A trip to Stoke on a wet and windy afternoon is often billed as the ultimate test of a side’s title credentials, but Stoke showed Manchester City they now have style to match their substance.
City’s absentees no excuse
The fact that City lined up without Sergio Aguero, Yaya Youre and Vincent Kompany – the three players who have formed City’s backbone over recent years – may have been the excuse some observers need to discredit Stoke for Saturday’s 2-0 win at the Britannia Stadium.
But City still lined up with £140million worth of summer additions in Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Nicolas Otamendi. Add to that, the return of the Premier League’s most creative player in David Silva, as per minutes played, and City can really have no excuses.
And anyone who watched the game will have seen a dominant Stoke not just beat Man City, they totally blew them away. The visitors were second best in absolutely every department – and the 2-0 scoreline – actually flattered Manuel Pellegrini’s men. City’s tormentors-in-chief, Xherdan Shaqiri, the two-goal Marko Arnautovic (twice) and Bojan, all wasted good chances to put a more glossy look to the scoreline.
Pedestrian-like Demichellis not up to standard
“Nobody for Man City has made a contribution here.” The words of BT Sport’s co-commentator Steve McManaman.
The analysis might not be that articulate, but the meaning is very much understood, and is certainly a fair assessment.
In fact, you’d have more of a challenge picking out City’s worst player on the day. City’s front four Wilfried Bony, Raheem Sterling, De Bruyne and Silva all contributed nothing; their central midfield of Fernando and Fernandinho were outfoxed and outfought by Glenn Whelan and Geoff Cameron (yes, Geoff Cameron) and their backline was simply no existent with Nicolas Otamendi looking decidedly uncomfortable alongside fourth-choice centre-half Martin Demichellis.
Time and again the Argentinian was embarrassed by the interplay of Stoke’s forward line, and it’d be hard to find a player who struggled with Stoke’s play, the conditions or the pace of the game any more. Like a laboured old war horse, Demichellis needs putting out to pasture – aka moving to the MLS – as soon as possible.
— Mirror Football (@MirrorFootball) December 5, 2015
I’ll remind you of my claim that City’s absentees cannot be used as an excuse, but there’s certainly no getting away from this stat about City’s defensive record with and without Kompany this season.
Man City PL goals conceded this season with Kompany on pitch (720 mins): 1. Man City PL goals conceded, Kompany NOT on pitch (630 mins): 15. — sportingintelligence (@sportingintel) December 5, 2015
Stoke no longer ‘Stoke any more’
Now in their eighth season – and very firmly established as a Premier League club – Stoke earned something a reputation of being solid, but very unspectacular, side. Hard-working; hard to beat, they were the very definition of a Tony Pulis side.
With that reputation, also came the accusation that Stoke were ‘dirty’ and ‘cloggers’. Ryan Shawcross’ tackle on Aaron Ramsey in September 2010 probably underlined that better than any other single incident. Not only did it take three years for the Welshman to recover (according to claims made by in Arsene Wenger in 2013), the damage it did to the Potters’ reputation was also undeniable.
Although still very much the lynchpin of this new Potters side, Shawcross now finds himself captaining a very different Stoke to the one with which he made his name. They’re still reminded of their ‘dirty’ tag, but performances like today’s – in which Shaqiri and Arnautovic quite simply blew Stoke away – will go as far as any to show the country that Stoke are ‘no longer like Stoke’.
Under Pulis, Stoke achieved Premier League finises of 12th, 11th, 13th, 14th and 14th. It’d have been easy for the club to continue on the same path, knowing their brand of football might not be easy on the eye, but at least guaranteed Premier League football and the riches with which it brings.
But Stoke wanted more. Standing still was not an option. Although Mark Hughes’ appointment was seen as something of a ‘calculated risk’ given his forgettable spells at QPR and Fulham prior to that, the Stoke board were thinking long term. Successive ninth-placed finishes in his first two seasons suggested the gamble was working, but it was the change in approach that attracted Stoke to Hughes.
Although the change wasn’t instant, the gradual addition of creative talent and flair players to the side showed their intent. Arnatuvic – signed for £2million from Werder Bremen on the last day of the summer window in 2013 – was the first of these type of arrivals. Bojan in the summer of 2014 followed, but it wasn’t until Shaqiri’s arrival this summer that many neutral observes stood up and applauded Stoke’s new approach.
Some were still keen to dish out the old Stoke tag – but this season’s victory over Chelsea – albeit a struggling Jose Mourinho side – and today’s dominant display against City shows that Stoke really do have the style to match their substance.