Manchester City vs. Stoke City: 6 Things We Learned
It wasn't pretty, but it was pretty crucial.
With Chelsea having won earlier in the day and Arsenal cruising to a win over Sunderland, Manchester City faced the prospect of dropping crucial points in the title race before Yaya Toure struck a winner 20 minutes from time against Stoke City at the Etihad Stadium.
The Ivorian midfielder finished off a low Aleksandar Kolarov cross for the only goal of the 1-0 win, a result that keeps City three points off the top of the Premier League table with a game in hand.
Here are six lessons learned from the Etihad Stadium:
Yaya Toure Scores His Second Most Important Goal Against Stoke
This scoreline and scorer were familiar ones to City and their fans, who saw Yaya Toure give them a crucial 1-0 victory over Stoke just as he did in the 2011 FA Cup final.
Back then, Toure's winner at Wembley gave City their first trophy for 35 years and set the club on the way to getting used to success, with the league championship following in dramatic fashion 12 months later.
If this winner over Stoke is to have a similar place in Manchester folklore, then City will need to kick on from here and overhaul both Chelsea and Arsenal, who both picked up very important but very different wins elsewhere on Saturday afternoon.
The Toure 1-0 scoreline will conjure up some magical memories for City, but now is the time to create some new ones.
Stoke Will Never Win Beauty Contests, but What's Wrong with That?
When Tony Pulis left Stoke in the summer, much was made of new boss Mark Hughes entering the club and altering the style of play from front to back.
What was crucial for the Potters, though, was that they never lost the competitive edge that Pulis had instilled in them, and which has ensured that they have never really come close to Premier League relegation since they first came into the division in 2008.
Hughes deserves credit for maintaining that and ensuring that they should again stay clear of the drop zone.
It is very tight down there, of course, but Stoke's will-to-win and their mental toughness gives them an advantage over their rivals. They may face Arsenal next week, but after that, March offers kind fixtures, too.
The Dzeko-Negredo Partnership Still Looks Awkward
Good players can find a way to play together. Manchester City have proven that with plenty of the purchases they've made in the past, but perhaps the attempts to force Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo into a partnership should stop now.
The pair managed a few goals when first thrown together following the injury to Sergio Aguero in December, but the similarities between the pair don't make for a coherent union.
Negredo's startling loss of form and Dzeko's failure to truly convince (and his missed sitter here) are hardly helping matters, and the duo don't appear to have a genuine link-up or the ability to create one.
This will be easier when Aguero is fit and Stevan Jovetic has worked his way towards peak condition, but only one of these two should start and not both.
Pellegrini Still Trusts Demichelis, and in Games Like This He's Right to
For all of his undoubted qualities, Peter Crouch isn't Lionel Messi.
That is a fact that wouldn't have been lost on Martin Demichelis here, as just a few days on from the lowest point of his six-month Manchester City career, the Argentinean faced up to one of the more peculiar tests in top-flight English football.
Yet Demichelis, despite being South American, is built to handle players such as Crouch as opposed to his compatriot. He does still have a City future because of matches such as this one.
Clearly, Pellegrini needs to bring in a central defender to partner Vincent Kompany in the summer, especially as he seemingly isn't too convinced by the injury-prone Matija Nastasic, but for now Demichelis can do a job against teams that rely more on brawn than brains.
He can contribute to matches in an effective way, as opposed to the destructive way we saw in midweek.
Width Is Key in This Manchester City Setup
As frustration ruled for the first 45 minutes and much of the second at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester City's approach was lacking some ingenuity and, strangely for them, lacking quality, too.
Far too often, the likes of David Silva and Samir Nasri were coming up against the red and white striped wall at the heart of the Stoke defence, with solid displays from Ryan Shawcross and Marc Wilson keeping their hosts at bay.
The additions of substitutes Stevan Jovetic and Jesus Navas helped to overcome this problem, with the Spaniard in particular impressing as he raided down the right and provided the cross from which Edin Dzeko really should have doubled the lead.
It was from the left flank that the goal came, though, with Aleksandar Kolarov displaying his importance to City in home matches as he was able to get forward and pick out Yaya Toure.
Much more of that is needed in the weeks and months to come.
Charlie Adam's Set Pieces Could Be Priceless for Stoke
Sir Alex Ferguson once claimed that Charlie Adam's corner's alone could be worth £10million, and given the way Stoke play the ex-Manchester United boss might be proved right to a certain degree.
Adam's delivery from corners and free-kicks was Stoke's key attacking tactic here, and the Scotland midfielder also brought a sharp save from Joe Hart when the hosts were struggling and frustrated at 0-0.
Although not suited to the style of play at former club Liverpool, Adam—who scored twice in a recent win over Manchester United—has found a club to suit his talents now, and he could prove to be one of the more important players in the division as the season ticks towards a close.