Monday, January 22, 2018


4 of City's best performers on the day celebrate Aguero's opener
These match notes originally aired in abridged form on ESPN's Player Ratings feature. This is an extended and therefore much more detailed version:

From playing your bogey side at a ground you never win at to playing your most pliable Premier League opponent: City could not have asked for a more appropriate fixture after the defeat at Anfield.

Needing to respond to last weekend’s first setback of the season, City succeeded in the most encouraging way possible, playing their unstoppable passing game as if nothing at all had happened.

A little strange perhaps to hear that, having had a 15 point lead cut back to 12 and, thanks to the vagaries of the tv fixture list, back again to nine, excited murmurs had begun to circulate that the team that had already "sown up the title" in November, might now be catchable.

This is how the narratives of the great and good work, big brains with big ideas and endless yards of column inches too fill

With the return of David Silva to rule the roost over midfield (an English league record 23 successive wins with him playing) and a seamless performance from yet another left back candidate Oleksandr Zinchenko, City’s win puts them right back on track.


What a way to come back from what could have been a demoralising defeat on Merseyside last week. 10 first half corners alone told the story of a side very keen to put the brief setback behind them. Another eight in the second half made some of the stats look a little ridiculous by the end.       

For a side delivering such crushing possession stats, it was interesting to see what happened when the laser passing finally broke down. Ironically, this occurred on the very edge of the away side’s penalty area as City pushed for a third goal. The outcome? A breakaway goal for Newcastle which suddenly reduced the score to 2-1. Some of the blame falls at the dancing feet of Oleksandr Zinchenko, a midfielder getting slightly carried away with his roving brief from left back. 

With Newcastle's fans hitting bum notes on the terraces, empty seat watchers and No History buffs were put on high alert once again:

Manager Yet another snapshot of how the manager’s mind works: full strength side, no holds barred, same crushing tactics, complete confidence in personnel (Zinchenko thrown in at left back ahead of Danilo). Fortune favours the brave.       

Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
Ederson, 7 -- Nothing at all to do until the second half, when he appeared to have the brainwave of taking a few risks to liven things up for himself. First was a dodgy out-pass in the 57th minute, which livened things up at the back for his defenders. You could hardly blame him for becoming bored, but his manager might well have been doing exactly that for a couple of scary episodes deep in the second half. First serious action was coming out to meet the excellent Jacob Murphy’s run and seeing the ball looped over him and into the goal. Energetic double save later on partly due to his own butter fingers in dropping the initial shot.   

Kyle Walker, 8 – Gave away first minute foul which resulted in a scare in the box from the free-kick, but was much better than of late: involved, accurate and pacey in his right wing bursts. Came into the match more after the break as City varied the side of attack more. One hurried shot nearly hit the roof, but produced a delicious diagonal ball to Zinchenko on the opposite flank.
John Stones, 7 -- Calmest game since his comeback with the timing of passing better than of late. Early chance to put City ahead, screwing near post shot just wide, but spent most of his time playing simple safe balls across and backwards towards Ederson.     

Nicolas Otamendi, 7 – As usual the more adventurous of the central two at the back. Advanced regularly to join the attack, but also got his foot in on at least two crucial moments as Newcastle threatened. Took a painful hit on the ankle from Joselu just after the break, but recovered without obvious signs of stress.        
Oleksandr Zinchenko, 8 -- Such calm authority from such an inexperienced stand-in. Very involved right from the start, with plenty of classy touches in the Silva, Leroy Same triangles. Lovely cushioned pass on the volley to Sergio Aguero showed a player full of confidence and poise. Quick to track back and snuff out the threat, but caught too far upfield for Newcastle's goal, as Murphy broke through his channel.

Fernandinho, 7 -- Cool and authoritative with the telling foot in and the right choice of pass to launch his team mates forward, as with the pass to set up a lightning attack culminating in Sterling's disallowed goal after 18 minutes. Great variation of pass, from the golf shot to chip Walker in down the right, which ended with Sergio Aguero going close, to the long diagonal to David Silva switching play in an instant.    
David Silva, 9 – What a difference it makes to City’s play to have the Spaniard orchestrating things. Range, choice and accuracy of pass peerless. Pull back from the byline for Stones's early chance, followed by many zippy interchanges with Sane and Zinchenko down the left. A constant headache for the tracking Javier Manquillo. Still biting enthusiastically into a double tackle in the 89th minute.

Karl Darlow is beaten by the merest of Aguero touches to De Bruyne's inswinging cross from the right. 

Kevin de Bruyne, 8 – Shares the responsibility these days with Silva for City’s prodigious attacking threat. Often the deepest player to restart the push forward, he has a similarly tireless engine to club legend Colin Bell, whose incredible stamina earned him the nickname Nijinsky, after the pedigree racehorse. Threaded early ball to Silva for John Stones chance after 6 minutes. Perfect lofted ball in from the left for Aguero's first on 33 minutes, immediately after a terrible freekick and a missed ball had blotted his copybook. Low corners unproductive but a neat left footer was just touched around the post by the busy Karl Darlow.        
MF Leroy Sane, 8 – Wasteful four yard pass straight to a Newcastle defender did not bode well for the afternoon, but the German picked up the thread and, well before the end, was mesmerising the right side of the visiting defence. One of the finest pieces of skill of the season so far to run and weave through a packed Newcastle defence to set up Aguero’s hat trick goal. Pace, poise, close control, acceleration and nerveless confidence in his ability marks him out as a real star for the future, if he can control his temperament.    

Raheem Sterling, 7 – Isolated on the underused right side for much of the first period, he came into it much more after the break, running hard at the beleaguered defence. Disallowed goal at the end of a great move after 18 minutes. Team mates overestimating his pace with over hit through balls. Great run into the box to be brought down by Manquillo for the penalty. How Darlow touched his wonderfully volleyed finish onto the post, he will never know.      
Sergio Aguero, 8 -- Newcastle’s tormentor in chief. With an average of a goal or assist every 31 minutes against this opponent, he amazingly kept up the record here with a clinically taken hat trick. Had hardly been involved at all before the first goal (33'), when he had his use of strong setting hair gel to thank for the minutest of touches to De Bruyne's cross. Shots off in very restricted space (44', 60') plus two trademark canters across the box to get in a right foot diagonal shot on goal. Penalty (62') highish to Darlow's right for 2-0 and a left foot finish to complete the "perfect hat trick" from Sane's mesmerising run down the left.


Bernardo Silva, NR -- Came on for Raheem Sterling after 85 minutes to carry the ball on the right. Held possession well as usual.
Brahim Diaz , NR -- Late appearance after 87 minutes to replace Sane.

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