Manchester City were comfortable winners at the Bet365 Stadium, beating Stoke 4-1 on the second weekend of the season.
The visitors looked the brighter of the two teams from the outset, with Raheem Sterling whipping a shot just over the bar after 10 minutes. They took the lead 15 minutes later, when Ryan Shawcross was penalised for tugging Nicolas Otamendi in the box, and Sergio Aguero dispatched the subsequent penalty with ease.
The Argentine striker secured his brace before the interval when he glanced Kevin De Bruyne’s superb free kick past Shay Given, and it was no less than Pep Guardiola’s team deserved after a dominant opening half.
However, Stoke were handed a lifeline just after the break. Having been denied what seemed a clear penalty when Aleksandar Kolarov looked to have tripped Joe Allen late in the first half, Mike Dean awarded the Potters a spot kick when Sterling grappled with Ryan Shawcross early in the second. Up stepped Bojan, who convincingly beat Willy Caballero to give his team a chance at a comeback.
The insipid home side rarely threatened thereafter, and substitute Nolito put the result beyond doubt in the 86th minute when he slid the ball into the net from close range following tenacious work from Kelechi Iheanacho to create the goalscoring opportunity. The Spaniard notched his second in the dying seconds when Sterling found himself one on one with Given, but elected to square it to his teammate who rolled it into the open goal.
It was a resounding victory for Manchester City at a ground where such feats have traditionally been hard to achieve for visiting teams.
After an impressive display against Sunderland from the right wing last week, Sterling shone from the left against Stoke. A far cry from the player who appeared bereft of confidence for England at Euro 2016 (and indeed for Manchester City towards the end of last season), Sterling played with directness and conviction here. Whether it was making off-the-ball runs between the right-back and centre-back or driving at the Stoke defence with the ball at his feet, the Englishman was a menace throughout the first half.
Although his team were generally more subdued in the second period, Sterling made a good contribution to set up the game’s final goal, demonstrating poise and selflessness to give Nolito a tap-in when many players would have aimed for goal themselves: something that will not have gone unnoticed to Guardiola, who prizes the collective over the individual.
A 93% passing accuracy shows why he is exactly the type of centre-back that Guardiola likes in his team. The ability to build attacks from the back is paramount, and is the main reason that a goalkeeper like Joe Hart all of a sudden finds himself out of favour.
Stones looked assured and comfortable enough to join in as City came forward, whilst providing a nice contrast to Otamendi’s more robust style of defending. That is not to say he cannot do the basics: the youngster made seven clearances too, winning five aerial duels.
From one English centre-back to another. Shawcross had an afternoon to forget and was at least partly responsible for three of the Citizens’ goals. In truth, he was probably overdue punishment for holding opposition players in the penalty area. Players know that referees are under instruction to be more strict in these situations this year, which makes Shawcross’ actions all the more frustrating for Stoke fans.
For City’s third goal, Shawcross was caught flat-footed as David Silva played Iheanacho through on goal and then failed to react when the striker was forced wide, standing idly at the edge of the box in resignation rather than shuttling back to the goal line and reducing the amount of goal that Nolito had to aim at when the ball was slid into his path. For their fourth, he fell for Iheanacho’s clever dummy, watching the man and not the ball, which allowed Sterling and then Nolito to make a miserable afternoon even worse.
Mame Biram Diouf
The Senegalese striker did not have many opportunities, but the one he did have was gilt-edged. In the same sequence of play that saw Joe Allen’s claims for a penalty unfairly dismissed on 38 minutes, Diouf sent a free header horrifically wide from six yards. More might have been made of the miss had discussion not centred around the controversial decision just moments earlier.
Apart from that, he struggled to get into the game, and his performance only augmented the feeling that the Potters are perhaps in need of a new frontman to complete a talented forward line.