The last home game of the season was finally upon us. How had it come around so quickly! It only seemed like yesterday I was waiting to see what Mancini`s new players would bring to the club. Well he`s only gone and done it in his first full season. FA Cup winner`s and not only a Champions League spot, but if City win tonight and at Bolton on Sunday, they will qualify outright for the group stages, rather than have tricky games possibly against the likes of Bayern Munich. Another bonus to qualifying outright is that the club is instantly more attractive to prospective new players. It should be an interesting summer of in`s and out`s at the club.
Mancini fielded three changes for tonight`s team from the one that beat Stoke in the FA Cup. Johnson, Milner and Zabaleta were in for Balotelli, Barry and Kolarov. Statistics were really on City`s side as in the last nine home they have won eight and drawn one whilst Stoke`s last nine away games have resulted in no wins at all.
Stoke kicked off playing right to left as the cheers of Blue moon rang out amongst the fans. A long ball was played instantly down the City left and repelled by Zabaleta. City soon gathered composure and were attacking within the first minute of the game. One minute thirty in and the first shot of the game was high and wide from David Silva.
Richard`s was looking to get forward at every opportunity and was caught out of position when Pugh found himself free on the City right. Fortunately the back line stepped up as the pass came in on four minutes and Pugh was adjudged offside.
Stoke were packing the midfield whenever they lost posession and the extra man was marking either of City`s full-backs as they foraged forward. This wasn`t helping as City`s central midfielders were moving with intelligence and speed and seven minutes in Tevez won the ball on the edge of the Stoke box and shot with a neat turn. Unfortunately for City the ball was always rising over the Stoke bar.
The stifling tactics of Stoke were having little effect on the patient City build up and the Blues were creating chance after chance as the midfielders supported Tevez and Milner had a great chance on eleven minutes having been put through by Tevez but Milner shot wide under pressure.
Stoke were playing deeper and deeper and Toure almost set up Tevez as he found the by line and cut the ball back, but seconds later the break-through came. Tevez received the ball on the edge of the box from Milner and jinked past two defenders before putting an exquisite finish past Sorenson. One nil City on fourteen minutes.
City were looking a class act as each Stoke long ball was repelled by a City defender and almost always found a team mate. The movement in midfield was causing Stoke head-aches as every City player appeared to be on top form.
City came under unnecessary pressure on twenty one minutes when Hart flapped at a Stoke cross and the ball fell for Carew. His fierce shot was bravely blocked by Richard`s who took the ball full in the face.
City nearly had their second on twenty three minutes as Richard`s found the touchline and cut a drilled cross back towards Tevez. The ball was just too hard and missed both Tevez and the onrushing Silva.
Twenty six minutes in and City were attacking in waves and they had a corner on Stoke`s right , taken by Johnson. The ball was repelled but found Milner who struck a wicked shot through the crowded Stoke box which hit Sorenson`s legs before the keeper smothered the ball. Seconds later Tevez was curling the ball with the outside of his right boot after a pass from Milner, but the shot was straight at the Stoke keeper.
Not only were City looking good going forward, but all four defenders along with De Jong had created a near invincible wall which had limited Stoke to a couple of half chances. Stoke`s first shot on target was by Whelan who was forced to shoot from thirty yards out. To show how on form City were, this was followed five seconds later by a shot at the other end from Toure.
First yellow of the game was given to Shawcross for a cynical foul on Toure who had been put through by Tevez and could well have been on the way to goal. Stoke cleared the resultant free kick but City were quickly back in possession.
City were still attacking in the last five minutes of the half as Johnson waltzed through the Stoke defence and shot at the Stoke goal. The shot was on target but bravely blocked by the Stoke defender.
Within a minute, Toure had floated a lovely ball over the Stoke defence as he saw the run of Tevez. The bounce was though, unkind, as Tevez was unable to gain full control.
First half over and what a half it was. Every City player, including Adam Johnson, was having a good game. How City hadn`t scored more than one I really can`t say. City were dominating this game perhaps even more than in the Final and did you know, City have won one nil more than any other Premier League side?.perhaps the Italian influence of Mancini!
No changes by either team at half time and despite the near total domination, just the wonderful Carlos Tevez goal separated the two sides.
Two minutes in and Tevez almost played Silva through but the diminutive Spaniard couldn`t get the ball under control. The game was following a familiar pattern as City repelled each Stoke long ball with a towering header or a firm tackle.
Stoke were beginning to resort to type as a few hefty challenges left first Tevez and then Johnson on the floor. Lee Probert the ref had let play go on but minutes later when the ball went out, booked Wilkinson for his challenge from behind on City captain Tevez.
Another hefty challenge on Richard`s after a surging run resulted in a floated free kick from Johnson which perfectly tracked the run of Joleon Lescott who rose majestically to head City`s well deserved second goal. Two one and City were cruising.
First substitution of the game came on fifty five minutes as David Silva came off to a standing ovation and was replaced by Edin Dzeko as Mancini chose to save Silva for the Bolton game on Sunday.
With Silva taken out of the fray, Johnson moved over to the left hand side of midfield and right away put in two tasty crosses for Dzeko who should have made it three on fifty eight minutes. He showed some neat footwork which took him through the Stoke defence. His shot though was tame and directed straight at Sorenson.
