Manchester City 3 West Bromwich Albion 1

FA Premier League
Monday 21 April 2014, 20.00 KO

City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany (c), Demichelis, Clichy, Garcia, Fernandinho Nasri, Silva (Milner 70), Dzeko (Kolarov 89), Aguero (Jovetic 64)
Unused: Pantilimon, Lescott, Richards, Negredo
Goals: Zabaleta (3), Aguero (10), Demichelis (36)
Booked: Demichelis

Referee: Phil Dowd
Man of the Match: Javi Garcia

Dzeko and Ridgewell challenge for the ball.

Dzeko and Ridgewell challenge for the ball.

Manchester City bounced back from disappointing results against Liverpool and Sunderland with a comfortable win over West Brom – though the fans will be leaving disappointed that it finished at just 3-1, given how dominant the Blues had been and, should Chelsea beat Liverpool in their coming game, goal difference could be a factor in the title race. City still need favours from elsewhere – but they went about their business just in case of a slip up from their opponents.

It started brightly and, just as with their last match, the hosts took the lead very early on. Aguero latched on to a short clearance and, having taken a touch to control, he volleyed at goal. Foster pushed it away well, but Zabaleta was following in to head home the rebound.

It got better just a few minutes later. Criticism of the week before when the Blues failed to capitalise on their lead and took their foot off the gas was gone – as Aguero doubled the advantage. He picked up the ball on the left side of the box, jinked inside and belted it into Foster’s bottom corner. City were in full control.

However, a botched free kick gave the visitors the chance to break. Fernandinho and Silva dallied over a routine that could have come from the hotel bar rather than the training ground and West Brom stole in to break – and Dorrans scored a brilliant volley with one of the best counter attacks of the campaign.

Ten minutes before the break, though, and the hosts’ two-goal advantage was restored. Nasri’s corner to the front post was flicked across the face of goal where Demichelis was able to adjust his feet to redirect it into the net – completing City’s trio of Argentine scorers, but also completing the scoring for the evening.

Pellegrini will be hoping that the decision to ease off and control possession instead of making goals the priority doesn’t come back to haunt his side – especially as a block from Kompany on a shot from eight yards left Hart stranded, but the defection took it over and onto the roof of the net.

The second half was dominated by the home side, but with very little penetration. Silva slipped Zabaleta in cutely down the right, but his low cross to the front post was cut out brilliantly before Nasri could arrive to turn it into the net.

With 20 minutes to play there was a blow for the home side. Silva – who had, once more been the architect of everything City had done well offensively and who had only just returned from injury – went down after a collision with Jones and Amalfitano and didn’t get back up. He needed the stretcher to leave the field with what looked like another ankle injury.

For the remainder of the game there was plenty of huffing and puffing, but little in the way of action. Hart was down well to block Amalfitano’s effort as it came at him suddenly past Anichebe, while Dzeko and Jovetic both fired wide after some near build-up at the other end. Milner also went close after Nasri played him in, but his low drive from a tight angle was well blocked by Foster.

While the most importing thing for City was to get the win, the Blues will be disappointed not to capitalise on their early dominance.

Manchester City 2 Sunderland 2

FA Premier League
Wednesday 16 April 2014, 19.45 KO

City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany (c), Demichelis, Kolarov, Milner, Garcia, Fernandinho (Rodwell 87), Nasri, Aguero (Jovetic 57), Negredo (Dzeko 69)
Unused: Pantilimon, Lescott, Richards, Clichy
Goals: Fernandinho (2), Nasri (88)
Booked: Zabaleta

Referee: Martin Atkinson
Man of the Match: Martin Demichelis

Negredo hurdles a challenge from Alonso.

Negredo hurdles a challenge from Alonso.

Manchester City’s title challenge is on the ropes following a draw with relegation threatened Sunderland. It could have been worse, with a late goal pulling the Blues level, but, in truth, a point helps neither side.

It couldn’t have started better for the hosts, who scored with their first attack of the match. A great step-over by Negredo allowed Fernandinho to run in one-on-one with the goalkeeper from Aguero’s pass. He slotted it into the near post.

But having taken the initiative, City allowed the visitors back in – who probably should have gone in level at half time on the balance of play. O’Shea headed wide from the penalty spot, while Borini blazed wide from close range and Cattermole could only find Hart from a long range effort.

City never got out of second gear – summed up by the little work for the Sunderland goalkeeper: Aguero’s strike from outside the box the best the hosts could offer before the break. Mannone parried it, but Fernandinho couldn’t convert Zabaleta’s knock-down from the rebound.

