On a night full of goals and incredible drama across European football Manchester City were held to a dull, goalless draw at the Eitihad Stadium by a resolute and determined Stoke City team on Wednesday evening.
At the same time that Barcelona were producing one of the greatest comebacks in Champions League history, Pep Guardiola’s side were producing an ineffective and lacklustre display as they fell further behind in the Premier League title race. The spotlight will be firmly focuses on The Citizen’s failings – a lack of creativity, missed opportunities and a rotation policy that saw Raheem Sterling, David Silva and John Stones all rested – but in reality it is Mark Hughes’ team that should be receiving the plaudits.
Stoke came into this game having lost all of their previous three away fixtures against the elite of English football and had conceded four goals on each occasion (Tottenham 4-0, Liverpool 4-1, Chelsea 4-2). But The Potters produced a defensive masterclass, organised superbly by the impressive Ryan Shawcross at centre-half, to frustrate their illustrious hosts and be the first team this season to succeed in keeping a clean sheet at the Etihad Stadium.
Manchester City could have gone second in the table and started to close the gap on league leaders Chelsea with a win, but a draw means that they trail The Blues by ten points. For Stoke, a point further solidifies their place in ninth and it would appear that the club are set to achieve a fourth consecutive top-half finish.
Defensive masterclass by Stoke
Stoke City produced a defensive masterclass at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday and succeeded in stifling Pep Guardiola’s side.
Switching to a 4-4-2 formation, Mark Hughes deployed two solid banks of four to suffocate The Citizen’s attacking threat whilst ensuring that there was plenty of pace in wide and forward areas to utilise on the counter. The defensive success of their performance can be measured by the fact that Lee Grant only had to face one strike on goal in ninety minutes of play, a free kick from Aleksander Kolarov which was comfortably turned around the post for a corner, and the visiting supporters would have been thrilled by their team’s commitment and industry.
In fact, Stoke looked relatively comfortable for long periods of the game and it was only in the final twenty minutes, following the introduction of David Silva and Kelechi Iheanacho, that Manchester City really started to create goal scoring opportunities. The back four, marshalled by captain Ryan Shawcross, were hugely impressive as were the central midfield pair of Joe Allen and Geoff Cameron who produced displays full of commitment and industry. The Potters struggled to carve out any clear cut chances of their own with Saido Berahino and Bruno Martins Indi both failing to test Willy Caballero sufficiently.
Mark Hughes will have been delighted with a point, but there is clearly still plenty of work to be undertaken in North Staffordshire if Stoke are to offer a genuinely challenge to the top seven clubs next season.