City were looking like Barcelona in their demolition of Arsenal. They were hunting in packs, not allowing any Stoke player more than a second on the ball. From front to back every player defended with zest. When in possession sometimes City were patient, stroking the ball around with finesse. At other times, they would break with pace turning defence into attack within a matter of seconds.
The rout was made official in the sixty fourth minute when City were awarded a deserved free kick around twenty five yards out just to the right of centre. Tevez stood up and struck a fierce shot which went nearly two meters wide of the wall and cut back in to almost burst the Stoke net such was the power and pace. This was magical stuff and a goal reminiscent of one scored by none other than Roberto Carlos. Three nil and City were on fire. Stoke were mere bystanders in the Manchester City party.
City`s second substitution of the game brought a huge cheer from the City faithful as fan favourite Shaun Wright-Phillips replaced the excellent Adam Johnson.
Dzeko nearly scored in the sixty eighth minute when he utilised some neat footwork to make space for himself in the Stoke box. His shot was fiercely struck and had beaten the outstretched hand of Sorenson only to come back of the Stoke keepers post.
The Blues were looking fresh, together and supremely in control of this game as they grew in confidence with each passing minute. This was by far the best team performance of the season as every player, subs included, performed to the best of their ability, doing what was asked of them by their manager and their fellow team mates.
Stoke quickly threw Delap and Shotton into the fray in an attempt to rescue something from the game, but their introduction had little effect on the City machine. This was a performance to put fear into City`s rivals so complete were the tactics, skill and application of Mancini`s men. Surely the Premier League is now a valid target (next season) for this team which has grown with each passing game.
Ten minutes to go and Wright-Phillips skipped away from his marker and played a sublime ball through to Milner who broke free. An outstretched foot brought Milner down just outside the box. Tevez lined the ball up but his dinked finish wasn`t up to the high standard he had set himself.
WithfFive minutes left Richards burst down the right hand side. A Stoke foot put the ball out for the corner and Dzeko nearly made it four with a towering and powerful header which was only inches over the Stoke bar.
Man of the match was greeted with a great cheer as deservedly City`s talismanic striker Carlos Tevez was announced and immediately withdrawn to huge applause to be replaced by Dedryk Boyata.
With seconds to go City were down to ten men when a high boot from Delap caught Zabaleta across the forehead and opened a nasty six inch gash. Zabaleta was furious as his last home game of the season was ended by deliberate injury.
City saw out the remaining seconds and had now equaled their best ever tally in what has been a remarkable season. All that was left now was Sunday`s game and as long as they match Arsenal, City will finish third, their best ever finish in the Premier League. Whoever doubted Bobby Manc?.shame on you, this is a team to be feared.
Joe Hart – 7.5
Flapped at one cross and had a couple of poor kicks. That aside had a good game.
Micah Richards – 8.5
Imperious at the back and utterly rampant going forward. On this performance has to be in the full England squad from now on. Micah is brave strong and has now learnt football from a true great in Mancini.
Vincent Kompany – 8
Won everything in the are and everything on the floor. Always class.
Joleon Lescott – 9
A tower of strength at the back tonight and popped up with his second headed goal of the season. Finishing the season looking worth every penny we paid for him and as good as John Terry.
Pablo Zabaleta – 8.5
Wasn’t beaten once at left back and made some fantastic runs forward. Tackled with his usual strength and was once again ‘taken out’ with a nasty facial injury.
Nigel De Jong – 9
Was here there and everywhere across the back line helping out his defenders and breaking up the Stoke play. Distributed the ball well and is without doubt the best defensive midfielder in England and possibly in Europe.
Yaya Toure – 7.5
Ran his heart out for the cause and made a number of surging runs. Will come back next season even better. Did you hear that United….EVEN BETTER!!!!
James Milner – 8
Great all round performance both in defense and when attacking. Showed class close control and distributed well. Almost had a goal with a pile driver of a shot.
David Silva – 8
Was at the centre of everything until he was subbed with a minor injury.A very exciting player with intelligence and foresight rarely seen in the English game.
Adam Johnson – 7.5
Not his best performance in a City shirt but his best post injury performance in a City shirt. I was pleased to see he could still cross with his left foot when he moved to left midfield when Silva came off. Made some good runs and crosses.
Carlos Tevez – 9.5
What can you say. Two completely different and utterly world class goals. Harried, chased and led by example as his team dominated from first to last.
Edin Dzeko – 7.5
Showed some neat foot work and could have scored from a couple of chances. Hit the post a put a bullet header just over the bar. I have no doubt he will be a force next season.
Shaun Wright-Phillips – 7
Maybe his last game in front of the City faithful and showed glimpses of how he dazzled us at his peak.
Too late to mark.
Roberto Mancini – 10.
He may have had his doubters and detractors about his management style but Bobbby Manc has led a revolution in the blue half of Manchester. No longer an under dog and no longer just up and coming. Mancini has dragged Manchester City into the limelight and the Champions League and for the first time in my lifetime I am thinking about the League Title next year. So to you Roberto I say thanks.