The Citizens are unlikely to win the league title if Vincent Kompany remains sidelined, Xherdan Shaqiri comes to life and other things we learned from Stoke 2 Manchester City 0.
By Coral Barry
City get over-run without their Kompany man
It has become the long lament of City’s season: where art tho Kompany? After putting in jittery displays in the 3-1 win over Southampton last weekend, Nicolas Otamendi and Martin Demichelis suffered full-scale nervous breakdowns today. Marko Arnautovic had a simple tap-in for Stoke’s first goal as he got in front of Demichelis, while Otamendi was on holiday as he slotted his second under Joe Hart minutes later. In 13 games without Kompany this season, City have failed to keep even one clean sheet. A fresh calf injury has kept the Belgian out since early November and prolonged the malaise at City. The Citizens lack organisation and leadership at the back without Kompany. They shouldn’t be two down to the lowest scorers in the league after 15 minutes. It is hard to see them winning the league without their Kompany man staying fit.
Shaqiri lives up to the hype
After a slow start to life in England, Shaqiri was untouchable today. For the opener, he ghosted past three City defenders with a wonderful dribble before expertly picking out Arnautovic in the box. But that was nothing compared to his next trick. A delicious turn sold Fernando down the river and he delivered an exquisite through ball that Arnautovic duly slid in for the second goal. Shaqiri’s move to Stoke was seen as a last-ditch attempt to revive his career after disappointing spells at Bayern Munich and Inter Milan, but after putting in a great performance in Stoke’s win against Chelsea last month and cutting through City at will today, the little winger has shown he has a taste for the big occasions. It’s been decades since the Britannia has had a maestro of such potential quality. Shaqiri can be a Stoke idol.
No Silva lining for City
After a mini wobble of three games without a win, David Silva’s recovery from injury coincided with successive City victories. A cameo off the bench against Southampton and then 84 impressive minutes in the 4-1 mauling of Hull City midweek gave hope that he could inspire a revival after the shattering defeat to Liverpool. But the Spanish maestro was quiet today as everyone around him crumbled, and he was hauled off at the hour mark.
Pellegrini has no back-up plan
With City totally over-run in the first and 2-0 down at the break, another manager might have gambled and made some half-time changes. Not Pellegrini. He waited until the 56th minute until he replaced Fernandinho with Fabian Delph, while Wilfred Bony was replaced by 19-year-old Kelechi Iheanacho and then Jesus Navas swapped places with Silva. They were like-for-like replacements and made little impact. The Citizens have suffered from 36 injuries to the squad over the season and with a string of first-team stars out at the moment, including Samir Nasri and Sergio Aguero, their options are thinner than such an expensively-assembled squad should have. Liverpool and Stoke have showed in the last two weeks that if you get in City’s faces, they can be over-run. And Pellegrini does not appear to know how to respond.
Title chase blown wide open
What a fascinating season this is. Any of the top six are potential title contenders – City, Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester United, even Leicester, are in with a chance. No side is standing out from the pack and every time it seems as though one might pull away, they suffer an unexpected malfunction. City are either very good or very bad, Arsenal can’t keep their best players fit and United struggle to create chances. This has opened the door to the two most impressive teams of the last month, rejuvenated Liverpool and consistent Tottenham. It is the most wide open title race in years.