Date: 26th December 2016 at 8:48pm
Written by:

On a day when goalden gifts were handed out for fun around the Barclays Premier League, the last game of Boxing Day became one that City needed to win urgently against a spirited Hull City side shorn of resources and staring at the dropdown menu.

Guardiola certainly understands now that against the basement teams of this division, you cannot take chances with your selection and if you wish to gather the points you have to forget that your next match is away to Liverpool and simply concentrate on collecting the points available at the K-Comm Stadium. They are every bit as important.

However in the continued absence of Aguero, Guardiola effectively finds himself with only one other focal point to his attacking options. He selected, once again to keep him in his track suit, and field a line-up that looked like 4-1-5-0, where practically any of the 5 could find themselves in the false number 9 location.

In essence it didn’t work against a resolute Hull City defence, who did what they had to do, having nobody to mark and no serious attempts on their goal which looked as though they could be converted.

There were one or two efforts notably from De Bruyne and Sterling, but there was nothing to trouble the scorers.

At the City end of things the only trauma was that Stones did a Kompany impersonation lasting less than half an hour before succumbing, finally, to the numbers held aloft by the reserve referee, who initially signalled for a perplexed Fernandinho.

So the centre of City’s defence took on the look of Otamendi and Kolarov. Thankfully, this seemed to bring out the best in Otamendi. Sagna had one or two scary moments and Clichy was more designed for going forward than defending.

The launching pad for City’s attacking prowess was Yaya Toure, who was back to his majestic best. He was finding space, tackling and playing those straight forward balls that always cause central defenders problems. That said, those ahead of him couldn’t get going as the crowded areas in front of the Hull goalkeeper Marshall limited forward space and never really gave City a clear sight on goal.

It was obvious that the lack of a focal point to City’s attack meant that the big men at the back for Hull played mainly with the ball in front of them as City failed time and again to turn anybody around to open space between the defenders.

Their escape route was Mbokani who lead his front line in fine fashion. Always a handful for either Otamendi or Kolarov, putting himself about in true “big frontman” style and never really letting the Blues centres have a minute.

Either way or either end it didn’t look as though this game was going to produce a goal.

Pep saw the error of his ways early in the second half when it was time for Nolito to leave the field upon which he had done practically nothing and replace him, finally with Iheanacho.

However, by now the match was swinging the way of an enterprising Tigers team that was commencing to have us puzzled as to why a team with this spirit could find themselves pretty much rooted to the foot of the table, staring at Championship football next season. They tried the fast-forward long ball to the said Mbokani, happy to scatter City defenders, or the short route wide out via Snodgrass, always a danger coming inside on his left foot. Huddlestone was doing his usual job in midfield stopping and breaking things up before being replaced by Mason on the hour.

Immediately before that though and with the Tigers pressing forward, Kolarov conceded a free kick about 25 yards out. This set up an untidy chance for Mbokani which Kolarov diverted for a corner. The corner was well delivered and Clownio came out, stopped half way and let Dawson have a free header in the direction of an empty net. Sagna had however expected it and got back to head off the line. This proved to be a wake-up call for a City team that was becoming lethargic and lacking in anything resembling an attacking idea.

Iheanacho couldn’t get into the game for a while, but as the match progressed it was becoming clear that his runs into the box meant that he needed attention and at last the Hull back line had something to do.

Both Iheanacho and De Bruyne carved out chances only to find the end product too weak, but as the Tigers were getting their prey into their teeth, City were at last starting to find valuable space around the edges of the Hull defence and after 72 minutes Sterling capitalised on this skipping past Robertson and into the box with the goal in his sights. Robertson tried a tackle from behind only to bring Sterling down and give Bobby Madley an easy penalty decision to make.

Robertson’s decision was not a good one and the next decision was going to be important..who will take the penalty? With a catalogue of misses to their debit this season it was with relief that we saw Yaya take up the ball and place it on the spot. Marshall dived to his left and Yaya hammered it to his right to finally open the scoring.

At last the relief swept around the visitors enclosure. Six minutes later, Yaya again won the ball in his own half and it was played into De Bruyne in the inside right channel. He set off into the heart of the Hull defence with Silva and Iheanacho to his right.

With the precision of Sir John Barbirolli he dictated Iheanacho to run across to the left, slipped the ball with equal precision to Silva who in turn played in Iheanacho who couldn’t miss.

This was the one quality move of the match and deserved to end up where it did. The alertness and willingness of Kelechi dropped and dragged a couple of defenders and the space duly arrived.

City were now back in authority and although the Tigers didn’t give up, the outcome was now clear. As the last few seconds of stoppage time slipped away, Sterling, appearing on the left this time in and outed Dawson before driving a left-footed cross along the floor of the six yard line. As Iheanacho waited for a tap-in at the far post Tigers defender Davies beat him to it and turned the ball into his own net to round off a very satisfactory if not flattering result for City.

At 72 minutes the Blue Mooners would have happily taken to the M62 with a 1-0 win, but 3-0 makes it a better day.

So Yaya scored for the third Boxing Day in succession and this goal was crucial and necessary. His performance today was not one of drive and thrust, it was more a holding role of winning the ball and moving it forward quickly and it sure turned back the clock in its creativity and mastery.

For those 72 minutes it was Manchester City who were more like toothless tigers and in reality they didn’t look like scoring. Up front for Hull, Mbokani’s performance was tireless and excellent. This young man must know that almost every run and chase and close-down and battles that he becomes involved in is pretty much a lost cause, but he will play for better teams than Hull City. If the Tigers could have got someone closer to him, his work might well have been more productive against attacking aristocrats who can’t defend, but his was often a solitary existence with Snodgrass too often too wide and nobody really out left or in touch.

De Bruyne is starting to look a bit off key and is only shining in patches. His main patch today was the brightest light in the match, dictating the pattern of play leading up to the second goal. Sterling seems to persevere more these days and is more capable of remaining in the game until the end. He also benefits greatly when a central figure moves players around in the box.

Fernandinho remains the one who turns up week-in-week-out and once again today did very little wrong and in tandem with Yaya laid the foundations for this victory.

So the City show goes to visit the new stand at Anfield on New Year’s Eve. This monster of a construction, together with the 2 cathedrals and the new cranes at the Seaforth Docks dominates a busy skyline in Liverpool. It is said that it is even visible from the press area at Goodison Park!

Anfield has not been a happy hunting ground for City in recent years. Indeed points have been very hard to come by since Anelka netted a double in 2003 after Baros had given Liverpool the lead. It will take a great effort against a team whose pressing capability outweighs City’s and is a tactic the Blues dislike. So New Years Eve is going to be an interesting night in Crosby. I don’t think Sue has realised I’ve been gradually taking my stuff back to Manchester!!

All the best, dear readers. Let’s hope New Year gets us off in the right way for a change.

 
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