Villa A PL W 6-1
Sa 18/01/2020 15:00 Crystal Palace H PL D  2-2
Tu 21/01/2020 19:30 Sheffield United A PL W 1-0
Su 26/01/2020 13:00 Fulham H FAC r4 W 4-0
We 29/01/2020 19:45 Manchester United H LC SF 2L  
Su 02/02/2020 16:30 Tottenham Hotspur A PL  
Su 09/02/2020 16:30 West Ham United H PL  
Sa 22/02/2020 17:30 Leicester City A PL  
We 26/02/2020 20:00 Real Madrid A CL r16  
Su 30/02/2020 14:00 Arsenal H PL  
Sa 07/03/2020 15:00 Manchester United A PL  
Sa 14/03/2020 15:00 Burnley H PL  
Tu 22/03/2020 20:00 Real Madrid CL r16  
Sa 21/03/2020 15:00 Chelsea A PL  
Sa 04/04/2020 15:00 Liverpool H PL  
Sa 11/04/2020 15:00 Southampton A PL  
Sa 18/04/2020 15:00 Newcastle United H PL  
Sa 25/04/2020 15:00 Brighton & Hove Albion A PL  
Sa 02/05/2020 15:00 Bournemouth H PL  
Sa 09/05/2020 15:00 Watford A PL  
Su17/05/2020 14:00 Norwich City H PL  

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