If a marauding Manchester City have started 2013 as they mean to go on, then it could yet be a Happy Blue Year and a rotten red one in the Mancunian race for the Premier League title.
This was a performance in keeping with City’s champion status as Aguero, Dzeko & Co made a mockery of Stoke’s claim to being the stingiest defence in the division.
Roberto Mancini’s side systematically pulled the Potters apart, eroding their resistance with an unrelenting display of patient attacking play.
Tony Pulis’ team arrived at the Etihad having lost just twice all season and on the back of a 10-match unbeaten run. With just 17 goals conceded in 20 games, Stoke represented a stern test for a City side, less than proficient in recent times at breaking down stubborn defensive formations.
A thrilling 4-3 win at Norwichhad suggested City’s sharpshooters had rediscovered their goal touch – thankfully it continued to be the case.
Dzeko’s tap-in and an Aguero penalty conversion meant both edged into double figures, while the ever popular Pablo Zabaleta doubled his season’s haul with the all-important opener on the cusp of half time.
There was a comfortable feeling of inevitability about this City win as the visitors – with a paltry 21 goals all season – didn’t look as if they would score even with a $100 bill in a Bangkok brothel.
It’s been that way every time Stoke come to the Etihad in the PL with three 3-0 defeats on the bounce, no goals scored and 14 conceded in five losses since returning to the top flight. It wasn’t a question of if the Sky Blues would score, but when. The unlikely source was the redoubtable ‘Zaba’ who was rewarded for his non-stop gut busting endeavours.
Combining well with the equally industrious Milner, the Argentine national skipper prodded the ball through a crowded six yard box after Begovic parried Milner’s cross-cum-shot into Zabaleta’s path.
It was just reward for City who completely dominated play, evidenced by Stoke’s need to take frequent breathers as they indulged in appalling time wasting as early as the 20th minute. Referee Michael Oliver failed to take any of the shenanigans into account with just one minute added before the break.
With Lescott drafted in to assist Kompany in combating the physical presence of Kenwyn Jones and Jonathan Walter, it was the Manchester backline that remained untroubled throughout, with Clichy particularly impressive.
Dzeko ignited the second half crashing a 30-yard super strike a fraction over the Stoke bar with Begovic beaten. The Bosnian’s predatory instincts paid off when Begovic spilled Aguero’s angled shot in the 56th minute and he tapped in to make it 2-0.
It was a good way to welcome in 2013 and Dzeko shed his shirt to reveal ‘HAPPY NEW YEAR’ emblazoned on his undershirt. Mr Oliver, full of the festive spirit, gave him a mandatory yellow card. What a bloody stupid rule!
With the points clearly going City’s way, Stoke finally brought Joe Hart into play, with the England number one displaying great concentration levels to claw a Charlie Adam free kick to safety.
Walter then contrived to skew the ball skywards from inside Hart’s six yard box when it really was far far easier to score.
At the other end the ever inventive David Silva, now near to approaching his mercurial best, was taken down a fraction outside the Stoke penalty area, but ref Oliver pointed to the spot.
Sergio duly dispatched the kick to make it a comfortable and realistic 3-0 scoreline in a match where every City player performed well, especially the oft forgotten, but ultra reliable Gareth Barry.
The sight of a stricken Sergio with a pulled hamstring was a worry, as is the annoying absence of Yaya Toure as he goes off with Kolo and young Abdul Razak, to represent the Ivory Coast in the African Cup of Nations for up to six weeks.
Aguero could miss a vital trip to Arsenal in under a fortnight, a match that will also see ex-Gunner Samir Nasri sitting it out, as he completes a three game ban.
How ironic would it be if a virus free Mario Balotelli were to successfully lead the line at the Emirates, after his Easter Sunday sending off when City’s defeat had seemingly handed United the PL title?
With Mancini saying City will be buying new players and selling none in the transfer window, there is plenty of room for optimism. Rumours abound, the latest linking Shaktar Donetsk’s Brazilian ‘box-to-box’ midfielder Fernandinho with a move to the Etihad.
January also means FA Cup time and City must not under estimate Gianfranco Zola’s football-playing Watford. A second string City side could be asking for trouble and lest we forget the joy of May 14th2011 and the club’s first major success in 35 years.
The old trophy would look splendid adorned in sky blue and white ribbons once again and, coupled with a consecutive PL title, would spell ongoing progress with a capital ‘P’ for Mancini.