Match Review: Man City 4-0 Stoke

Stoke conceded four goals for the third consecutive game as Manchester City cruised to a 4-0 win on Saturday afternoon in Manchester. There was little evidence of an upturn in form for the Potters after crushing defeats to Liverpool and Spurs in the build up to this game as Stoke couldn’t force another shock win (or goal) against City; meanwhile Fernando, Sergio Aguero from the penalty spot and two goals from Kelechi Iheanacho sealed another defensive nightmare. To compile the defeat further, before the game news broke that Ibrahim Afellay would be out until the end of 2016 with a knee ligament injury that occurred in Friday’s training, while Shay Given had to be substituted at half time with Haugaard coming in his place.

Stoke were forced into changes for their starting lineup once again as Geoff Cameron moved into the midfield for the injured Afellay as Bardsley came in, Mame Diouf came in the for the injured Xherdan Shaqiri and Joselu replaced compatriot Bojan.

Stoke appeared to be more solid defensively than the previous defeats but there were still chances for both teams in the beginning of the game. Aguero skipped inside Muniesa’s wing in the first ten minutes and found Iheanacho on the edge of the area, but the young striker shot just wide of Given’s post. Muniesa had to defend well to stop Iheanacho from pulling the trigger minutes later with the home fans demanding a penalty for the physical challenge. Glenn Whelan produced Stoke’s best direct free kick of the season, forcing Hart into a great save from 30 yards out, with Shawcross volleying wide after being found unmarked from the resulting corner. Muniesa conceded a needless free kick on his wing in the 22nd minute, and the ball was then whipped into Otamendi whose goalbound header was weak and forced Given into a save. Arnautovic crossed wonderfully to Joselu on the spin in the area, but the Spaniard headed over and missed a great goalscoring opportunity.

On the whole, both teams were sloppy in possession and created problems defensively for themselves, with Given and Hart being forced to clear dodgy backpasses on multiple occasions and a couple of misplaced passes in the midfield led to further half chances throughout the half. In the 37th minute Stoke conceded a corner, the ball was sent towards the near post and found the head of an onrushing Fernando, with his glancing header deceiving Given and scoring the first goal of the game, and adding to the host of goals conceded by Stoke from opposition set pieces. Stoke gave away a penalty six minutes later, Ryan Shawcross pulling down Iheanacho after a classy one-two pass: Aguero took the spot-kick and smacked it past Given for 2-0 just before half time.

Stoke were forced into bringing off Given at half time with Haugaard hoping he could help his team keep out any more Manchester City goals. Stoke were forced into creating more chances than they were in the first half, pushing up further with Man City soaking the pressure. Arnautovic crossed well again in the 50th minute, but somehow Joselu couldn’t convert the chance after the ball game to him, with him blazing over the bar; it was a fantastic chance for 2-1 and would have offered Stoke a lifeline with plenty of the game remaining. Bardsley sent a teasing ball into the box in the 54th minute forcing a Stoke corner, the subsequent set piece nearly resulted in a goal with Diouf heading into the side netting, causing many travelling fans into delirium only to be disappointed. Arnautovic cut inside wonderfully from his left wing position and thumped a powerful shot towards the goal and forcing Hart into another good save.

But for all of Stoke’s pressure it was the team in sky blue who benefitted from Stoke’s poor defending from counter-attacks once again, with Zabaleta in acres of space on his right hand side and knocked the ball to an unmarked Iheanacho, who tapped the ball into an empty net for 3-0 in the 64th minutes. And after a couple of further chances for the home team they managed to force Stoke into conceding their 12th goal in three games as Iheanacho was found alone in behind the Stoke defense once again, he opted to round an onrushing Haugaard this time, successfully doing so and rolling the ball into the back of the net for 4-0 with fifteen minutes to go. Apart from a hopeful 30 yard strike from Giannelli Imbula that went well wide and a speculative overhead kick from Muniesa skewing well away from the Man City goal, the game came to a dull end with Manchester City looking forward to save themselves for their Champions League adventure in midweek and Stoke left to consider what exactly has gone wrong in this late stage of the season.

Stoke’s blip is turning into an unwelcome trend, they are making themselves look easy to beat with a defence that isn’t synergising or installing any fear into opposition teams, and have an attack that just can’t put the ball in the back of the net even when a rare chance does arrive. Arnautovic was the only highlight for the Potters today who did look to unlock the Man City defense with his powerful runs and direct splitting passes; which will only make him think twice about signing a contract, even though it’s looking increasingly likely to end in an exit from the club’s top goalscorer anyway. The problems are becoming clearer game by game with the attackers not being able to convert even the most golden of chances, the midfielders giving the ball away cheaply across the pitch, the back four constantly looking over their shoulders through persistent counter-attacks and some less than impressive defending and goalkeeping inside the box over the last month.

Dreams and goals are devolving into hopes and prayers of staying in the top 10 with Chelsea closing in on 9th place with games in hand and it doesn’t look like Stoke can beat anybody at the minute, with a relegation scrapper, a team who forced an early Stoke cup exit and a Champions League chaser left to play. Youngsters Ollie Shenton and Moha were both on the bench today which begs the question whether they are close to making the first team, or if they are just filling some empty seats on the bench with a seemingly never-ending injury list continuing to grow.  Stoke have suffered some bad losses to their squad and their season in April, could there be any salvation on the 30th against Sunderland? Could we see an academy graduate save our season?

But more importantly: will Giannelli Imbula ever play without gloves?

Written by Ben Rowley

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