Manchester City 4 Cardiff City 2

FA Premier League
Saturday 18 January 2014, 15.00 KO

City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany (c), Demichelis, Kolarov, Navas (Clichy 82), Toure, Garcia, Silva (Milner 80), Negredo (Aguero 62), Dzeko
Unused: Pantilimon, Lescott, Nastasic, Fernandinho
Goals: Dzeko (14), Navas (33), Toure (76), Aguero (79)
Booked: Negredo, Kolarov

Referee: Neil Swarbrick
Man of the Match: Javi Garcia

Dzeko nets City's 100th of the season.

Dzeko nets City’s 100th of the season.

City weren’t at their best but put in a good showing to see off Cardiff at the Etihad. Pre-match questions of who would get the club’s 100th goal of the season were also soon answered.

Inside the opening minute, City could have had a penalty as a challenge from behind appeared to take the legs of Dzeko, but nothing was given. The ball ran on to Navas, but his low shot across goal was wide of the target.

Navas came close to forcing the opener as his low ball was almost touched into his own net by Turner but it was pushed behind at the near post by Marshall.

There was controversy over the centenary strike of the season. A lucky ricochet fell to Silva to keep in play on the by-line, where there were appeals it hit his hand. It would have been a harsh handball and he squared for Dzeko to shoot. It was scuffed, but it crossed the line, confirmed by the Goal Decision System.

Negredo twice came close to doubling the lead, but couldn’t quite find the net. First, he ran on to Silva’s lofted ball and his chip over Marshall flicked the keeper’s hand as it dropped wide. Second, his first touch set him up to shoot after Zabaleta played him in, but his outside-of-the-foot strike flashed wide.

Once more, City were punished for not taking their chances. Kolarov was out of position and Demichelis had to come across to cover, leaving Noone the chance to cut in. He stepped around Kompany and fired low past Hart.

The Blues were soon back in the lead. Toure’s sublime pass sent Dzeko through and, as he was tackled on the edge of the box, it ran through for Navas to side-foot under Marshall and into the net.

Kompany holds off Mutch.

Kompany holds off Mutch.

Hart was called into action early in the second half, as he was needed to push Mutch’s effort away. He was also down quickly to deny Campbell from a corner, soon after.

On the hour mark, it could have been three, as Silva shot inches wide. Kolarov squared for Dzeko and the Bosnian touched it through for the Spaniard to take a touch and shoot. His dink bounced marginally wide.

Hart tipped a Noone effort around the post as the Cardiff man stepped around Demichelis, before Aguero – on his own in the visitors’ box – turned and shot, but it was curling just over the bar.

Cardiff’s chance in the game was soon slipping away and Toure quickly put the hosts in full control. Aguero touched it across the box for the Ivorian, whose shot was blasted into the net from just inside the box.

The victory was confirmed with ten minutes to play. A moment of brilliance from Aguero allowed him room to shoot after a twisting and turning run. He drilled a shot into the net from close range.

With three minutes left to play, it was almost five for City. Clichy drilled a low ball into the box for Dzeko, but the Bosnian’s effort was dropping wide until Aguero touched it towards goal. Marshall, though, was down well to make the block and then pounce on the ball.

In stoppage time, Cardiff pulled a second goal back to reduce the deficit. A corner from the left wasn’t defended well by the Blues and it broke to Campbell in the middle to side-foot powerfully into the net, leaving Hart with no chance.

It was a solid win for the Blues, who keep the pressure on Arsenal at the top of the table.

Manchester City 5 Blackburn Rovers 0

FA Cup Third Round (Replay)
Wednesday 15 January 2014, 20.10 KO

City: Pantilimon, Richards (Huws 77), Nastasic, Lescott, Clichy, Navas, Garcia, Milner (c), Fernandinho (Kolarov 45), Dzeko, Negredo (Aguero 72)
Unused: Hart, Zabaleta, Demichelis, Lopes
Goals: Negredo (45, 47), Dzeko (67, 79), Aguero (73)
Booked: Milner, Kolarov

Referee: Craig Pawson
Man of the Match: James Milner

Pantilimon clears under pressure.

