They made hard work of it, but Manchester City kept pace with Chelsea and Arsenal atop the Premier League standings thanks to Yaya Toure’s winner in a nervy, 1-0 win over Stoke City at Etihad Stadium on Saturday.
The hosts, who were looking to bounce back from a 2-0 defeat to Barcelona in the Champions League, were in control of their guests from the opening whistle, and in the seventh minute, Potters goalkeeper Asmir Begovic was forced into his first of many impressive saves when he tipped Fernandinho’s shot from distance over the crossbar.
But Stoke allowed very few openings despite the superior possession and ball movement of City, and in the 11th minute, Marko Arnautovic did well to track back and dispossess David Silva, who had looked to spring a teammate in front of goal.
Two minutes later, Marc Wilson made an absolutely vital block on Pablo Zabaleta, who had played a neat one-two with Alvaro Negredo before having a go from in close.
And so it went through much of the opening period, although in the 21st minute, Charlie Adam came close to a surprise goal for the visitors when his shot following a good layoff from Arnautovic forced Joe Hart into making a diving save to his left.
Toure and Samir Nasri also had chances to open the scoring before the halftime whistle, and in the 45th minute, Edin Dzeko somehow missed a sitter from in close, as the two sides went back down the tunnel without a goal to separate them.
The second half played out much the same as the first, and nine minutes after the restart, Ryan Shawcross had to stretch all his neck muscles to nod away a dangerous Zabaleta cross.
Nasri and Silva were the next to try their luck and come up short, but in the 70th minute, City were finally able to break the deadlock.
Nasri, spotting Kolarov’s run down the flank, played a neat pass for the Serbia international, who, in turn, delivered a low, hard cross into the goalmouth for Toure to turn into goal.
Nasri did well, freed Kolarov, and he hammered a cross which Yaya did brilliantly to turn in.— Stuart Brennan (@StuBrennanMEN) February 22, 2014
It was the least City deserved, and just four minutes later, they should have had a second when Dzeko, the ball at his feet and the net gaping, somehow failed to score what would have surely been among the easiest goals of his life.
Nevertheless, by now City were turning the screw and clamping down on Stoke’s counter-attacking opportunities, although Adam nearly connected with Peter Odemwingie with four minutes remaining.
Then Erik Pieters made another important block in front of Begovic, and time ran out as a physical, if not one-sided contest ended in favour of the Manchester outfit.
“I thought it we controlled the game and it was a matter of time before we scored,” reflected City manager Manuel Pellegrini after the match, as per the BBC.
But Stoke boss Mark Hughes was rather more disappointed with the result, telling reporters that but for a couple of errors, his side might at have nicked at least a draw.
“I thought we were a threat on the break when we regained possession and out of possession we were organised. They found us really hard to break down,” he said.
Key Player Grades
Yaya Toure: A+
In yet another superb all-around performance for Manchester City, the Ivory Coast international touched the ball 132 times, completed 90 per cent of his passes and made four tackles on the defensive side of the ball. All that in addition to scoring the only goal of the game.
Glenn Whelan: B+
You sometimes wonder where Stoke would be without the Republic of Ireland international. One of the Premier League’s more underappreciated midfielders, the 30-year-old was once again among his side’s most important players against a quality opponent, completing 88 per cent of his passes and making three tackles while closing down space and throwing his body in front of shots.
Next up for Manchester City is the Capital One Cup final against Sunderland, which will be played at Wembley on March 2. They’ll then resume their FA Cup campaign at home to Wigan on March 9. Stoke, meanwhile, will host Arsenal on March 1 and travel to Norwich on March 8.
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com.