Man City's poor away form no concern for Pellegrini

Sean Taylor 31/12/2015
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Unruffled: Manuel Pellegrini.

Manchester City’s struggles away from home are not worrying manager Manuel Pellegrini. Following Tuesday night’s goalless draw against Leicester, Pellegrini’s team are without an away win in the Premier League in six outings since a 1-0 victory at Crystal Palace on September 12.

– Premier League: January transfer window watch
– Serie A: January transfer window watch
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– Ligue 1: January transfer window watch

It is the club’s worst run on the road since 2011 but thanks to their home form – City have won eight of their 10 games at the Etihad, losing twice – they head into 2016 third in the table and just three points behind leaders Arsenal and second-placed Leicester.

Pellegrini does not think his side’s away results matter too much as long as City are achieving their goals.

“I don’t divide the games that we play away or home,” he said. “I think that we have a system and it is very important when we play to get the amount of points needed to win the title. Maybe if you reduce the last games that we are playing away, we are not winning. We need to win but we are the best team to play at home.

“In the second half of the season we will continue improving. If you ask me are we happy so far? Yes, because we are near the points needed to be top of the table, we are playing in the semi-finals of the Capital One Cup and we have qualified in the Champions League. I don’t think it is a good idea to divide up the games into away and home.’’

Sergio Aguero started against Leicester as he continues to be eased back in only his second appearance since returning from injury.

The Argentinian striker cut a forlorn figure at times at the King Power Stadium and was still obviously short of match sharpness, although Pellegrini expects his talisman to hit top form again soon.

“We know him and we know from before that he needs two or three games to return to his normal performance,’’ said the City boss. “At this minute he is playing but I didn’t want him to play more than 65 minutes.”

With their title credential under the microscope after defeat at Liverpool on Boxing Day, Leicester responded with a typically hardworking performance and were a match for City.

After successive matches against two of the biggest clubs in the land, Claudio Ranieri’s men host Bournemouth on Saturday – but the Italian insists that will be the tougher fixture.

“Believe me, the next match is more difficult,” said Ranieri. “Bournemouth press well and they played very well at Arsenal. It will be a difficult match.

“For me, it is important to think about Bournemouth and what we can do for the next month. “It’s not easy for us but we want to fight with everybody. It is fantastic what we’re doing.”

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Liverpool add to Sunderland misery as Benteke strikes again

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Goalscorer: Christian Benteke.

Christian Benteke was Liverpool’s match-winner for the second time in five days as he plunged Sunderland deeper into relegation trouble.

– Premier League: January transfer window watch
– Serie A: January transfer window watch
– Bundesliga: January transfer window watch
– Ligue 1: January transfer window watch

The Belgium international, who scored the only goal against Leicester on Boxing Day, did it again at the Stadium of Light when he took advantage of some flat-footed defending 22 seconds into the second half to clinch a 1-0 victory.

Liverpool might have won more comfortably had it not been for the first-half heroics of Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone, who produced a string of fine saves including one breathtaking effort to deny Roberto Firmino.

The home side got men behind the ball early on, allowing Jordan Henderson, Emre Can and Philippe Coutinho to dominate possession in the middle of the field, and the visitors created several chances.

Mannone had to beat away Nathaniel Clyne’s 30-yard piledriver with just five minutes gone and was then relieved to see Firmino miscontrol Coutinho’s pass inside the penalty area after he had picked off Sebastian Coates’ loose pass. Coutinho then curled an effort just wide before landing a 17thminute free-kick on the roof of the Italian’s net as the Reds pushed for the opening goal.

It was Firmino who almost broke the deadlock twice, first forcing Mannone to tip a long-range effort on to the post and then testing him once again with a firm header.

For their part, Sunderland created a series of half-chances with striker Jermain Defoe causing problems for Mamadou Sakho. But all the good work was undone moments after the restart when Adam Lallana managed to get a toe to Clyne’s ball into the box and divert perfectly into the path of Benteke, who beat Mannone with ease.

The hosts responded in determined fashion and Borini thumped a 54th-minute shot into Mignolet’s midriff after forcing his way into the box, and the Belgian had to make an important block from Duncan Watmore’s 78th-minute strike to cement the win.

However, substitute Jordon Ibe and Benteke both wasted glorious late opportunities to put the game to bed.

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Leicester keep City’s attack at bay in enthralling draw

Sean Taylor 30/12/2015
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Up for the challenge: Nicolas Otamendi slides in to try and tackle Jamie Vardy.

Leicester finished 2015 level on points with Arsenal at the top of the Premier League after a goalless draw with Manchester City at the King Power Stadium on Tuesday night.

The stalemate leaves Leicester second in the table behind the Gunners on goal difference, completing an amazing turnaround from 12 months ago when the Foxes were bottom of the standings.

After defeat at Anfield on Boxing Day, some questioned the title credentials of Claudio Ranieri’s team but they silenced their critics with another superb performance as they more than held their own against the 2013-14 champions.

– Serie A: January transfer window watch
– Bundesliga: January transfer window watch

– Ligue 1: January transfer window watch

City stay third and without an away win in the league in six outings since a 1-0 victory at Crystal Palace on September 12, however they did manage a first clean sheet since November 8.

Leicester had marshalled the threat of Raheem Sterling well, until the 18th minute. It was then that Sterling caught Bacary Sagna’s ball over the top into space and teed-up Kevin De Bruyne, whose first-time shot was parried away by Kasper Schmeichel.

It signalled the start of an assertive spell from City who got in down the right again before the half-hour mark following good link up play between Sagna and De Bruyne.

Sterling took a pass on his chest and, losing his balance, hit a volley but Schmeichel got a hand on the ball. 

Leicester survived the spell of pressure unscathed and finished the first half strongly. Christian Fuchs turned away from De Bruyne and delivered a beautiful cross which just eluded Jamie Vardy.

Four minutes before half-time Vardy was presented with a glorious chance to score. Fernandinho dallied and lost possession 30 yards out, allowing Danny Drinkwater to put Vardy clear on goal but the striker uncharacteristically blazed his shot over the crossbar.

There was more ebb and flow about the second half as chances went begging at both ends.

Sergio Aguero flicked a near-post effort just wide straight after the restart before N’Golo Kante soon had Joe Hart worried with a dipping 25-yard shot.

Marc Albrighton scuffed his shot wide from a good position inside the penalty area while back at the other end Schmeichel had to push away a Nicolas Otamendi header.

A brilliant pass from Drinkwater gave Vardy another sight of goal but his shot was straight at Hart, who then did well to repel a powerfully-struck Fuchs free-kick. 

Both sides had spells of late pressure but neither could make the breakthrough and a draw was a fair result.

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