Three wins out of three as City's impressive start continues
FA Premier League
Saturday 20 August 2016, 12.30 KO
City: Caballero, Zabaleta, Stones, Otamendi, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Silva, De Bruyne (Delph 88), Navas (Nolito 69), Sterling, Aguero (Iheanacho 83)
Unused: Hart, Clichy, Fernando, Maffeo
Goals: Aguero (27 pen, 36), Nolito (86, 90+5)
Referee: Mike Dean
Man of the match: Stones
When Pep Guardiola's appointment as Manchester City manager was announced, sceptics questioned if he "could do it on a wet, windy day at The Britannia Stadium". It was, of course, a lazy, cliched accusation not befitting a manager of Guardiola's stature, but he answered the question emphatically here with a comprehensive 4-1 victory. The scoreline perhaps flattered City a little, with Nolito scoring twice late on, but it was a well deserved three points in difficult conditions.
City started brightly, with confidence high after an impressive midweek performance in Romania. They dominated possession, and pressed Stoke high up the pitch. Raheem Sterling continued his bright start to the season, and nearly opened the scoring after 10 minutes, but saw his shot fly inches over the crossbar with Shay Given well beaten. Sterling then saw a soft shot easily saved by Given as Stoke struggled to cope with City's movement. The home side were clearly missing the injured Xherdan Shaqiri, who excelled in the corresponding fixture last season.
Willy Caballero was once again preferred to Joe Hart in net, and the England international's days at the club appear to be numbered. Guardiola will be hoping a deal for Claudio Bravo can be completed soon, however, as Caballero endured a few nervy moments with the ball at his feet. The swirling winds didn't help the 34 year old keeper, but it is clear that the ex-Malaga man isn't a viable long term option.
City opened the scoring in controversial circumstances just before the half hour, with referee Dean following new FA directives on players holding at corners to the letter and not hesitating to point to the spot when Ryan Shawcross grabbed Nicolas Otamendi's shirt. Sergio Aguero, who uncharacteristically missed two penalties in Bucharest, showed great character to send Given the wrong way and give City the lead. The Argentinian doubled City's advantage ten minutes later, glancing home Kevin De Bruyne's free kick, and the Blues were in complete control at the break.
However, Dean, who had faced a barrage of abuse from the home crowd following his earlier decision, seemed keen to level things up and awarded Stoke a penalty four minutes into the second half. Sterling was harshly adjudged to have impeded Shawcross, and Bojan Krkic slotted home from the spot. Quite why Sterling was marking Shawcross is another matter, but the contact was minimal and there were no appeals from the Stoke players.
The home crowd was briefly roused, and Stoke pressed for an equaliser but created few chances of note. City, playing into the wind, struggled to retain possession and were relived when substitute Kelechi Iheanacho rounded Given and teed up Nolito five minutes from time to seal the victory. Nolito then added his second deep into injury time following an outrageous dummy by Iheanacho and an unselfish assist by Sterling to send the Blues top of the table on goal difference.
It wasn't a vintage City performance, but the result is an ominous sign for the rest of the division. Guardiola was understandably delighted in his post-match interview:
"I realise how good the players are, I am a lucky guy because the quality of the players here is amazing.
"They run and fight for each other, and today we played in one of the toughest places of the season. It was a pity we created a lot in the second half but the last pass was not correct.
"Often we arrived in the right moment which is what we are looking for but we didn't finish. It's OK, we are going to improve. Our back four was very good but everyone was excellent."