Match Review: Stoke 1-4 Manchester City
Stoke fell to the mercy of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City as they were beaten 4-1 in the first game at the bet365 Stadium. A double of doubles from Man City’s Sergio Aguero and Nolito was more than enough to outweigh Bojan’s penalty. Despite the heavy scoreline, Stoke made their mark on the game and, with a little more quality in the final third, could have shocked Pep and his new team. The game was filled with goals, refereeing controversy, and plenty of different reactions from the Stoke faithful.
I’d missed this. The feeling waking up in the morning knowing that Stoke were playing at home, the moment of pulling on a Stoke shirt ready to replicate the players that would be on the pitch later that day, the sight of the Boothen End after emerging from the concrete tunnel with thousands of fans all thinking and hoping for the same thing: a win for Stoke. The Potters lined up with just the one change from last week’s match against Boro: Xherdan Shaqiri couldn’t get over his injury in time, so Bojan shifted to cover the vacant right wing and Joe Allen made his home debut to complete the midfield trident.
It was clear that the away side were told to press highly up the field against Stoke, despite having the burden of playing midweek in the Champions League. Because of this, Man City enjoyed the lion’s share of possession in the opening stages of the game, but both teams created chances. Raheem Sterling had his team’s best chances: one cutting in from the left hand side and hooking the ball just over the bar, he followed up by a more controlled shot minutes later but Given was able to deny him. Meanwhile, Joe Allen had the best of City’s opening chances: a scramble in the penalty area eventually saw the ball reach Allen’s feet just on the edge of the area, but his shot also soared over the bar. Marko Arnautovic also had a free kick in a good position to the left of the Man City goal, but couldn’t clear the wall.
The away side had a corner in the 26th minute and, as it usual in the Premier League, there was plenty of bumping and barging in the penalty area. It’s the reason why the whole stadium was stunned to hear Mike Dean’s whistle as he blew for a penalty against Ryan Shawcross for holding onto his opponent. Mark Hughes must have been cursing his luck considering that Stoke have fell victim to the majority of decisions such as this, as Aguero confidently swept his penalty past Given and his team took the lead. Following this marked the most absurd five minutes of refereeing I’d seen in a long time. As well as the penalty decision, a smattering of baffling decisions fell against Stoke; including a throw in that was never given as Pablo Zabaleta kicked the ball off the field of play without as twitch from the watching linesman, who suffered a barrage of abuse after such an obviously wrong decision.
Aguero doubled his and City’s tally ten minutes after their first: a free kick following a foul from Erik Pieters was swung into the heart of the penalty area and the little Argentine managed to be the one to connect with the delivery and stab home once again past Given. It’s a theme that has continued on from last season as Stoke continue to suffer from defending set pieces. Stoke replied almost instantly: Phil Bardsley was on the end of a looping cross which he mercilessly thundered toward the City goal but Caballero was there to deny him at the near post. Mame Diouf was there to head the rebound back to goal but this was also tipped wide. Minutes later, it appeared that Allen was recklessly bundled over in the opposing penalty area and had home fans screaming for a spot-kick, but nothing was given and it turned out to be the last action of the half. The whistle was greeted with a faint booing from a minority of Stoke fans, probably aimed at the match officials rather than their team.
Stoke started the second half much more brightly, pressing high as the away side were in the first half and creating good opportunities as a result. Three minutes in Stoke had a corner which was swung in by Joe Allen, the ball was heading toward Ryan Shawcross who was denied from connecting by the Sterling. And then, rather amazingly, Mike Dean had blown his whistle again, this time signalling a penalty for Stoke against the hold by Sterling. Bojan stepped up to the plate and delivered spectacularly. It was a way back in, one goal back, there was hope that Stoke could turn this game around.
From then on it, Manchester City were pegged back by an encouraged Stoke team who looked to get themselves back on level terms. Minutes after the goal, Joe Allen took another corner that almost caught the opponents by surprise as it was heading straight in, but Caballero was there again to punch over. Despite Stoke’s pressure, there weren’t any chances of note to report; there were however a number of yellow cards awarded to member of both teams. Jon Walters had also come on for Giannelli Imbula with Iheanacho and Nolito (greeted by shouts of “who” from the Stoke fans) coming on for Man City. Moments later, the two substitutes made by Pep linked up to take the game away from Stoke in the 86th minute: Iheanacho broke away one on one with Given, rounded the helpless goalkeeper and squared to Nolito who was waiting to slot cleanly into an empty net. The chants of “who?” had long gone now. Ramadan Sobhi came on for his Premier League debut shortly afterwards, showing glimpses of promise with some good pace, fancy flicks and solid workrate. He was on the pitch when Stoke suffered their fourth goal, however: Nolito was there to repeat his first goal, with the ball rolling gently into an empty net to announce Manchester City’s intentions for the league this season.
Stoke will feel very disappointed to have conceded four goals despite a half decent showing; however once again they are being punished by not creating enough clear chances for themselves and switching off at the back from set pieces and when they are trailing. Nothing can be taken away from Man City: Guardiola is managing to get City producing performances with some of the best players in the world, something that has been expected for a number of years. Today will be one of the hardest home games of the season and, if Stoke can continue their form whilst adding a little more threat, results should pick up from today. Perhaps Stoke will acquire some new recruits to bolster those chances of success but, with little over a week until the window slams shut, the backroom staff will have to work quickly.
At least we’re back in Stoke. Win, lose or draw: it feels good to be home.
Given: 5 – couple of saves, conceded four.
Bardsley: 5 – could have scored, conceded four.
Shawcross: 5 – gave away a penalty, won a penalty, conceded four.
Wollscheid: 5 – couple of good tackles, poor distribution, conceded four.
Pieters: 5 – conceded four.
Whelan: 5 – anonymous for the majority of the game.
Imbula: 5 – struggled today, conceded possession in vital areas.
Allen: 8 – epitomised by taking a corner then running back 70 yards to make a last ditch tackle. Wonderful home debut.
Bojan: 6 – good penalty, struggled otherwise out on the right wing.
Arnautovic: 6: best attacking threat, but well marked.
Diouf: 5 – good workrate, little output.
Walters (18 mins): 5 – didn’t impact the game much.
Ramadan (2 mins): 6 – showed good glimpses considering it was a brief cameo.
Unused: Haugaard, Adam, Crouch, Muniesa, Cameron
Written by Ben Rowley
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