Pantilimon clears under pressure.

City will play Watford in the next round of the FA Cup following their replay win over Blackburn. In truth, the away side never really looked like upsetting the apple cart, but they did make life difficult for the hosts. Dzeko struggled to find the target – first, with a header inside the area, second, he skied a blast from a touch down by Fernandinho on the edge of the box, and third, he blasted a long, long, long range effort over.

In between his chances, Marshall curled a free kick straight into Pantilimon’s arms after Cairney was felled by Nastasic on the edge of the box. Garcia blasted a shot from range that looked to be curling into the bottom corner, until Robinson beat it away low to his left.

Ten minutes before half time, City got even closer. Navas beat Marshall on the right flank and fired in a low, driven cross through the six-yard box. First Negredo, then Fernandinho threw themselves at it, but they were both inches away from touching it into the net.

As it looked like the hosts were going to be frustrated at the break, the Blues found the breakthrough: Fernandinho’s cross was missed by Dzeko, but behind him was his strike partner in Negredo – the Spaniard met it and nodded it into the corner of Robinson’s net, with virtually the last touch of the half.

And, the same man scored with virtually his first touch of the second half. Kolarov picked up the ball on the left flank and crossed from deep towards the run of Negredo. The covering defender couldn’t intercept and the striker dinked it over the top of the substitute goalkeeper Eastwood.

Blackburn responded with some good chances. King found space in between Lescott and Nastasic to flick a header towards the top corner, but he got too much on it and headed over. A few moments later, the same man escaped the attention of Nastasic to go one-on-one with Pantilimon, but the Romanian keeper stood up well to make the save.

With just over 20 minutes to play, though, the hosts effectively ended the game. Navas raced through on the right to a Milner pass and, after wriggling his way to the by-line, he played it in low for Dzeko at the front post. The Bosnian’s effort towards the top of the net was too powerful for Eastwood.

Blackburn were deflated and, when Pellegrini introduced Aguero into the action, the Chilean was rewarded as the Argentine scored with his second touch. Dzeko received the ball inside the box on the left and he squared for his strike partner. Aguero took a touch to control and spin, then his second – a low shot – beat both covering defenders and the goalkeeper.

Goal number 99 for the season came with ten minutes to play. In a move not too dissimilar to create the third, the Blues added their fifth of the evening with the same combination – Navas to Dzeko. The Bosnian got across his man to touch the Spaniard’s cross around the corner and into the net at the near post.

Newcastle United 0 Manchester City 2

FA Premier League
Sunday 12 January 2014, 14.05 KO

City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany (c), Demichelis, Kolarov, Toure (Garcia 60), Fernandinho, Silva, Nasri (Milner 79), Negredo, Dzeko (Navas 52)
Unused: Pantilimon, Richards, Lescott, Clichy
Goals: Dzeko (8), Negredo (90+5)
Booked: Fernandinho, Zabaleta

Referee: Mike Jones
Man of the Match: Aleksandar Kolarov

Zabaleta battles for the ball.

Zabaleta battles for the ball.

Newcastle had started the game brightly and had the Blues under some early pressure, but weren’t able to test Hart. And, having been stoic in their resistance from the off, the visitors took the lead inside eight minutes – Kolarov slipped in behind the home side’s defence on the left flank and drove a low cross in towards Dzeko. The Bosnian hammered it into the net left-footed at Krul’s near post.

The home side, though, responded well: A free kick to the back post almost caught City napping, but a combination of Demichelis and Kolarov got the ball clear. Taylor then almost knocked a corner in at the near post but for a great touch by Negredo blocked it. Hart had to then react well to divert a Cabaye shot over the bar.