The second period brought little change to the home side’s impotent attack. Negredo headed over and Aguero couldn’t get a shot in as he tried to turn Brown. Pellegrini introduced Jovetic in an attempt to improve things, but it changed little – his long range efforts were regularly blocked.

With just over 15 minutes to play, the Blues’ casual performance was punished. A ball down the left flank was squared perfectly for Wickham to touch home, leaving Hart helpless. It had always been on the cards with City easing off the gas.

Dzeko couldn’t turn Kolarov’s low cross in at the near post, before it got worse for the home side: With seven minutes left Wickham added his second of the evening and put the visitors in front, following another cross from the left.

The Blues salvaged a point thanks to a Mannone blunder – a Nasri’s 88th minute effort slipped from his grasp and trickled into the net. The Frenchman should have won the game in stoppage time, but his left foot strike from eight yards was ballooned over.

City now need more favours from elsewhere if they’re to win the league – and it looks very unlikely.

Liverpool 3 Manchester City 2

FA Premier League
Sunday 13 April 2014, 13.37 KO

City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany (c), Demichelis, Clichy, Toure (Garcia 19), Fernandinho, Navas (Milner 50), Nasri, Silva, Dzeko (Aguero 68)
Unused: Pantilimon, Lescott, Negredo, Kolarov
Goals: Silva (57), Johnson (og 62)
Booked: Garcia, Fernandinho, Zabaleta

Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Man of the Match: James Milner

Hart organises his defence.

Hart organises his defence.

The afternoon at Anfield kicked off seven minutes late as a mark of respect for the 96 fans who lost their lives at Hillsborough in 1989 – and the minutes’ silence was well observed by both sets of player and fans. It was a fitting tribute for the 25th anniversary of the disaster.

The visitors were behind early on and it was the hosts who had put them under pressure from the off. Suarez played a neat through-ball for Sterling to run in behind Kompany and, facing Hart on a one-on-one, side-stepped past the goalkeeper and slotted it into the net. City couldn’t have asked for a worse start.

It was almost two after 15 minutes, as Clichy was too easily beaten by Sterling on the right flank and the youngster whipped in a cross behind the City back four. Kompany couldn’t reach it and Sturridge – free in the middle – side-footed it wide. He was stretching, but should have done better. It did get worse for the Blues, though, as Toure had to leave the pitch injured.

Gerrard should have doubled Liverpool’s lead – and he had done everything but beat Hart, who produced a brilliant reaction save to touch the free header over the bar. But from the resulting corner, Skrtel escaped Kompany and flicked the ball into the net. City had a mountain to climb.

City were denied a penalty on the half hour when Dzeko was brought down by Sahko, but the referee decided there was no foul, as the Bosnian over-egged his fall. It was a poor call from the official. Coutinho should have made it three from a breakaway, but he dragged his shot wide.

Mignolet was then bailed out by Johnson, as he came for the cross and missed it, with Dzeko heading towards the empty goal – the full back nodded off the line and it looped up onto the bar. As City broke back again after Hart claimed the ball back, Navas crossed for Fernandinho to volley, but the goalkeeper got down well to push it away.

With 52 minutes on the clock, Suarez should have been shown his second yellow. Demichelis dived in on the forward, but missed the ball and missed the man, yet the striker dropped to ground clutching his foot. He’d dived, the referee saw it, but didn’t show the yellow card – instead giving a goal kick. He bottled it.

City dug deep and dragged themselves back into the game. A good series of passes worked the opening on the right flank and Milner – via a one-two with Zabaleta – got in behind to square for Silva. The Spaniard dinked the ball into the net, past the desperate dive of Skrtel, who tried to slide it off the line.

The visitors twice came close to equalising minutes after their goal: First Silva caused trouble in the box as Skrtel miss-kicked a clearance, before the Spaniard drilled a low cross towards Dzeko. The Bosnian, though, couldn’t connect as he threw himself at it.

City did get their equaliser, though, just after the hour mark. Silva and Nasri linked up down the left flank and the Frenchman played the Spaniard in. He drilled it into the box once more and it ricocheted off Johnson and sent Mignolet the wrong way – it followed a great challenge by Zabaleta, who won the ball from Sturridge with a last-gasp tackle in the box.

With 15 minutes to play, City were inches away from getting in front. Aguero rolled Skrtel on the left flank and drove towards the box. Instead of taking the shot on, he played it in for Silva in the middle – the Spaniard had to dive to reach it, but he couldn’t turn it into the net.

Two minutes later, though, City hit self-destruct. The Blues were in control of the game, but a throw-in was miss-kicked by Kompany straight to Coutinho. The Liverpool man hit it first time and curled it around Hart into the bottom corner. City had it all to do again.

