If this game was a song… Holding On — Johnny Stimson
This is the kind of song that you hear at the end of a series, as the two star-crossed lovers who have been fighting against one another for six episodes finally realise they love each other. One sees the other across a busy road, and then one minute and seventeen seconds into the song, they run towards one another just as it starts to rain. All in tight fitting t-shirts.
I feel I may have gone a bit off subject there.
This game was very much Stoke City holding on. They started brilliantly and were a great defensive outfit, that could hit on the break quickly, and all had high energy levels. This didn’t drop considerably throughout the game, but Manchester City just kept getting better and the chances came more the later the game went. You do feel that if the game went on for fifteen minutes more, then City would have found the goal they needed (but I’m fully aware that those aren’t the rules of football).
Stoke may not have been the most entertaining team in the world – no one’s going to get a Ballon d’Or any time soon – but the energy they had in this game was impressive to say the least. Joe Allen showed the form that he displayed at the European Championships for Wales, managing to keep up with Yaya Toure, and always finding space on the counter-attack, and Mame Biram Diouf was one of the best defenders on the pitch! Somehow the attacker made two or three fantastic challenges in his own half, including a beautiful slide tackle on Leroy Sane in the box. Leroy asked for a penalty, Diouf asked for a new contract.
Like a thirteen-year-old going through a traumatic period in his life, Manchester City fans get so excited about a clean sheet nowadays! Willy Caballero has taken over from Claudio Bravo between the sticks, and the defence has stabilised. Bravo shouldn’t feel too demoralised though – the last goalkeeper to go through a rough patch of form after newly moving to Manchester… was Willy Caballero himself. Now he’s got a song about him to the tune of heads, shoulders, knees, and toes. Does it get much better than that?
Caballero didn’t make any particularly draw-dropping saves, but the defence as a whole performed better as the game went on. There were a few hairy moments, and Gael Clichy did struggle at points, but it was through Nicolás Otamendi and Aleksander Kolarov that many of the attacks began. There was a time not too long ago when City would have conceded easily in a game like this, and would have dropped all three points.
The chances were there for City to score, but they just missed that all important cutting edge.
Aleksander Kolarov wrapped his left foot around a free kick that had to be palmed away by Lee Grant in the first half.
Leroy Sane did what he does best, as he sprung into life on the 55th minute and sprinted past the Stoke defence, Mo Farah, and Apollo 11, to get through on goal. He played the ball across the goal, every Stoke defender let out a girlish scream, and it fell to captain Agüero. Agüero’s shot had the keeper beaten but a Stoke defender managed to head the ball away just in time.
David Silva’s introduction midway through the second half made City shift up a couple of gears. If I ever have to go on the run from the police, I want David Silva to come with me; he can lose a man so easily – we’d be off the grid! Silva was finding pockets of space all over the pitch, and he played a one-two with Fernandinho to find himself in the vital pocket of space just in front of the goalkeeper on the 71st minute. He curled it round the goalkeeper but it missed by millimetres. By millimetres I’m talking millimillimetres.
Despite how Toure, Kolarov and Fernandinho were all on the pitch, and have all regularly wore the captain’s armband before, it was given to Sergio Agüero. I’ve been told to not read into this too much, but I’m a Classics student so let’s read into this too much. Guardiola has been under a lot of pressure from the start about whether Agüero’s future and wellbeing, so perhaps this was a statement.
Agüero played excellently, picking up great positions and showing the defensive work rate that Guardiola expects of his forwards. I’m not saying Agüero will definitely stay in the summer, I’m just saying that he’s going to be at Manchester City for the rest of his entire life and nobody can take him away.
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