Then controversy: Newcastle pulled level with an effort from the edge of the box by Tiote, but City’s defenders appealed for an offside. The referee checked with his linesman and ruled that Hart’s vision had been blocked by a man in an offside position, however the replays showed Gouffran didn’t touch the ball and wasn’t in the goalkeeper’s line of sight. It should have stood.

That decision seemed to spur the hosts on and City couldn’t get a kick. The Blues were camped on the edge of their own box until the half time whistle, but fortunately for the visitors, Newcastle weren’t able to get a strike at Hart’s goal.

The second half, though, started as the first ended: Newcastle were pressuring and City were giving the ball away too cheaply. Remy was slipped through neatly, but some good defending from a combination of Kompany and Zabaleta ensure he couldn’t get a shot in. Anita hit an effort from range that Hart gathered at full stretch.

Demichelis nods clear.

Demichelis nods clear.

Negredo twice almost extended the City lead ten minutes into the half. First, a one-two between Silva and Nasri gave the Spanish striker chance to swivel and shoot, but he couldn’t get his effort on target. Then a free kick from Silva found Negredo’s head, but Krul pulled off a brilliant reactions block to keep it out.

Just before the hour, Hart was called into action again. Cabaye picked up a loose ball 30 yards out and, after knocking it out of his feet, belted it towards the far corner. The City keeper did well to push it around the post.

Cabaya was skating on extremely thin ice with two fouls – first on Navas and then on Kolarov, both of which could have seen him shown his second yellow card – but it was his play that sought out Remy in the middle. Kompany and Zabaleta got caught together and the striker was clean through. He belted it, but Hart produced a top save with his boot to keep it out.

With four minutes to play, City came close to winning the game – a free kick from Silva was flicked towards goal by Kompany and the rebound fell kindly for Fernandinho inside the area. His effort looped over Krul and crashed off the top of the bar, with Negredo unable to keep the ball in to shoot again. Two minutes later, a shot from the centre-forward was cleared off the line after good work by Silva.

The game, though, was won deep into seven minutes of stoppage time. A quick break by City as Newcastle piled men forward saw Milner slide it through for Negredo to race away from the back four. One-on-one, he got lucky, as his shot hit Krul and deflected off his own shin towards goal. It just needed touching into the empty net.

Manchester City 6 West Ham United 0

League Cup Semi Final First Leg
Wednesday 8 January 2014, 19.45 KO

City: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Kompany (c), Lescott, Clichy, Nasri, Toure (Demichelis 66), Garcia, Silva (Lopes 73), Negredo (Kolarov 79), Dzeko
Unused: Hart, Nastasic, Fernandinho, Milner
Goals: Negredo (12, 26, 49), Toure (40), Dzeko (60, 89)
Booked:

Referee: Jon Moss
Man of the Match: Alvaro Negredo

Negredo doubles City's lead.

Negredo doubles City’s lead.

With the way that City have been knocking goals in at home this season, Pellegrini was making his intentions clear: Get the job done in the first leg, as he named a strong starting line-up. It paid off as Pantilimon’s work was little more than collecting crosses and clearing back-passes in a game that the Blues dominated from start to finish.

It started to go downhill for the Hammers on 12 minutes. There was a certain sense of irony in the manner in which the Blues scored their first; City have the reputation as the one-touch specialists, while it’s Allardyce’s teams who carry the long-ball reputation. But Toure played it long for the run of Negredo, whose superb volley, over his shoulder, nestled in the bottom corner.

The second goal of the night virtually killed any competitive edge in the tie – not that there was much to begin with. Negredo dummied the ball for Dzeko to receive it mid-way into the West Ham half. The Bosnian controlled, turned and laid it off into the path of his strike partner, who took a touch and, on the slide, powered it into the top corner from just inside the box.

As the first half wore on, City should have been further in front. Garcia stabbed over from a Silva corner, before a great run by Nasri set-up Dzeko to shoot from just inside the box. The Bosnian, however, got under the ball and it ended up in the fans behind the goal.