In stoppage time, the away side were denied a penalty when Skrtel punched the ball clear, before Henderson over-ran the ball and dived in on Nasri as the Blues tried to break again with possession. The Liverpool man went in with a straight leg and was rightly dismissed, but City felt the red card should have come at the start of the second half, not the end – it came too late to change the game.

Manchester City 4 Southampton 1

FA Premier League
Saturday 5 April 2014, 12.45 KO

City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany (c), Demichelis, Kolarov, Fernandinho (Garcia 45), Toure, Nasri, Silva (Jovetic 77), Navas, Dzeko (Negredo 65)
Unused: Pantilimon, Lescott, Richards, Milner
Goals: Toure (pen 3), Nasri (45+1), Dzeko (45+4), Jovetic (81)
Booked: Fernandinho, Garcia, Toure

Referee: Chris Foy
Man of the Match: David Silva

Dzeko competes with Lallana for possession.

Dzeko competes with Lallana for possession.

City had to ride their luck at times against a good Southampton side, but the home team did enough to emerge victors ahead of a tough fixture with Liverpool in the title run-in. The Saints will rue the first half stoppage time, where most of the damage was done, when they had a firm grip on the match before it.

It started well for City – who were gifted the chance to open the scoring from the spot. Dzeko went down very easily under the challenge of Fonte. The forward jinked past the defender, whose trailing leg brushed against the Bosnian’s stomach and, when the striker hit the deck, the referee pointed to the spot. Toure did the rest, sending the goalkeeper the wrong way.

From there, though, City just did not impose themselves on the match. Nasri had an effort from the edge of the box that dropped just wide, but it was the visitors who had the better of the ball – even though they failed to work Hart. Lambert couldn’t connect to a corner when he rose highest in the box, before the England hopeful curled a free kick wide of Hart’s post.

Rodriguez will fear for his England place following an incident mid-way through the first half, too. The striker tried to bring the ball down just inside the City half and, under no pressure, went down holding his knee – leaving the action early, on a stretcher, to a standing ovation.

Dzeko came close to doubling City’s lead with a free header at the back post, but he nodded Nasri’s free kick onto the bar and over. It could have been a costly miss – as Zabaleta brought down Cork inside the home side’s box moments later and Lamber scored the resulting penalty. Hart guessed correctly, but there was too much power on the spot kick and it hit the back of the net.

As the board went up for stoppage time, though, a below-par City put themselves into an almost unassailable position. First, a stroke of good luck: Silva was clearly offside from Dzeko’s flick, but the linesman didn’t raise his flag. The Spaniard weaved his way through and squared for Nasri to slot into the net.

Dzeko adds City's third goal.

Dzeko adds City’s third goal.

Then, as the fans were readying themselves for a 2-1 lead going into the second half, Dzeko added the Blues’ third. A good spell of possession ended with Kolarov picking up the ball on the left and firing in a good cross for the Bosnian. Gazzaninga came for it, but missed, and Dzeko redirected it over the line, via the back post.

The second half, though, was a completely different story. The introduction of Garcia allowed City to see more possession and they began to look good for their lead – Silva was frustrated the referee didn’t play advantage when he pulled back with one man between him and the goal, before Kolarov had a shot deflected behind for a corner.

On the hour mark, Dzeko should have netted his second. He was played through by Silva and was one-on-one with the goalkeeper. From a tight angle, he forced Gazzaniga into a good save and, despite being on his stronger foot, he couldn’t volley the rebound in – it actually went out for a throw-in.

Quite how Negredo didn’t score is a question City fans will be asking too – first, he was played through by Navas, but chose to check back inside his defender instead of taking on the shot and lost possession, before second, he hit the goalkeeper on a one-on-one on his left foot.

However, the missed chances didn’t matter as, with just under ten minutes to play, the Blues added their fourth: A low cross from the right flank was inches away from Negredo, but the Spaniard couldn’t touch it towards goal. Gazzaniga came, but missed it, and Jovetic was arriving in time to touch it into the goal at the back post.

It was a confident second half from City, though the scoreline was very harsh on the Saints. City in a good vein of form ahead of that huge game at Anfield up next.

Arsenal 1 Manchester City 1

FA Premier League
Saturday 29 March 2014, 17.30 KO

City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany (c), Demichelis, Clichy, Toure, Fernandinho, Nasri (Garcia 81), Silva, Navas (Milner 64), Dzeko (Negredo 85)
Unused: Pantilimon, Kolarov, Lescott, Jovetic
Goals: Silva (18)
Booked: Toure, Kompany, Silva, Garcia

Referee: Mike Dean
Man of the Match: David Silva

Kompany tackles Giroud.

