MANCHESTER — For much of the final 20 minutes of this match, Stoke had all 11 players camped in their own defensive third. Manchester City, desperately committing men forward, tried everything to break through the sea of red and white in front of them and maintain their excellent start to the Premier League season.
But City's hallmark creativity and inventiveness under Manuel Pellegrini deserted them, and Stoke’s dogged resistance saw them leave the Etihad with a 1-0 win very few saw coming.
City’s home record in recent seasons has been the bedrock of their domestic success. Since the start of their 2011/12 title-winning season, they’ve taken a remarkable 155 points from a possible 174, and the ease with which they’ve taken many of them has been staggering.
Congrats to Stoke who are only the third team to take maximum points from the Etihad in three years. Full #cityvstoke reaction to come...— Manchester City FC (@MCFC) August 30, 2014
They lost just once at home in the league last season—a 1-0 defeat to Chelsea which proved to be a minor blot on their copybook. Very few leave here with maximum points, yet Stoke managed it despite going into the match on the back of two poor performances and just one point from their opening games of the season.
They deserve great credit for their win, too. Mark Hughes may have failed spectacularly when he was in charge of City, but he masterminded this result and leaves with his first win over the club since his 2009 sacking. His five-man midfield restricted City’s ability to dominate in central areas, and his side’s prowess on the counter was a threat all afternoon.
Indeed, it was a goal on the counter-attack which won it. Mame Diouf, the ex-Manchester United player, ran from deep inside his own half, taking on Aleksandar Kolarov and Fernandinho before beating Joe Hart with a low shot from inside the area.
The City keeper will no doubt be disappointed with his role in Diouf's strike, but it shouldn't take away from a goal which displayed the kind of pace, power and fearlessness Stoke lacked on the road last season. It gave the Potters' their first-ever Premier League goal at the Etihad.
Visiting teams to win at the Etihad Stadium in Manuel Pellegrini's reign: Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Barcelona, Wigan & Stoke.— Richard Jolly (@RichJolly) August 30, 2014
In their most desperate times, City often look to Sergio Aguero to score the goals they need to get them out of trouble. Nothing would quite go for him today, though. With Stoke refusing to give an inch, the Argentine couldn't find a way through.
With the rain lashing down and with Stoke fans in full voice, City brought on Jesus Navas and Edin Dzeko in a bid to win the game, but Hughes' side had all the answers. It felt City were having one of those days where very little goes right.
The defeat may be a shock, but City have no need to worry. Their squad looks well balanced and full of quality after an excellent summer that has seen them add extra depth to an already talented pool of players.
But with a trip to Arsenal and and a home game with Chelsea—notably bookending a Champions League match against Bayern Munich—to follow after the international break, quickly recapturing the attacking brilliance they displayed on Monday evening against Liverpool is vitally important.
After the game, Pellegrini rejected suggestions his side were punished for a slow first half, yet bemoaned the lack of creativity on display:
I don’t agree with that. I think we were very patient team, we tried to create space, we couldn’t. Stoke defended very well. We were in a bad way in the creative players.
Last Monday we scored three goals and today we couldn’t score goals. We didn’t play well in a creative way. It was too easy the way they scored the goal in a counter-attack, from a corner, he ran 70 metres to score. In these games it is very important to be patient, but more important not to concede. They defend always with 10 strong players behind the ball.
It is always serious to lose three points at home. It was important to try and win the nine points before the international break. These games always happen once a year. It happens today to our team.
City must now use the international break to regroup and refocus before two crucial games against title rivals. Arsenal and Chelsea have both shown flashes of quality so far this season, and the latter just netted six against Everton.
City played catch-up for much of the last campaign after a severe fixture pile-up, and they'll be keen to find themselves chasing the top spot again this season. Positive results in the next two games will be hugely important to their season.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2014-15 season. Follow him on Twitter here: @RobPollard_