With five minutes until the break, however, the home side made it three. The ball bounced kindly for Negredo in the centre-circle and Toure took it off the Spaniard’s toes to run at the West Ham defence. He just kept going until he was inside the box, where his shot took the slightest of deflections on its way past Adrian and into the net.

Negredo’s hat-trick came a mere four minutes into the second period. A corner from the left was cleared as far as Silva, who wriggled his way into the box to square towards Dzeko. It was deflected straight into the path of Negredo, whose side-footed shot picked out the left side of the net.

Nasri has an effort on goal.

Nasri has an effort on goal.

But City weren’t done. Toure tried an effort from a free kick on the edge of the box, but his shot was just over the bar, before a Dzeko blast from range missed the top corner by inches. The Bosnian, though, didn’t have to wait much longer to get his name on the score sheet, touching in a low Clichy cross on the hour mark.

It quickly became a training exercise for the home side, who were keeping the ball expertly and barely out of second gear, despite the scoreline. Negredo had a shot deflected around the post, before Dzeko’s header was superbly saved by Adrian – who was doing his level best to keep the score down.

That was until a minute from the end, when Dzeko added his second of the evening to make it six for City, and five for him in four appearances in the competition for this season. Kolarov’s pull-back found the Bosnian just inside the box and the striker got a good connection to smash it past the stationary goalkeeper.

At the mid-way point in the semi-final, City look already on the way to Wembley, barring a miracle at Upton Park for the Hammers. If anything, 6-0 flattered the visitors; it could have been much more.

Manchester City 1 Crystal Palace 0

FA Premier League
Saturday 28 December 2013, 15.00 KO

City: Hart, Boyata (Negredo 55), Kompany (c), Nastasic, Clichy, Garcia, Fernandinho (Nasri 55), Navas, Silva, Milner (Kolarov 75), Dzeko
Unused: Pantilimon, Lescott, Toure, Rodwell
Goals: Dzeko (66)
Booked: Silva

Referee: Andre Marriner
Man of the Match: Fernandinho

Milner jumps to challenge.

Milner jumps to challenge.

The game very quickly slipped into a pattern that would take seemingly forever to break, as Crystal Palace’s intentions to leave with a point became clear from the off. The visitors packed their defence and a much-changed home side were finding it very difficult to break through. Dzeko’s turn and shot was well wide, Fernandinho had a shot deflected over, while Silva powered wide.

The ball was coming back to Palace throughout the first half, but City just could not trouble Speroni. Milner curled an effort over from the edge of the box, Dzeko nodded a high cross back across the area but it was deflected over, and Kompany’s piledriver from range was gathered by the goalkeeper.

As the half hour came up, the visitors enjoyed a spell of possession in the City half – even if it was brief. Bolasie volleyed an effort straight at Hart, before Kompany and Nastasic combine to snuff out a quick break. Jerome threw himself at a low cross into the box, but Hart was there first and took a blow to the face that would see him finish the game with a black eye. Jerome couldn’t continue after the clash.

On the stroke of half time, Silva blasted just wide from a tight angle, before Fernandinho picked up a loose ball on the edge of the box to shoot. The Brazilian flicked it over the challenge and volleyed with his left foot, but it was just over the bar – the home fans were frustrated, but that’s exactly what Palace were aiming for.

Early in the second period, the Blues were thankful for their goalkeeper as the away side could have taken the lead. A long range effort from Puncheon looked destined for the bottom corner until Hart was down and across to palm it behind. From the resulting corner, Chamakh headed wide – when he should have headed in.

On the hour mark, Palace came even closer – though the combination was the same. Puncheon belted a shot from range and Hart, even more impressively this time, was across to his left to get a fingertip on the ball and nudge it around the post. Jedinak then forced the England keeper into a good save, touching his effort over the bar.

But it was the Blues who took the lead, as they got back into the swing of things. Navas picked up a high ball to the back post by Nasri and pulled it back across the area. It missed Negredo at the front post, but Dzeko was waiting on the penalty spot to side-foot it into the net.