Kompany tackles Giroud.

City have missed a chance to overtake Chelsea in the Premier League table following a draw at Arsenal. In the bigger picture of the season, however, it could be a valuable point for the Blues, with some tricky fixtures ahead.

The visitors began the game much in the same vein as they did at Old Trafford earlier in the week, but the breakthrough was slower to come. Zabaleta twice found himself in behind the Gunners’ defence, but on both occasions the pull-back didn’t find a City shirt. Navas picked up the rebound to the first and tried an effort from range, but it flashed just wide of the top corner.

The away fans had their hearts in their mouths on 12 minutes when Rosicky went down under a challenge from Zabaleta. The referee, though, was unmoved, pointing for a goal kick, and it was the correct decision. In fact, the Arsenal man was lucky not to be shown a yellow card for a dive.

Just before the 20-minute mark, the Blues took the lead, in a manner that was eerily reminiscent of the way they opened the scoring in Tuesday’s Manchester Derby. Silva lead the City breakaway and fed Dzeko on the left side of the box. The Bosnian’s effort slammed into the near post and landed perfectly for the Spaniard to prod the rebound into the net.

Flamini thought he had equalised a few minutes later, but his volley – which he bounced down into the ground and over Hart into the net – was correctly ruled out for offside. City’s offside trap was still looking very disciplined and had worked. At the other end, Nasri was desperate to get on the scoresheet, but his low volley was well held by Szczesny.

Sagna battles with Toure.

Sagna battles with Toure.

The feeling, though, was very much that City hadn’t scored more when they were in control of the game – and they could have been punished for it. Dzeko had the chance to make it two for the Blues, but Szczesny got down well to make the save. It turned out to be crucial, as Flamini peeled away from Fernandinho inside the City box, as the Brazilian slipped on the greasy turf, and turned Podolski’s cross into the net.

On the hour mark, City were thankful to Hart for a brilliant save in a spell of Arsenal pressure. Podolski was clean through on goal on the left side and, with Hart bearing down, smashed a shot towards the net – but the England goalkeeper diverted it behind at the near post with his boot.

City were being restricted to breakaways as the home side had wind in their sails, but Fernandinho was close to giving the Blues the lead for the second time with a long range effort. The ball fell nicely for him to volley and it was smashed back towards the net – with Szczesny flicking it over the bar with a fingertip.

Despite the home side having more of the ball, it was still the Blues with the better of the chances. A goalmouth scramble almost had City back in the lead, but Toure couldn’t force the ball over the Arsenal goalkeeper after trying to go round the Polish international, before the rebound wouldn’t fall for Nasri or Dzeko waiting in the middle.

With tricky games to come, City seemed content with a point from the evening – but, on another day, they could have had all three.

Manchester United 0 Manchester City 3

FA Premier League
Tuesday 25 March 2014, 19.45 KO

City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany (c), Demichelis, Clichy, Toure, Fernandinho, Nasri (Milner 74), Silva, Navas (Garcia 68), Dzeko (Negredo 80)
Unused: Pantilimon, Kolarov, Lescott, Jovetic
Goals: Dzeko (1, 56), Toure (90)
Booked: Kompany, Fernandinho

Referee: Michael Oliver
Man of the Match: Fernandinho

Silva wriggles past Rafael.

Silva wriggles past Rafael.

City made the quickest start to the derby… opening the scoring inside 45 seconds. With the first attack of the game, the Blues almost netted twice before Dzeko eventually put the ball over the line – Silva was slipped in brilliantly by Toure, but was tackled by Rafael. The ball was played back in to Nasri on the left, whose effort left De Gea standing and struck the post, with the rebound hitting Dzeko and going in.

With the 20 minute mark approaching, City should have doubled their lead. Pressure on Ferdinand meant a bad back-pass to De Gea, whose clearance fell to Toure. He knocked it through to Silva who was onside and he squared for Dzeko one-on-one. The Bosnian, though, could only find the gloves of the United goalkeeper.

Five minutes later, Fellaini should have equalised. He found himself unmarked at the back post on a United breakaway, following a quick throw-in from Rooney. It was flicked to the Belgian, but his volley was straight at Hart, who held on to the effort well. The Belgian was then lucky to stay on the pitch after only receiving a yellow card for an elbow on Zabaleta.

Mata missed a golden opportunity to pull the hosts level on 40 minutes, following a fresh-air shot by Rooney. The low cross into the box was missed by the striker and fell to the Spaniard’s feet just inside the area. His effort, on his right foot, flashed over Hart’s crossbar.

