Man City Keep Pace in Title Race, but Flat Performance vs. Stoke Raises Concerns

Rob PollardFeatured ColumnistFebruary 22, 2014

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22:  David Silva of Manchester City in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Stoke City at the Etihad Stadium on February 22, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Paul Thomas/Getty Images)
Paul Thomas/Getty Images


Chelsea did it earlier in the day and Manchester City responded by doing it against Stoke. The ability to win ugly could determine this season's title race.

City were nowhere near their best in this match after the midweek defeat to Barcelona appeared to drain them both physically and mentally, but Yaya Toure's goal gave them three vital points that keeps the pressure firmly on the leaders.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22:  Edin Dzeko of Manchester City misses a close range shot on goal as Stoke City keeper Asmir Begovic looks on  during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Stoke City at the Etihad Stadium on Febru
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

It's a fascinating situation at the top, with Chelsea leading the table by one point from Arsenal and City three points adrift with a game in hand. Jose Mourinho's ability to grind out results like the one they managed today makes his side City's biggest rivals, and only by matching their determination to win in difficult circumstances will City's superior attacking play be rewarded come May.

This flat display in front of a sell-out crowd at the Etihad raised a number of concerns, none more so than the form and fitness of their strikers, with doubts over the compatibility of Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo persisting after another disjointed display in tandem. 

Dzeko's performance was a major concern, typified by his awful miss from three yards out after he struggled to adjust his feet trying to connect with a good ball in from substitute Jesus Navas. He looked low on confidence, struggling to link play as effectively as he would have liked and wasting a series of opportunities.


Pellegrini on Dzeko. "Every player can have a bad day. He had a bad day. Maybe he was nervous but I completely trust in him."

— Daniel Taylor (@DTguardian) February 22, 2014


His strike partner was guilty of an even poorer showing, rightly withdrawn after an hour having contributed very little and looking at a loss as to how he could influence the game. He looks a shadow of the player who set the Premier League alight for the first half of the season and Manuel Pellegrini must find a way of restoring his confidence quickly.

It's a curious situation for Negredo, who appears to have been greatly affected by a minor shoulder injury, with his form grinding to a halt in recent weeks. It's in stark contrast to Samir Nasri, who looks just as effective since returning to the side after medial knee ligament damage as he did earlier in the season.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22:  Stevan Jovetic of Manchester City replaces Alvaro Negredo  during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Stoke City at the Etihad Stadium on February 22, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Pa
Paul Thomas/Getty Images

Pellegrini tried to inject some life into his attack by bringing Stevan Jovetic on for the insipid Spaniard, and he looked his usually lively self before going off clutching his hamstring 13 minutes after coming on. It's the latest frustration for a player who was just beginning to find some momentum.


Pellegrini press conf. "We cannot win by three or four goals every match. It's important to win another way."

— Daniel Taylor (@DTguardian) February 22, 2014


The good news for City is that Sergio Aguero looks set to return to the side for next week's League Cup final with Sunderland. Pellegrini told reporters after the game that he will begin full training on Tuesday, giving him every chance of making the starting XI next Sunday at Wembley.

City's midfield is also back to full strength, with Fernandinho, Toure, Nasri and David Silva all starting together for the first time since early January. With Navas offering pace and width from the bench if needed, and with Javi Garcia continuing to impress when called upon, City look back to their best in the middle of the park.

It may not have been a classic display, but it's these kinds of results which could determine the outcome of the title race. City will need to match Chelsea, experts at winning ugly, if they want to emerge as champions this season.


Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @TypicalCity.