Date: 2nd January 2013 at 3:24pm
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A Happy New Year to all Ped Report readers!.

Stoke City provided City’s first challenge of 2013, arriving at the Etihad with the best defensive record in the division, unbeaten in ten and somehow finding themselves in eighth position in the table, having rescued a 3-3 draw from 3-1 down against Southampton a couple of days earlier.

When they arrived for their annual taking apart Chez Manchester City, one finds it difficult to understand quite how they find themselves in such an elevated position and how City seem to have a mental block whenever they play this team away.

Here we had opponents that started the match immediately under the cosh – there was a goal attempt seconds into the match – and who promptly start to waste time from the off? Perhaps they only play about thirty minutes a week? And they seem to achieve this regularly without sanction.

Quite why their manager prowls the technical area like a demented jack-in-a-box when his team do not actually offer up anything that can be described as football is quite a challenge to decipher, but it was a patient City that waited for its chance and then put the match to bed in great style.

Aguero could and should have been taking the ball home before a triple attempt in the Stoke box found its way to Zabaleta, who once again demonstrated to his fellow Argentinian how to deposit the ball into the back of the net and from that moment on Stoke were finished. Indeed, by half time they hadn’t had as much as a corner let alone a shot on goal. All very reminiscent of their plight in similar fashion last season.

City fielded a common sense line up against the giants that call themselves a football team although their giant-in-chief, Crouch was assigned to the bench. With Lescott restored to the back line and with no disrespect to Nastasic, Stoke’s big forward didn’t get a light out of him and Kompany. Indeed it was an hour before they actually registered something that resembled a shot, which should in fact have gone in. As always Zaba was exceptional and Clichy looks to be growing in confidence again.

Barry kept a firm grip on the door with another robust display, which in turn gave Yaya license to get things moving along with Silva who is clearly returning to his best form.

Although I have on many occasion praised the “ground attack” when you look back to the start of last season the Dzeko – Aguero axis works for me as it offers two attacking options and with Milner working in tandem with Zabaleta, there is always the option of a cross. And Dzeko won’t miss them all day, and he didn’t against Stoke as he helped himself to another cracking goal before getting himself carded for showing “Happy New Year” on his undershirt. This time Yaya saw the chance to take a quick free kick which found Aguero, he skipped into space and drilled a shot goalwards which Stretford target Begovic couldn’t keep out, a bit like De Gea really. The rebound popped up to Dzeko and the rest is on the scoreboard.

It is often said that Dzeko is a confidence player and never was this better shown than last season when he set off like a house alight and then was “rested”. We never saw the best out of him then until the immortal last match. But now with four goals in two matches and some exception off the ball work we are once again starting to see the best of Edin and if Mancini for some inexplicable reason decides to rest him in favour of out of favour Balotelli then he must be exterminated.

Dzeko often commands the presence of two defenders and this leaves doors open all over the place for Aguero and Silva to exploit and Aguero in particular exploits it incredibly. It is not the same when Tevez is aboard. Once Dzeko succumbed to a hamstring injury and was replaced by Tevez suddenly he was having shots in closed-down positions instead of looking for Dzeko who nearly always finds space. Whereas the Dzeko-Aguero combination works because the Mighty Atom creates space and then sets it up for his partner, Tevez is too intent on trying to get on the scoresheet himself and doesn’t always see the bigger picture. No problem with that if he scores, but why try to shoot from 25 yards with three men in front of you when five yards to your left Dzeko is standing alone with a free shooting opportunity?

Another uptempo move saw City once again take Stoke apart and as Silva raced into the box, regular offender Nzonzi dumped him head over heels, landing on his shoulder, and Mr Oliver pointed to the spot. Aguero’s afternoon was full of promise without him getting on the scoresheet. Well, he did now as he drove the penalty under the arc of the diving goalkeeper to conclude the scoring for today. Nzonzi, who successfully appealed a red card over the weekend got himself another yellow for his troubles.

This was as clinical a performance by City as we have seen for a while. They commanded proceedings from start to finish with Hart only making two saves all afternoon, the second from Whelan being superb when you think he had hardly seen the ball for more than an hour!.

All of the players looked to be “at it”. The movement was fluid, the pass and move tremendous and individual performances in most cases almost masterclass, Aguero’s hamstring injury the only downside. At least he can rest out the Cup match with Watford and seek to get back as soon as possible after that.

Man of the match could have come from many quarters but it was awarded to the evergreen and effervescent Pablo Zabaleta for yet another outstanding performance. The improvement in Pablo over his time at the Etihad has been quite remarkable and his teamwork down the right with Milner is a key feature in this line-up. Milner as ever full of running and industry will play an important part in the next two months as Yaya heads for his soujourn in the African Cup of Nations. Maybe it is time for Garcia to enter the fray.

Interesting tittle-tattle from around the Etihad revolved around a statement allegedly made by a certain Mr Stapleton that the Red-Nosed Knight from Salford was considering a bid for Joe Hart in the January transfer window. Maybe his stated interest in Stoke’s keeper is a smokescreen! Or maybe he has been hitting too much of the Scottish Highland Jungle Juice on his birthday and over the hog.

They may still be seven points clear and starting to fancy themselves, but right now they still can’t shake City off and the Blues have shown an ability to claw back such a deficit which leaves the Stretfords still looking back over their shoulders as the end of season crescendo builds. Oh yes, I forgot, they have the experience…don’t they?

all times East Manchester

Sa 05 Jan 15h00 Watford, The Etihad, FAC 3
Su 13Jan 16h00 Arsenal, The Emirates, PL
Sa 19Jan 15h00 Fulham, The Etihad, PL
Tu 29Jan 19h45 QPR, Loftus Road