The Manchester City pre-title procession took the short trip along the M6 to Stoke last night, for what looked like a tricky event, based upon previous experiences.
New Manager, Paul Lambert, looks as though he might have difficulties in assisting them to avoid the drop and City were in no mood to be charitable.
With Sue’s Liverpool letting the sides down over the weekend when they couldn’t beat the Stretfords, this match would go a long way to ensuring that City’s title hopes might come to fruition on 7 April when the said Stretford Stagecoachers bring their bus to the Etihad.
The Blues seem to be in quite a hurry to bank their second hardware of the season and for this game Guardiola restored Ederson, David Silva, Walker, Kompany, Sterling, Otamendi, De Bruyne and Fernandinho. Aguero was nursing a training injury so de Jesus deputised up top.
From the start City set about their task in regular fashion, as they pushed, probed and dragged the normally resolute Potters about the pitch. With their line-up designed to deny space and counter, it was abundantly clear that very quickly City would hit the front. It only took ten minutes and it was a team goal of beauty and simplicity.
De Jesus released Sterling down the right. His pinpoint cross selected David Silva who swept home for the third match in succession. This signalled a City onslaught, but things were always an inch out and despite several chances, the Blues couldn’t add to the score ahead of the break leaving pundits, minus a certain Mr Carragher believing that Stoke were still in the game. For their part the Potters did get themselves a couple of half-chances, but at this level and against Manchester City, they don’t come along too often and you simply have to take them. Their best, involving a deflection off Walker, was well fielded by Ederson.
De Bruyne and Sterling had linked well down the right and provided chances for just about everyone, themselves included, but apart from giving Butland a hard night, they didn’t trouble the scorers further.
Any thoughts anyone had about Stoke still being in it were dispelled pretty quickly after half-time, City time as I call it. Once again it was rapier-like incision into the once frightening Stoke defence, once again it was about de Jesus and David Silva.
This was a typical “long” one-two, where the maestro played it into de Jesus in traffic. The brilliant Brazilian dug out a return pass which found Silva at an awkward height, but having spotted Butland’s position, which left the door slightly ajar, “El Mago” steered the ball into that space and into the net, to complete the evening’s work.
Typically, City saw the game out by keeping possession, running Stoke around the field and trying to keep out of trouble. The Potters did get a couple of look-ins, but, in reality none of it looked as though it might spring Ederson into some kind of life.
City eased through the gears, didn’t appear to collect any injuries and now look forward to a period of rest and recuperation in Abu Dhabi, before heading off to join their respective nations for the latest round of unnecessary fixtures which put our stars at risk.
Is it me or is this City team just getting better and better? We now have the highest number of goals scored, the lowest number of goals conceded, a goal difference of 65 which is the same as the number of points the Stretfords have and which once again are 16 fewer that those accumulated by Guardiola’s men.
The rest in the warmer climes of the Middle East should give the team time to get everyone resettled into a swing. It is amazing how injuries, however long, leave players just off the pace or behind the door a bit because tactics are tweaked in their absence. Lallana, for instance, is finding it difficult at Anfield because Liverpool are a totally different football team than they were when he took his long-term injury.
I was starting to think the same about de Jesus, but his showing last night was excellent. His awareness of where people were, he best demonstrated with his assists and if he can return to the level he was before his injury then there could be a frightening end to the season for City.
With 24 points to play for and only 6 needed to secure the title, it is unlikely that Roy Keane’s warblings will come to fruition, but like most City fans, I would love to see them bust the two Chelsea records of what, 95 points and 102 goals (figures may vary)? Both are achievable if City want it enough. Or will they bank the title and then focus on the Champions League? No doubt Friday’s draw, if they win tonight, will see the Stretfords draw the weakest team left in it which could be the winner of Shakhtar and Roma, while City will no doubt have to endure their perennial visit to the Camp Nou as the Hotballers of Nyon protect Real Madrid, Bayern and the Stretford Stagecoachers.
With no meaningful football this weekend, the draw is just about all we have to look forward to.
After the break we go to Goodison, not always a happy hunting ground for City, while the bus-parkers entertain rejuvenated Swansea City. A slip-up there would hand the title to City if they manage to defeat the Toffees. Let’s face it, we owe them one!
If not, all eyes will be on the Etihad on 7 April, when the Mourinho Un-express will seek to block City’s path to glory.