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.

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.

Manchester City 1 Wigan Athletic 2

FA Cup Sixth Round
Sunday 9 March 2014, 16.05 KO

City: Pantilimon, Richards, Demichelis, Lescott, Clichy, Navas (Dzeko 53), Toure (c) (Silva 53), Garcia, Nasri, Negredo (Milner 53), Aguero
Unused: Hart, Kompany, Kolarov, Rodwell
Goals: Nasri (68)
Booked: Nasri, Toure, Milner, Dzeko,

Referee: Anthony Taylor
Man of the Match: Samir Nasri

Garcia wins a 50-50 with McManaman.

Garcia wins a 50-50 with McManaman.

Wigan have knocked City out of the FA Cup for the second successive season. The Blues threw the kitchen sink at the visitors, but a sloppy first hour of the game was too much to recover from and the Latics fully deserved their place in the semi-finals, defending well against a sluggish City.

There was little in the way of early action – aside from some neat footwork from Pantilimon to escape the attention of McManaman – and when the chances came, they were for the away side. Gomez lashed a shot over the crossbar, before Navas almost forced an own goal with a low cross.

But City’s sloppiness was soon punished. A quick throw-in on the right wasn’t dealt with and Fortune got the wrong side of Demichelis, who brought him down inside the box. The referee pointed to the spot and Gomez sent Pantilimon the wrong way. It should have been a wake-up call… but it wasn’t.

And that was that for the first half – City huffed and puffed in possession, but got nowehere, with Wigan holding firm. Tackles flew in and players argued, but, in truth, there was little in them – though quite how Boyce avoided a yellow card for clatting Negredo from behind is a mystery.

The fans’ hopes that Pellegrini might have given his team a kick up the backside at half time were snuffed out inside two minutes of the second half. Richards didn’t cut out a low cross into the box, while Pantilimon remained rooted to his line when he might have claimed the ball. To complete the hat-trick of errors, Clichy was daydreaming and allowed Perch to get there first to slot home.

Pellegrini reacted with three substitutions, but it still took City after the hour mark to come close to pulling a goal back. A high ball into the box was headed back across goal by Dzeko, but the effort clipped the inside of the post and bounced clear – with Silva unable to touch it home.

With just over 20 minutes to play, Nasri dragged City back into the tie. A corner was only half cleared to the edge of the box, where Richards nodded it to the Frenchman. His volley missed Lescott in the middle and found the back of the net, via the inside of the post.

Two minutes later, City should have been on terms – Richards had a right-footed effort from inside the box, but it bent away from the top corner when he had a golden chance to hit the target. Aguero then almost added the luckiest goal he would have ever scored, blocking a clearance that Carson needed to back-peddle to catch.

Milner played in a brilliant low cross for Dzeko and the Bosnian must have thought he’d scored from six yards, but Boyce got there first to clear over his own crossbar. The striker then headed wide from a brilliant Nasri cross.

Pellegrini has gone out of his first cup competition as City boss and questions will be raised about his team selection and tactical approach – the manager was probably naïve, while his team were complacent. Wigan fully deserved to progress and knock the Blues out for the second season running.

Manchester City 3 Sunderland 1

League Cup Final
Sunday 2 March 2014, 14.00 KO

City: Pantilimon, Kolarov, Kompany (c), Demichelis, Zabaleta, Toure, Fernandinho, Nasri, Silva (Garcia 77), Aguero (Navas 58), Dzeko (Negredo 88)
Unused: Hart, Clichy, Lescott, Milner
Goals: Toure (55), Nasri (56), Navas (90)
Booked: Negredo

Referee: Martin Atkinson
Man of the Match: Samir Nasri

Toure scores a stunning equaliser.

Toure scores a stunning equaliser.

Manuel Pellegrini has won his first piece of silverware at Manchester City – at the first time of asking. The Chilean’s side came from behind to lift the League Cup, in a game of contrasting performances from the first and second half.

The Blues had the better of the opening chances, but couldn’t find the early breakthrough: Kompany’s header was deflected behind and, from the resulting corner, Aguero’s shot was blocked before it reached the goalkeeper. Mannone was called into action after eight minutes to push a low drive from the Argentine away – City appeared to have settled the better.

But it was the Black Cats who opened the scoring. A ball over the top found Borini after he had slipped away from Demichelis. Kompany came across to cover, but could only clip the ball into the Sunderland man’s chest to set him clean through on goal. His outside-of-the-right-foot shot bent around Pantilimon and neatly into the bottom corner. City were behind at Wembley again – but, this time, had 80 minutes to undo the damage.

The goal seemed to damage City’s confidence and it was Sunderland who looked more likely to add the next successful strike of the game. Borini volleyed from the edge of the box, but it was deflected over by Dzeko, before Brown’s header from a corner was wide when he should have done better.

Former City winger Johnson then wriggled inside Kolarov and drilled a ball across the face of goal. Kompany did well to clear without putting it through his own goal. A poor call from the linesman then forced the skipper into drastic action as he stopped Borini from adding his second of the game. The striker was one-on-one with Pantilimon – when he should have been flagged well offside – and the skipper slid it to get the ball behind.

Just before half time, the Blues could have been level through Nasri. He broke away from his covering defender and dropped into space, where he was found by Aguero following some neat interplay down the right flank, but the Frenchman’s effort was a comfortable take for Mannone – who’d had a quieter half than he might have expected.