The goal, though, didn’t do much for the game. In the end, it was one of the last few meaningful efforts on goal – with two Dzeko headers being the closest either side came in the final 25 minutes. The first – from deep – was from a Kolarov cross, but was a difficult chance and easy for Speroni, while the second – from a tight angle – couldn’t find the net from a Navas driven ball across.

It wasn’t a pretty game, but City did what they needed to. They enjoy a Saturday night on top of the table and have broken the Premier League record for the most number of goals scored at the midway point in the season.

Leicester City 1 Manchester City 3

League Cup Quarter Final
Tuesday 17 December 2013, 19.45 KO

City: Hart, Zabaleta (Boyata 12), Lescott, Kompany (c), Kolarov, Milner, Garcia, Rodwell, Navas, Silva (Nasri 70), Dzeko
Unused: Pantilimon, Demichelis, Fernandinho, Negredo
Goals: Kolarov (8), Dzeko (41, 53)
Booked: Navas, Boyata

Referee: Roger East
Man of the Match: James Milner

Rodwell takes on Schmeichel.

Rodwell takes on Schmeichel.

City named a strong side for their trip to Leicester, with the Blues having struggled away from home. It took just eight minutes for the visitors to open the scoring, as Dzeko turned away from Knockaert and the Leicester man brought him down 30 yards from goal. Kolarov stepped up and curled it into the top corner.

However, Pellegrini’s decision to play a strong starting XI looked like it might have backfired after 12 minutes – Zabaleta was forced off through injury, which was unwelcome given the absence of Richards with a hamstring problem from the trip to Munich.

Mid-way through the first half, the visitors should have gone two goals in front. Silva slipped Kolarov through on the left flank and as he raced into the box he squared it for Dzeko. It needed touching past Schmeichel, but the striker could only find the former City keeper, who spread himself well to block. Rodwell’s follow up was skewed wide.

The away side were beginning to pile on the pressure. A Silva corner found its way to Kolarov, who volleyed towards the top corner, but Schmeichel punched it over the bar. Rodwell climbed well from the next flag kick, but that was also deflected high by one of the covering defenders.

Despite some high pressing by Leicester, a decisive City break as half time approached doubled the visitors’ advantage. Navas slid the pass through to Milner on the inside left channel and, facing Schmeichel, he chipped the cross to Dzeko, arriving at the back post. The Bosnian nodded it down and into the net.

Navas picked up a loose ball in the box following a Schmeichel save from a Milner effort, before the Spaniard had another pop after some great work between Rodwell and Silva to slid the winger in. It took a full length stretch from the Leicester goalkeeper to make this save – and this time he held on, with Dzeko closing in.

Five minutes into the second half, the home side forced Hart into a good save. A break had allowed the ball to creep through to King on the edge of the box and he tried to curl it around the England goalkeeper. He couldn’t wrap his foot around it enough and the City shot-stopper held it.

Silva skips a challenge.

Silva skips a challenge.

But just as soon as it looked like the hosts could get back into the game, the visitors added their third. Milner collected a throw-in from Kolarov on the left flank. There, he pulled it across the box for Dzeko – and the unmarked striker passed it into the bottom corner, leaving Schmeichel standing.

With just under 15 minutes left to play, the hosts pulled a goal back. It was one the City defence wouldn’t have been pleased with, as Boyata was too far from his man and allowed the ball to be knocked inside to Dyer. He smashed a shot towards goal, which deflected off Kompany and beat Hart at his near post – as he reacted to the initial effort.

A poor ball from Kompany across his own half allowed Schlupp to run at goal and it needed a big tackle from Lescott to prevent him getting a shot in. The rebound fell to James, whose shot was well held by Hart, who needed to be at full stretch to keep it out.

