Manchester City 2-1 West Bromwich Albion: Citizens tighten hold on fourth following Samir Nasri winner
Manuel Pellegrini had to rely upon his key players to secure a 2-1 victory over West Brom, despite fielding a much changed side from the eleven who started against PSG in midweek.
The Chilean manager made five changes from the team who drew 2-2 in Paris, but it was the arrival of superstar Kevin De Bruyne after 60 minutes which brought around City’s victory.
West Brom took advantage of City’s makeshift starting XI, attacking straight from kick-off, winning an early corner as they looked to gain an early advantage. This came to nothing, but it was a sign of things to come.
Tony Pulis is not known for building sides that search for a goal early in games, but Stephane Sessegnon netted after six minutes – thanks in part to referee Mike Jones.
Samir Nasri – starting his first game since October – was breaking with the ball, but he ran into Jones and ended up losing possession.
The Baggies picked up possession through Darren Fletcher, who hit a lovely ball out to James McLean on the left-wing.
The Irish international sent in a perfect cross which evaded everyone, coming out to Sessegnon on the edge of the area. He hit a powerful shot which flew in at the near post, beating a confused Joe Hart – who failed to even move.
It was a strong start from the Baggies, but City pressed hard for an equaliser.
Aleksandar Kolarov was the key figure in the host’s attacking play, combining well with Nasri on the left-wing.
He was breaking into the area with ease, sending in crosses and having numerous attempts on goal which resulted in City winning five corners inside the first 10 minutes.
And it was through the Serb that Pellegrini’s men got back into the game.
Another strong run down the from the left-back saw him pick up the ball from a Nasri pass, dribbling into the area, before being taken down by West Brom goalscorer Sessegnon.
Aguero stepped up for the resultant penalty, driving the ball past Ben Foster to draw the hosts level after 19 minutes.
The game dropped off following the Argentine’s equaliser, as neither City nor the Baggies could create much in the driving rain.
Kolarov was central to any attacks from Pellegrini’s team, although play was too often slowed down in the final third, allowing West Brom to set up their impenetrable defensive structure.
The visitors managed the occasional foray into City’s half, with Sessegnon causing trouble on the edge of the area, but the Beninese attacker often made the wrong choice – passing when shooting would have been wiser.
Neither team could add to the scoreline as the first-half drew to a close, and the second period started with the same slow pace.
Aguero had the first real chance after 54 minutes, forcing a diving save from Foster from 25 yards, but it was the Baggies who will feel as if they should have taken the lead.
Brazilian midfielder Sandro was on the penalty spot as a cross came swinging in from the right wing, and Eliaquim Mangala – who excelled against PSG in midweek – jumped into his back, knocking him to the floor.
There was a great shout for a penalty from the visitors, but the officials turned down any claims, with Mangala’s hands not involved in taking Sandro to ground.
Despite the duo likely to feature in the upcoming clash with PSG, Pellegrini wanted the three points, and he believed De Bruyne and Toure would bring increased pace to a faltering attack.
The Chilean was rewarded less than 10 minutes later, with Belgian star De Bruyne the architect.
Breaking down the right wing, the 24-year-old found Jesus Navas in the area, who squared the ball to Aguero. His shot was blocked by a Baggies’ centre-back, but the ball bounced to Nasri rushing in at the far post, who finished cooly through James Chester’s legs.
The Baggies were not downhearted though, showing more attacking verve following the Frenchman’s goal than they had before City took the lead.
Saido Berahino had two chances which he should have converted from inside the area, and the hosts slowed their play down once again, offering the Baggies a route back into the game.
Craig Dawson sent a perfect cross in from the right, which Berahino just failed to touch in at the far post, and moments later Pulis showed his attacking intent by bringing on 16-year-old striker Jonathan Leko to offer a new threat upfront.
Nasri had a chance with a curling shot to seal the win, but the Baggies continued to press for an equaliser.
Craig Gardner’s long-range free-kick was tipped over by Hart, and the England keeper punched away a threatening Leko cross, whilst McLean dragged the final chance wide from the edge of the box with just seconds remaining.
City end the day four points clear of fifth placed Manchester United, who have a game in hand, although there was a worry for Pellegrini as Aguero was substituted off in the dying minutes with an apparent injury.