It was a different City side that came out after the break. Zabaleta chipped a cross into the middle that nearly dipped in at the back post, before Silva forced Mannone into a comfortable save with a drive from the edge of the box. A free kick routine was then wasted, as a poor pass to Toure meant he couldn’t get a shot away. It was better from the Blues, but they were still trailing.

However, in the space of two second half minutes, the Blues went from being behind to having the lead. First, Toure chipped the goalkeeper with a beautiful curling effort from outside the box, leaving Mannone flapping at thin air. The Ivorian looked up and stroked it into the top corner to pull City level.

A minute later, a decisive breakaway added their second. Pantilimon took control of the ball in his box and immediately looked long for Aguero, peeling out to the left. He got it under control and laid it off to Kolarov, whose low cross towards Dzeko was deflected to the edge of the box. Arriving late was Nasri, and his outside of the foot volley left Mannone standing, as it brushed the inside of the post on its way in.

Sunderland, though, tried to respond: Pantilimon was forced to punch the ball over his own crossbar as it came into the box, before Demichelis’s clearance landed straight to Ki – but the Argentine defender made up for the error by nodding the incoming cross to safety.

The Black Cats continued to press, but couldn’t find a way through to Pantilimon’s goal. In the end, City had chances to kill the game – Kompany touched a corner just wide, before Zabaleta smashed a shot over from the edge of the box, following a strong run from the right-back position.

The Blues celebrate a League Cup win.

The Blues celebrate a League Cup win.

With a minute to play, City were let off the hook. Fletcher – in acres of space at the back post – arrived late to latch on to Ki’s knockdown, but with the chance to get a shot away with time and space, he miscontrolled and prodded the ball behind for a goal kick.

It proved costly for Sunderland, as, a minute later, Navas sealed the game. Fernandinho won the ball back for the Blues on the edge of their own box and Toure began one of his trademark runs through the middle. He slipped it right to Navas, whose placed effort beat Mannone at his near post.

The Pellegrini era begins with a victory in the League Cup and the Chilean will be hoping that’s the first of many trophies in the cabinet under his management of the club.

Manchester City 2 Chelsea 0

FA Cup Fifth Round
Saturday 15 February 2014, 17.15 KO

City: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Kompany (c), Lescott, Clichy, Garcia, Toure, Milner, Silva (Navas 69), Jovetic (Nasri 61), Dzeko (Negredo 81)
Unused: Hart, Richards, Demichelis, Kolarov
Goals: Jovetic (16), Nasri (67)
Booked: Kompany, Jovetic, Toure, Garcia

Referee: Phil Dowd
Man of the Match: Javi Garcia

Jovetic opens the scoring.

Jovetic opens the scoring.

Following the defeat to Chelsea less than a fortnight ago, the Blues looked like a team on a missing to avoid their second home defeat in a month. Chelsea – lining up very strongly, despite City’s four changes from their last match. In the end, the visitors couldn’t get a kick of the ball in a meaningful area and the hosts cruised to victory.

Jovetic teased the home crowd with what was to come as he came close to opening the scoring on the quarter-hour mark. Toure kept his feet after a foul by Matic and, with the referee playing advantage, he smashed a shot towards Cech’s goal. The goalkeeper made a hash of dealing with it, fumbling it to the feet of the Montenegrin striker, whose first-time dink towards goal clipped the crossbar.

A minute later, though, the forward hit the frame of the goal again – but this time it also hit the back of the net. Silva and Dzeko linked up well down the left flank and it was good awareness from the Bosnian to slide the ball into the path of the on-rushing Jovetic. He passed it across the sprawling Cech and into the net via the base of the post.

On 24 minutes, the Blues came close to doubling their lead with the same combination – this time in reverse. Jovetic found Dzeko in space on the edge of the box and he belted a curling effort towards the top corner, with only a double-handed flying save from Cech preventing it from going in.

Zabaleta tackles Eto'o.

Zabaleta tackles Eto’o.

Clichy played a brilliant cross into the middle that had both Luiz and Cech flapping, but Dzeko was unable to take advantage to knock home, before Jovetic rolled an effort into the goalkeeper’s hands. City were all over their opponents, who were still yet to start the game.

On the stroke of half time, it was a mystery how City hadn’t doubled their lead. Milner broke down the right flank after Jovetic had been ploughed through by Luiz – who later received a booking for the foul – and drove a low cross towards the front post. Dzeko was inches from touching it into the net, but couldn’t quite connect.

After the break, the pattern of play didn’t change. With many wondering if Mourinho’s side would raise their game, it was the hosts who looked more likely to add the next goal of the contest. And, just six minutes after coming on after his return from injury, Nasri did exactly that. He slid Silva in on the left side, and, as the Spaniard drew Cech off his line, he fed it back to Nasri to tap into the empty net.

It looked like it was three for City with 15 minutes left on the clock. Garcia rose highest at a corner and nodded back across goal. It needed a great save from Cech to keep it out, but Lescott turned in the rebound – though the linesman had (correctly) spotted he was in an offside position.

City were able to see the game out comfortably, with Pantilimon easing the pressure in taking several crosses from their air and with the hosts’ forward players keeping possession well – so well that Matic’s swipe at Toure’s legs earned him a late yellow card.

The Blues put another dent in Chelsea’s remarkable FA Cup run – being the only side to have beaten them in the competition without a penalty shoot-out in their last 33 matches – and knock them out for the second season running.