Stylish City put Potters to the sword

City warmed up for Tuesday’s Champions League semi-final in the best possible style after thrashing Stoke City 4-0. Two goals in each half, courtesy of Fernando, Sergio Aguero and Kelechi Iheanacho secured three points for the buoyant Blues who avenged a disappointing defeat to the Potters earlier in the season. The message was clear before kick-off – forget Real Madrid for now – securing a top four spot is top of the agenda with plenty of work still to be to guarantee Champions League football next season. David Silva, Nicolas Otamendi and Iheanacho were the three changes made from the midweek draw with Newcastle with Kevin De Bruyne and Fabian Delph dropping to the bench and Vincent Kompany rested. Stoke’s midweek pummelling Tottenham resulted in Potters’ manager Mark Hughes stating that his side were not on the beach already and that he expected a reaction from his side at the Etihad. It was the Blues who had the first opportunity to open the scoring, however as Aguero cleverly span away from two Stoke players before playing in Iheanacho whose low curling shot went a foot wide with Shay Given beaten. Ryan Shawcross then shot wide from a corner when he’d had more time than he perhaps first thought and on the half-hour Marko Arnautovic cleverly turned in the box to give Joselu a clear chance to head the Potters in front but he nodded well over. With almost half their accumulated points coming on the road this season, so this was anything but a foregone conclusion for the Blues so when the breakthrough finally game, it was something of a relief. Stoke have earned a reputation as set-piece specialists over the years so it was ironic that City’s opening goal should come via a corner as Jesus Navas’ out-swinging corner with Fernando cleverly glancing the ball across the keeper and into the far corner on 35 minutes. And City were two goals to the good eight minutes later. A sustained period of attacking saw the ball work its way to Iheanacho in the box and as he received the ball he was clattered from behind by Shawcross giving referee Robert Madley an easy decision. Aguero bided his time before placing the ball high over Given - who had guessed right – to claim his 28<sup>th</sup> of another fantastic campaign for the Argentine who yet again is absent from the PFA Player of the Year shortlist and PFA Team of the Year XI. Given went off at the break with presumably a knock of some kind and Stoke came out of the blocks looking like they’d had the hairdryer treatment from Hughes. Arnautovic, a handful all afternoon, dispossessed Otamendi before firing in a fierce drive that Joe Hart superbly beat out. If the visitors were going to make a fist of this, they had to find a goal sooner rather than later. As it was, City withstood a short spell of pressure and increased the lead with 64 minutes on the clock with Pablo Zabaleta marking his 300th game for the Club with a driving run into the box and fine pull-back for Iheanacho to calmly stroke home his tenth of the campaign. And the talented Nigerian wasn’t finished yet as he doubled his tally for the afternoon ten minutes later as he raced clear from a Wilfried Bony pass to round sub keeper Jakob Haugaard and roll the ball home. Aguero and Silva’s afternoon ended early with Madrid in mind and the last 15 minutes or so were played at exactly the kind of leisurely pace Pellegrini would have hoped for prior to kick-off. Now to the small matter of Ronaldo and company…

MATCH DETAILS: Manchester City (4): Hart, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Mangala, Otamendi, Toure, Fernando (Demichelis 72), Navas, Silva (Delph 57), Iheanacho, Aguero (Bony 65) Stoke City (0): Given (Haugaard 46), Bardsley, Shawcross, Wollscheid, Muniesa, Cameron, Whelan, Imbula, Diouf, Arnautovic (Adam 76), Joselu Goals: Fernando 35, Aguero (pen) 43, Iheanacho 64, 74 Referee: Robert Madley

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