Deep into stoppage time, the hosts had a chance to add their second. Schlupp got in behind Lescott on the Leicester right and tried to square for Dyer, but Hart anticipated it well to drop down onto the low cross and regain possession for City. Had Schlupp shot, he may have found the net.

In the end, City never really got out of second gear – but did enough to make it into the semi-finals.

Manchester City 4 Viktoria Plzen 2

UEFA Champions League Group D
Wednesday 27 November 2013, 19.45 KO

City: Hart, Richards, Kolarov (c), Demichelis, Lescott, Garcia, Fernandinho (Toure 64), Milner, Nasri (Negredo 74), Aguero (Navas 45), Dzeko
Unused: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Boyata, Huws
Goals: Aguero (pen 33), Nasri (64), Negredo (78), Dzeko (89)
Booked: Milner, Toure, Demichelis

Referee: Firat Aydinus
Man of the Match: Samir Nasri

Milner puts his body on the line.

Milner puts his body on the line.

With a much-changed line-up and a chance for a dropped goalkeeper to impress, City ran out 4-2 winners in a game that could – quite easily – have ended goalless. A damp squib… A dead rubber… Call it what you want: One side was out of the competition and the other was already through.

The game took a while to get going (some would argue it never did), but the first real chance fell to the hosts, despite the visitors having more of the ball in the opening stages. Nasri played a free kick low to the penalty spot, where Garcia connected to it and prodded it just wide.

Dzeko had a shot easily saved by Kozacik, before Nasri – who was settling into the creative role without Silva in the team very well – cracked a great shot from range against the crossbar. The Frenchman then volleyed wide from an Aguero cross, when he might have done better. Aguero had a goal disallowed as he latched on to a long punt from Hart, after he was caught tugging the defender’s shorts. City were unlucky not to have been leading.

Just before the half hour, the visitors should have gone ahead. Rajtoral wriggled through challenges from Lescott and Kolarov and – with the home side’s defence like statues – rolled a side-footed effort wide of Hart’s far post, as he faced the goalkeeper for a one-on-one. He should have netted.

The game had turned in favour of the Czech side by the stage the Blues went ahead. City broke quickly down the left and Rajtoral handled a ball into the middle, leaving the referee to point to the spot. Aguero sent the keeper the wrong way and the home side were ahead.

However, three minutes before half time, Plzen drew level. Horava rifled a shot past Hart from outside the box, as the home side’s defence were caught napping. The England keeper had no chance with the effort and, in truth, the visitors deserved to be on equal terms.

Hart is disappointed to concede.

Hart is disappointed to concede.

A different City side came out for the second half. This one was more involved in the game and looked much more dangerous than they had before the break: Navas clipped the post, after Dzeko had a shot deflected into the keeper’s arms, and Fernandinho had a flicked header superbly pushed over by Kozacik.

The Blues re-took the lead just after the hour mark. Yaya Toure – on for Fernandinho – did well to keep possession on the by-line and flick it back to Navas, who chipped a neat cross into the middle. There, waiting, was Nasri, who coolly slotted the ball into the net at the back post with his first touch.

The lead, though, lasted just four minutes. There had been a warning sign, as Hart excellently flicked a shot from range over the bar, but the warning wasn’t heeded. Kolar slipped the ball to Tecl inside the box and he slotted it past Hart from four yards out.

On 78 minutes, substitute Negredo scored for his sixth successive game at the Etihad, as he arrived late at the back post to slot the ball into the empty net from Navas’s low cross. It had been missed by both Dzeko and the goalkeeper at the front post and it was a simple finish.

Plzen almost hit back immediately once more. The ball was played through on the right flank and it needed quick reactions from Hart to be off his line speedily and spread himself in order to block the shot.

With only a matter of seconds left on the clock before stoppage time, the home side secured their three points. Milner crossed deep into the box where Dzeko was available to nod the ball home and give City a two-goal lead for the first time all evening.

It wasn’t a pretty game, but it got the job done – leaving City with a chance (however small) of topping the group after the final game.