Date: 9th March 2017 at 4:24pm
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I had started to believe that Guardiola was finally getting to understand the Barclays Premier League and the concept of game management therein but this match once again found him wanting.

There may well be be bigger fish to fry with the Champions League second leg on the horizon, plus maybe a desire to win the FA Cup, but let’s have it straight, this should have been an eminently winnable match and once again the Blues blew it.

Guardiola decided to drop Sterling and Silva, no doubt thinking that because we had slammed 4 past Stoke on their home territory this would be a cakewalk once City scored. To some extent I agree with that, but first of all you have to score against a team that does not play anything that one might consider to be nominated as football.

Indeed as they did 2 years ago, the Potters under the negative guidance of City exitee Mark Hughes, arrived for a 0-0 scoreline. In that match they scored a breakaway goal and won 1-0. Maybe that was on their mind again but tonight their brief was to simply wrestle, kick and waste time and they achieved that with aplomb.

While the real football watching world was admiring Barcelona’s referee-assisted fightback against another team who thought they only had to turn up to progress, City fans were once again left disappointed at the random tossing away of 2 valuable points in the chase for the title.

Ahead of the match I was speaking to Paul Dickov who was buzzing at the thought that ‘we’ could collect 3 points against Stoke, beat Chelsea away, beat the Stretfords and then be right on the tails of Chelsea whose backsides might well end up twitching, but after this non-descript laugh-a-minute, the Barclays Premier League title is 200 miles away from the Etihad Stadium and will stay there.

Stoke City are horrible opponents. You go into a match expecting your key footballers to end up injured and you see the likes of the disaffected Stretfords like Bardsley get away with murder. The TV Citics were extolling the virtues of Shawcross who for most of the night looked like he was entering WWE combat with Aguero and getting away with it under the nose of a referee who might still be pissed after destroying the Stretford-Bournemouth match following a week on the jungle juice with Stretford Timothy Taylor in Marbella.

From time to time the Ped Report examines the performance of referees but this one was the worst performance seen at the Etihad since it opened. Bardsley got himself yellow carded early on for a series of leg-restructuring tackles on a variety of City players. But after that when he continued to do it he was let off.


Shawcross put in a couple of neat last minute challenges but spent a lot of time wrestling with Sergio and if two of these occurences are seen then it should be home time.

With Silva and Sterling absent from the starting line-up, Guardiola left himself short of craft and the dynamism that puts Sterling in the box as an extra man, forcing the defensive lines to reshuffle. Instead he left himself with De Bruyne who has hardly passed to a blue shirt in a month and the toiling Sergio, attended by half the opposition defence.

I will go as far as to say that had he selected the world-beating Bravo for this match City wouldn’t have collected a point because Caballero made an excellent save from the only goalbound shot of the first half, one that would have seen Bravo attending the back of his net.

City were toothless. Aguero tried and tried, but couldn’t make anything count. Silva when he came on created the opening then didn’t find the back of the net. This is the one reason why he is not ‘world class’.

Yaya was a class act, turning back the years to try to dig out a result, but shorn of Sterling out wide, most of his creativity went to waste. Navas no longer looks like a Premier League player. Again his decison-making was sad. When offered the corner he cut inside to find his route barriered by at least 2 Stoke defenders. If he did go wide and deep his crosses were perfect for Edin Dzeko. Sadly the big Bosninan no longer adorns the sky blue shirt. Aguero needed a trampoline to compete with Shawcross to try and get on the end of these wasteful crosses.

And as for Clichy. For some reason I was starting to think he was offering us more with the spectre of various replacements mentioned day-in-day-out by the scribes but can someone, anyone explain how, with time ticking away and him level with the edge of the box with options, he passes back to Otamendi on the half way line?

So with hardly a decent shot on target City spluttered to a 0-0 draw to once again destroy their chances of putting some kind of pressure on Spuds and Chelsea who must have been laughing into their Sangria as they watched Barcelona do what Arsenal could not and reverse a huge European deficit to make history.

I don’t go with this ‘players are tired’ routine. In the end it’s a mental state. Indeed in 1969 did not the Strefords play Saturday-Monday-Wednesday-Saturday with a relatively small squad where the main players played every match in much poorer playing conditions? And what of the great Liverpool teams. Did they not do likewise season after season?

And for what? A couple of hundred pounds a week?

Let’s get real, these kids should be able to run forever not just once a week.

Will Pep ruin his chance of an FA Cup semi-final by fielding a fringe eleven at Middlesbrough? They gave us a bad game at the Etihad when they equalised in stoppage time at a part of the season where City were regularly turning in the kind of fayre they administered last night.

With the Barcelona result last night, Monaco will fancy their chances next Wednesday. I don’t think City can win the Champions League and I’d hate them to give up wholly on the Premier League and FA Cup in the hope that they will overcome Europe’s giants with the team they have. And there has to be a time when Guardiola gets to grips with the demands of this league. Stoke City are not the likes of Celta de Vigo, Osasuna or Malaga. They have to be respected and you have to earn respect to beat them.

Sadly City came up empty last night.

 
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