City could – perhaps should – have doubled their lead early in the second half. Dzeko found space on the left to shoot, but it was well blocked by Ferdinand, before a cross was cleared as far as Zabaleta on the edge of the box. He volleyed it, but it was deflected behind by Carrick. Dzeko won the header from the corner, but he couldn’t find the target, while a near post corner was won by Kompany, but Fernandinho couldn’t turn the defender’s flick into the net.

Nasri fends off Cleverley

Nasri fends off Cleverley

Ten minutes into the half, though, the Blues did double their lead. A near post corner was missed by the front runner in Demichelis, but it fell nicely to the Bosnian to turn in around the corner with his right foot. It was a cute finish, cool and controlled.

United could have pulled a goal back with 20 minutes to play, as Demichelis gave the ball away trying to play from the back. It fell to Valencia to cross and Welbeck turned it towards goal, but a reaction save from Hart kept it out. The Argentine defender recovered to head clear.

With seconds to go before the fourth official showed the board for stoppage time, City sealed the win. A perfect breakaway from Milner allowed Toure to find space on the edge of the box and, when the Englishman knocked it square, the Ivorian took a touch to control and then belted it into the bottom corner. City were in control from first whistle to last and three goals could have been more.

It was one of City’s games in hand over Chelsea and one they won in emphatic style, racking up a record-breaking fifth consecutive Premier League clean sheet in the process.

Manchester City 5 Fulham 0

FA Premier League
Saturday 22 March 2014, 15.00 KO

City: Hart, Zabaleta, Demichelis, Lescott, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Toure (c) (Rodwell 77), Milner, Nasri (Jovetic 82), Silva (Navas 68), Negredo
Unused: Pantilimon, Boyata, Clichy, Garcia
Goals: Toure (pen 26, pen 54, 65), Fernandinho (84), Demichelis (88)
Booked: -

Referee: Jon Moss
Man of the Match: Yaya Toure

Toure scores from the spot.

Toure scores from the spot.

City eased past Arsenal in the Premier League standings to close in on top spot, following their emphatic 5-0 win over Fulham. Yaya Toure will grab the headlines for his first ever hat-trick, but the Blues were forced to dig in deep to produce the goods in a performance that wasn’t a classic.

The opening stages were something of a non-event. The closest either side came to opening the scoring was a Milner volley – as a cross to the back post found the midfielder – but Stockdale got down well to beat it away. At the other end, Richardson hit a free kick into the City wall, before he fired a rebound just wide of the post.

But, soon, the Blues had the lead. Amorebieta gave Negredo a kick up the bottom inside the box as the City striker tried to race onto a ball over the top and the linesman flagged for the penalty. The defender was booked and Toure slotted the spot-kick home.

It looked like the Blues might begin to capitalise on their advantage last in the first half, as Silva drove past Hangeland and got himself into a shooting position. He dinked his effort over Stockdale and it looked to be on its way in until Amorebieta nodded it off the line. It was then Kolarov who went close, forcing the goalkeeper to touch his powerful drive onto the crossbar.

Shortly after the break, however, the game changed in the Blues’ favour. Silva was through on goal after a neat bit of interplay on the edge of the box and Amorebieta chopped him down when going for the last-ditch tackle. It was a red card for the defender and a second penalty for the hosts – Toure stepped up again and sent the goalkeeper the wrong way for the second time from the spot.

Milner runs at Riise.

Milner runs at Riise.

Milner and Kolarov came close to adding City’s third, but it was the Ivorian midfielder who netted again on 65 minutes. A free kick on the left side of the box was played short between Silva and Nasri, who squared for Toure some 30 yards out. He picked his spot and wellied it into the corner of the net to complete his first ever hat-trick.

The floodgates could have opened at this point: Milner had an effort deflected wide, before Kolarov forced a good save out of Stockdale with a shot from range. Demichelis then had a header cleared from the line as he rose to meet a corner from the right flank.

With six minutes to go, it looked like Fulham’s punishment was over – but City suddenly put their foot on the gas. First, pressure from a corner chipped to the edge of the box ended with the ball at Fernandinho’s feet. The Brazilian took a touch inside and belted it into the top corner at the near post.

And, as stoppage time was approaching, it was Demichelis who rounded off the scoring. A Jovetic drive from the right was well blocked by Stockdale, but the defender was in the right place at the right time to stick out a boot and redirect the loose ball into the empty net.

Deep into added time, it should have been six, but Negredo was just out of luck. Sidwell tried a diving header back to his own goalkeeper, but he got nowhere near enough power on it and the Spanish striker got in first to toe-poke towards the top corner. The whole ground thought it was in – but it flashed an inch wide.

A vital win for City at the start of a very crucial run of games.