All ahead full stop…but I would expect only briefly. Leslie Hughes’ well organised spoilers, spearheaded by a relentless Joe Allen checked City’s late winter resurgence last night with a no nonsense approach that served to stifle and frustrate Pep Guardiola’s men into realising an unwanted 5th home draw of the Premier League season.
The Blues profligacy in the top flight at The Etihad has been startling as an inability to kill off Everton, Southampton, Middlesbrough, Tottenham and Chelsea previously demonstrated, but if anything Stoke faired even better defensively in restricting City to just the 1 shot on target. In truth, it wasn’t until the introduction of David Silva close to the hour mark that a tiring Stoke became increasingly stretched. Pep has since invoked squad rotation as the reason for Raz Sterling and Spanish Dave’s omission from the starting XI, but no matter which way he dresses it up, Stoke spirits would have been quintessentially boosted by the absence from the team sheet of arguably The Blues two most influential players of the current campaign. The Silva star is well and truly in the ascendancy and I couldn’t help but feel we gave the Potters far too easy a ride from the get go with that team selection. When Silva isn’t at the controls a crucial element of unpredictability disappears. It’s the self same type of mystery component that we have seen bamboozle static defenders and has them second guessing whenever Gabriel Jesus is in amongst them. Surely it would have been better to field the strongest possible side at the outset, get the job done and then hook key players ahead of a potentially season defining week across 3 competitions? This debate will continue on the road to Teeside this weekend…
Whatever the why’s and wherefore’s, City had enough opportunities to make it happen against Stoke and beyond his pragmatic public reaction to such a frustrating result, inwardly, the City boss must deeply rue his team’s failure to sieze a golden opportunity to cement the club’s top 4 standing before going head to head with 3 of the top 5 sides. The Blues will now go into those clashes admittedly in better shape than they were 6 unbeaten league games ago at Everton but there will now be an increased edge to deliver in those fixtures.
Still, nil desperandum, Planet Blue. City are undefeated in 10 games and with 33 league points still to play for are 10 points behind last season’s disappointing total of 66. Snatching the title from European absentees Chelsea at the death remains the longest of long shots and yes, last night was a highly frustrating experience, but it was heartening to see Pep stride out and gee up every one of his players at the final whistle. Talkshite radio presenters can crow about this result all they want, we’re not done yet!
– JB will be on the road for the Middlesbro game but back for Monaco next week…
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