“Why couldn’t we have stayed at home and watched Barcelona v PSG?” uttered the kid behind me, as he, along with most fans, watched one of the worst 90 minutes of the season.
A game that City should’ve won going in, but it wasn’t to be, as the two teams failed to score in a drab affair at the Etihad. After an efficient team performance on Sunday away at Sunderland, Pep Guardiola admitted a loss would rule his team out of the title race – it wasn’t a loss tonight, but one point from a home game against an average at best Stoke side, isn’t good enough.
In fairness to Stoke, however, they gave a good account of themselves in this game. They could’ve easily took the lead in the opening stages, when poor marking in the box meant that Willy Caballero was called into action, getting down well to tip an effort round the post.
Guardiola chose De Bruyne and Touré today in the central midfield role, and in the early stages there were signs Yaya was going to have one of his memorable games, as he made some decisive passes into the front three, and used his physique to run past midfielders at ease.
De Bruyne had an off day in truth. Often so appreciated for his vision to pick a devastating pass, he missed a few opportunities in the first half especially as Sané made darting diagonal sprints from left to right to get in behind, only not to be found.
As the game went on, the frustration started to grow on the pitch and in the stands – stray passes, slow build-up and a lack of getting into shooting positions.
The game was calling out for two men – David Silva and Raheem Sterling. Only Silva was available to bring on as Sterling was, as we believe, rested by Pep for the FA Cup match on Saturday.
It says a lot that David Silva was probably City’s best player tonight, as he only came on mid-way through the second half for Jesus Navas, who gave a mediocre performance. Since that moment, everything good came through Silva, he started to dictate the tempo of the game – playing balls into Aguero’s feet and finding De Bruyne in some great positions.
It was David Silva who City’s best chance of the game fell to. The tricky Spaniard danced through the Stoke back line before taking a shot from close range that missed by inches. Watching the replay, I still don’t know how it went wide.
Ultimately, Pep’s introduction of Silva was too late to make any difference. Kelechi Iheanacho, who loves a late goal, also came on, but he looked off the pace and poor.
There were a number of half-chances for City over the course of the night, but not enough to really threaten Lee Grant’s goal. Sané was quiet in the second half, but could’ve got on the score-sheet again near the end, as could Aguero who saw his effort hit the side netting.
Although most City fans will have left the game in a dejected mood, there are some positives for them to take home. It is another clean sheet, and it seems our defensive woes are becoming a thing of the past. There were a couple of times in the second half when Stoke had an advantage in numbers in counter-attacks, and one couldn’t help but see flashbacks of Lukaku and Costa scoring at that end this season – but Otamendi and Kolarov were well equipped and dealt with everything Stoke threw at them.
Overall, it was a poor showing from City, and when they look back at the end of the season, taking three points for granted in terms of lineups and effort will be what cost City the title. No one was jumping for joy when they saw Navas on the team-sheet, yet he made a few positive runs, but at the end of the day he is too negative in possession – passing backwards and slowing attacks down. Sterling was undoubtedly missed tonight, and if Silva started the game, City would’ve had a much better chance of winning. City have played a lot better than tonight and lost this season.
The focus turns to the FA cup on Saturday against Middlesbrough. That, coupled with the return leg of the Champions League tie in Monaco, will define Pep’s first season at City.