MANCHESTER CITY 3, STOKE CITY 0
City kept the title race going with their fifth successive New Years Day victory at the Etihad – a comfortable 3-0 win against Stoke to end a 10 match unbeaten run for Tony Pulis’ men – but their squad will be sorely tested for their remaining games this month after the departure for South Africa of three members of their squad for the Africa Cup of Nations.
City assistant manager David Platt was confident City would ride out January despite a lengthening list of absentees for key games.
“We’re happy with the result. The goal just before half time was more than deserved but it didn’t make the second half any easier.” said Platt.
“We’ve got to continue to win football matches, we’ve been producing chances for several matches now.”
Platt admitted that Sergio Aguero, who limped off shortly after scoring his penalty, would not feature against Watford and was even a doubt for the Arsenal game the following week.
“Sergio won’t play on Saturday against Watford. It’s difficult to assess injuries like this but in my experience I don’t think he will play against Arsenal either.
“There’s different degrees of hamstring injury – we need 48 hours to examine it. It’s a blow to lose Sergio but you run this risk every time you have a lot of games in a short space of time.”
As well as losing the in-form Aguero, City will have to cope without their ever-present midfielder Yaya Toure for up to a month but Platt was confident that City’s squad would cope.
“It’s irrelevant whether Yaya disappears or not.” said Platt. “The task is to win games. We have a squad of players from which we choose 11 to play.”
One player whose name may come to the fore in January if Aguero is out for several weeks is Mario Balotelli. The Italian striker has been linked with moves away from the Etihad but he may now be approaching match fitness after illness and could get some game time.
“Mario’s been on the training pitch for the last two or three days. He looks to have shifted his illness. He will have another three days training before the game at the weekend so there’s every chance he will be available for selection.” explained Platt.
City may be struggling to field a strong team for the FA Cup match against Watford this weekend. They will be without the Toure brothers and Abdul Razak who are on Africa Cup of Nations Duty, plus Samir Nasri who is suspended after City opted not to appeal his red card at Carrow Road on Boxing Day. Injuries will probably prevent Aleksandar Kolarov and Maicon from taking part although Mario Balotelli may be available after a virus.
City may also lose the services of Sergio Aguero after he limped off with what looked like a left hamstring strain after running after a through ball shortly after his penalty made the game safe at 3-0.
City had earlier laboured their way to a 1-0 half time lead thanks to Pablo Zabaleta’s 43rd minute strike which was a just reward for all the chances that came their way in the first half, not least a hatful for Aguero who was denied by some brave defending by Stoke and some wayward shooting on several occasions. Zabaleta pounced after Asmir Begovic’s kicked clearance of James Milner’s cross fell nicely for the Argentine who had made a late run into the area.
Edin Dzeko, who had also troubled the Stoke defence throughout the game, poached City’s second after he latched onto another Begovic parry, this time from Aguero’s shot, to put City 2-0 up after 56 minutes. The Bosnian, so effective against the Stoke defence, was booked after taking his shirt off to reveal a message wishing City fans a Happy New Year.
It certainly was a Happy New Year was City after they had restricted Stoke to barely any shots on goal while chances rained in for the home side during what was easily becoming a stroll for the home side.
The third goal may have been controversial, however, as Steven N’Zonzi was adjudged to have brought down David Silva for a penalty in the 73rd minute, City’s 21st at the Etihad since August 2010, although the challenge appeared to have been outside the area and the Frenchman was booked for the infringement. Begovic guessed right for Aguero’s penalty but the ball still evaded him as City made the game safe.