City carried on where they’d left off before the international break with another blistering performance, this time against Stoke. The goal-crazy Blues thrashed the Potters 7-2, inspired by a performance of pure genius by Kevin De Bruyne who had a hand in four of the goals and was inspirational throughout. Gabriel Jesus (2), plus goals for Raheem Sterling, David Silva, Leroy Sane, Fernandinho and Bernardo Silva undid Stoke who had briefly threatened a comeback with strikes either side of the break.
What happened? There were no signs of rust from the two-week break since the victory over Chelsea. Pep Guardiola named an unchanged starting XI from the win at Stamford Bridge, though there was the welcome return of Sergio Aguero on the bench. The first opportunity of the afternoon came after eight minutes when De Bruyne found Sane free in the box but the German winger went for power and somehow blasted well over from six yards. The Blues, knocking the ball around with supreme confidence, continued to dissect the Potters’ defence and it seemed inevitable the breakthrough would come sooner rather than later – and on 17 minutes it finally did. Sterling intercepted a rare Stoke foray forward, played a pass to De Bruyne who waited until Kyle Walker had powered past him before playing the ball to him and Walker’s perfect cross found Gabriel Jesus who made no mistake from close range. Two minutes later and the Blues had doubled the lead with a mesmerising move that sliced Stoke apart. A series of incisive passes seemed to be about to end when De Bruyne collected the ball from Sane on the edge of the box, but as the Belgian shaped to shoot, he instead played a disguised return to Sane who squared it to Sterling who couldn’t miss from eight yards out. In the blink of an eye City had breathing space and it was no more than the Premier League leaders deserved, though, as we are learning, there was no way the visitors were going to be let off the hook from a team revelling in the nickname ‘Shark Team’, as christened by Benjamin Mendy. The Blues’ third goal in ten minutes came when a combination of Jesus and Sane created a chance for Sterling who instead of shooting, squared the ball to Silva who initially stumbled before poking the ball home. Though it looked like being a long afternoon for Mark Hughes’ men, the Potters – so ineffective for so long – would change the complexion of the game completely with their next two attacks, either side of the break. The Blues were caught napping a minute before half-time as Jese found space in the box to lay the ball off to Mame Diouf whose deflected shot flew past Ederson who was beaten for the first time in seven games. Two minutes after the re-start and Stoke were somehow back in it as Thomas Edwards whipped in a cross after a quickly-taken throw that deflected past Ederson via the thigh of Kyle Walker. It was nothing short of baffling – with respect to the visitors – who had been totally outplayed for virtually the entire game up to that stage and yet, to their credit, they were now right back in the contest. But with a player in the form De Bruyne is in, the Potters knew they still had a mammoth task on their hands and on 57 minutes, a piece of Belgian magic again put City back in command. Intercepting a ball on the halfway line, De Bruyne raced down the right, looked up and then played an inch-perfect cross for Gabriel Jesus who hammered the ball past Jack Butland. It was the first of another explosive spell from City who were soon out of sight again. The Blues added a fifth on the hour mark with a goal that dripped of Brazilian magic as Fernandinho picked up the ball 25 yards from goal before unleashing a stunning shot that thundered the underside of the crossbar on its way into the net to send the Etihad wild. With the celebrations barely over, De Bruyne again produced the sort of pass most players can only dream of as he spotted Sane’s run and curled an inch-perfect ball into the winger’s path – so much so he didn’t even have to break stride as he arrived on cure to nutmeg (what else) Butland and put City 6-2 ahead. Incredible stuff. Though there was still plenty of time left. Bernardo Silva wrapped up the scoring on 79 minutes as he raced on to Sterling's pass before calmly slotting past Butland for his first goal since joining the club to complete a thrilling afternoon at the Etihad. Star man: Kevin De Bruyne You will arguably never see a finer performance by a player who is just getting better and better. Sublime brilliance from the Belgian.
What it means? City go two points clear at the top of the Premier League following United’s 0-0 draw with Liverpool.
What’s next? City host Napoli on Tuesday evening in the third Champions League Group F game looking to continue their 100% start and place one foot in the Round of 16. The Italians have made a superb start to the 2017/18 campaign and will likely present a tougher obstacle than Stoke did on this occasion. Then it’s back to Premier League action with a home game against Burnley next Saturday afternoon. Stats and milestones City are now unbeaten in 20 games at the Etihad in all competitions and are also 16 games unbeaten in the Premier League.
Manchester City (7): Ederson, Delph, Otamendi, Walker, Stones, Silva, Fernandinho (Yaya Toure 73’) De Bruyne (Gundogan 64’) Sané, de Jesus (Bernardo 63’) Sterling