Manchester City continued their perfect start to the 2016/17 Premier League season under new boss Pep Guardiola, as they put Stoke City to the sword with an emphatic 4-1 victory at the bet365 Stadium on Saturday.
Sergio Aguero—fresh from a hat-trick and two missed penalties against Steaua Bucharest in the Champions League in midweek—rediscovered his scoring touch from the penalty spot to open the scoring on 27 minutes.
The Argentinian added a second nine minutes later, before Bojan reduced arrears from the penalty spot just after half-time. But just when Stoke went pressing for an equaliser deep in the second half, Nolito notched his first and second goals in English football to complete the job for the visitors.
City flew out of the traps in a windswept bet365 Stadium on Saturday and were pressing the opposition and popping the ball around quickly and directly, as any Guardiola team does.
The attacking players in David Silva, Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, Jesus Navas and Aguero were having plenty of joy going forward, with the latter finding space in behind Stoke.
He beat the offside trap with just six minutes on the clock and had a great chance to square the ball to Sterling, but the cross was agonisingly overhit.
Sterling, who was once again very impressive throughout, then worked a great opportunity on the edge of the Stoke box, but his curling effort just went the wrong side of the post.
The pressure eventually told in the 27th minute, when referee Mike Dean awarded a penalty to City after spotting Ryan Shawcross holding on to Nicolas Otamendi’s shirt following a corner.
Aguero stepped up to take it with his two misses in midweek undoubtedly at the back of his mind, but he sent Shay Given the wrong way to hand City a 1-0 lead, as the Premier League on Twitter revealed:
Guardiola’s men didn’t take their foot off the gas, though, and nine minutes later Aguero doubled the lead.
De Bruyne’s inch-perfect free-kick was met by the Argentinian at the near post, as he nodded home his sixth goal in three games under Guardiola, per Squawka Football:
City went in at the break in cruise control; 2-0 to the good and playing scintillating football, they only needed to keep Stoke at bay to take three points back to Manchester.
However, within four minutes of the restart, they found themselves pegged back. Sterling was adjudged to have been holding Shawcross in the box after a corner, and Dean once again had no hesitation in awarding a spot-kick.
Bojan took responsibility and haunted his former boss Guardiola by sending Willy Caballero the wrong way, via Sky Sports Statto:
The goal sparked Stoke into life, as Mark Hughes’ men finally had the look of a side that could cause City some problems. Bojan was pulling the strings in the advanced positions, and the hosts were finally doing the ugly things right.
But once City sussed out how to deal with long balls pumped into Mame Biram Diouf, normal service resumed, and they went hunting for a third goal.
And with five minutes left on the clock, they got it. Substitute Kelechi Iheanacho rounded Given after being played in by Silva, and he then laid it on a plate for Nolito to tap home.
Oliver Kay of the Times commented on Iheanacho’s contribution to the goal:
Nolito found himself on tap-in duty once again deep in stoppage time, as Sterling raced through on goal before squaring for the Spaniard.
City weren’t quite themselves in the second half, but even so, it was job done for Guardiola and Co. and three wins out of three to kick off the campaign. Plus, you can hardly argue with a 4-1 scoreline.
The manager is known for getting the best out of players, and he certainly looks to be achieving exactly that so far. The likes of Sterling and Otamendi have kicked on from disappointing seasons last time around and City now look like a team—rather than 11 individuals.
City will be looking to go into the international break with their 100 per cent record intact, with the return leg against Steaua Bucharest and a Premier League clash with West Ham on the horizon.
After the match, City defender Pablo Zabaleta told Sky Sports that City have excellent team spirit, and that's what saw them prevail in Stoke, via BBC Sport: "It's not easy because we played we played in midweek but today we produced a great performance and great team spirit from the first minute. The first 10 minutes of the second half were hard and we were only one goal up after the penalty but we managed to create chances."
Stoke manager Hughes, meanwhile, told Sky Sports that the scoreline didn't reflect his side's performances:
For long periods I thought we acquitted ourselves well. Obviously the debate tomorrow and tonight will be about the two penalties. It's fine as long as it is consistent to the end of the season.
We were playing well on the front foot and asking questions. The second goal was poor defending. The third and fourth goals knocked the stuffing out of us. We are hurting at the moment.