And relax. The end of Pep Guardiola’s debut week, and it went rather swimmingly in the end. Just think back to the moment when Defoe slipped the ball under Caballero’s body last week and now be thankful the week took a different path in the end.
Guardiola once more nailed the sartorial battle, dressed appropriately for changing weather conditions whilst retaining an aura of class and sophistication.
Shumper and suit jacket. Classic but understated. Good to see.
Predicting his side is harder to nail down however. There weren’t too many shocks, but Otamendi returned so Kolarov shifted left, as did Sterling to allow Navas into the side, relegating Nolito to the bench. Presumably Guardiola saw use for pace and also the excellent work ethic of the blue-eyed Spaniard.
This would be a true test of Pep’s philosophy and playing style, at a ground it’s never easy to win at. Thankfully, it was a test that was eventually passed with flying colours, but a few nerves were frayed along the way.Last season’s horror show can be put to bed now.
Stoke have never prospered through great possession of the ball, so it was no surprise to see City dominate the ball. On a windy day though it was not always easy to pass it around, and Caballero will understandably be criticised for his errant use of the ball, especially when he is assumed to be in the side for such skills. Well it is clear to all he is not an upgrade on Hart, and presumably is in the side solely because he has responded to Pep’s regime better, but the blustery conditions should be taken into account on this occasion. He has been fine with the bread-and-butter of goalkeeping too, namely stopping shots, but then Hart is pretty good at that anyway,
Still Caballero did his job, most notably saving from Bardsley before Joe Allen crashed to the ground.
City looked bright and full of intent, but a good Stoke side were dangerous on the break. In the end the game revolved around a celebrity referee and penalty decisions.
First, Shawcross was rightly penalised for tugging at Otamendi’s shirt, though if Dean had been stood on the other side of the players, he might have seen a lesser tug from Kolarov too. Clearly new directives have come in and the players have been informed of this, but old habits will die hard for many a defender. As with Sterling later however, I do not see why such incidents are worthy of an automatic yellow card.
Pressure on Aguero, but he took on the responsibility and slammed the ball home. And soon it was two as he brilliantly headed in a cross from De Bruyne.
Breathing space for City, but Stoke clearly should have had a penalty of their own as Kolarov bundled into Joe Allen – a break for City, but Mike Dean no doubt saw it at half-time and was intent on evening things up after the interval.
Which he duly did when penalising Sterling for tagging Shawcross, but without any shirt pulling. Never a penalty for me, and if it is then there would literally be one awarded at every corner. Even Shawcross and Mark Hughes weren’t convinced, which speaks volumes.
That put City on the back foot once more, and the game became rather scrappy. No one team dominated as the clock ticked on. Thankfully there was no nervy last few minutes as super sub Iheanacho came on and stayed calm to pass across goal to super sub (number 2) Nolito. Then he dummied superbly and a moment of class from Sterling laid a second goal on a plate for Nolito. Game over. Eleven goals in a week, two conceded, job done. What’s more, City’s 45 touches in the Stoke penalty area were the most by any PL team so far this season.
Mike Dean however must be mentioned, a really poor performance for me encapsulated perfectly by the penalty decisions. Add to that a yellow card for De Bruyne for accidentally stepping on a Stoke player’s foot, and Diouf escaping censure for raking his foot down Silva’s leg in front of Dean. His best moment though was penalising Zabaleta for being barged off the ball. Not his best day, whatever one of those is, and a point of order for Phil Neville too – he’s called David Silva – not Da Silva. Not difficult really.
Best player? Well another two goals for Aguero puts him near the top of the pile, but special mention must be made to two young Englishmen – Sterling was excellent again, full of confidence and always willing to attack the Stoke defence, even in a new position. It’s good to have him back. The highest compliment I can pay to John Stones is that you forget he signed for us under a fortnight ago – he has slipped seamlessly into the side. Pure class from him so far.
Silva too does what he does best, and for me only De Bruyne is slightly struggling to acclimatise to new player positions and instructions. Still, another assist for him. The substitutes didn’t do too badly either!
I think we all agree that shirt pulling and the like should be eradicated from the game, or punished at least, so it’s good to see it being clamped down on. However, it is difficult for a referee to monitor every player in a crowded penalty area, so future decisions will be somewhat down to chance, down to where he is looking at as the ball comes in. As for the rest of the premier league programme that day, I don’t think any more penalties were awarded. Let’s hope for some consistency, but don’t hold your breath.
And time for the true pedant in me to emerge. Many have said the score-line was flattering but no score-line is flattering unless the officials have shaped the game, and as mentioned Mike Dean’s centre stage performance didn’t really affect who won, as his decisions favoured neither team, so the score was perfectly fair – we scored four times, they scored once. That’s how the game works.
And with a new season, the optimist in me (4%) had hoped for a fresh start for the boo boy brigade, but alas no – never underestimate the ability of a bone-headed football fan to have you shaking your head in disbelief. Just imagine a grown adult leaving their house, going to a football match and booing an opposition player because he cost quite a lot of money and upset some ex-Liverpool players. And don’t give me the Euros as an excuse, unless you think the incessant booing last season was performed by psychics. Astonishing. Thankfully it appears to be water off a duck’s back for young Raheem, but after Sunderland fans questioned our loyalty last week with THAT chant, my faith in the human race is nearing an end.
A new season also brings with it the return of Match of the Day and a return of razor-sharp analysis (hashtag sarcasm). I don’t need to say much more about Mr Neville as we’ve all had a good laugh already, suffice to say that criticising a player for not having enough assists when he has had five assists in a week (it should have been six, through no fault of his own) is a bit rum. We know about last season’s struggles, but surely analysis should focus on his good form, not the past. Anyway, as we all discovered, Phil seemed to expect Sterling to assist AND score every goal, and his criticism of his assist at the end was phenomenally stupid. It just baffles me that Phil & Gary couldn’t make it work in Valencia, it really does.
Anyway, a good week ends, and Pep can change the team for Wednesday’s dead rubber. Get past West Ham next week and City can approach the derby after the international break in fine fettle. Here’s hoping.