City kicked off the New Year with a comfortable victory against an uninspiring Stoke side.
As City decided against appealing the contentious red-card issued to Samir Nasri in the victory at Norwich, James Milner was give the opportunity to demonstrate his worth in midfield. Starting on the right but given license to roam, Milner was a threat throughout. Aside from the obvious industry and graft that we come to expect, Milner is a far more intelligent player than he is given credit for, tactically astute and always aware of team shape and balance. His intelligence was also evident in an attacking sense here, as he kept finding pockets of space in and around the Stoke area. Sergio Aguero should have converted an opportunity fashioned through Milner’s dogged play in the 1st half and Sinclair was a whisker away from supplying the finishing touch to a dangerous ball fired across goal towards the end of the game. This performance suggests that Nasri may not have it easy returning to the side once his suspension is served.
Also returning to the starting XI after a period out of favour was Joleon Lescott. Brought in to counter the physical challenge offered by Kenwyne Jones and Cameron Jerome, Lescott enjoyed a comfortable afternoon. There has been much speculation that the former Everton defender may be moving on this January, with a return to Goodison Park one proffered route out of the club, but the fact of the matter remains that with Kolo Toure about to embark on a trip to South Africa there is next to no chance that Mancini will advocate a move. With teenage prodigy Nastasic having supplanted Lescott from the first choice line-up however, anticipate some activity in the summer. With Kolo also now the wrong side of 30 it would not be remiss to suggest that a new centre half may well be viewed as a key addition ahead of the 2013/14 campaign. For now, Lescott stays.
The eulogies for Zabaleta will continue as City’s best player in the first half of the campaign endeared himself to the faithful with another solid display and the vital opener. With Gael Clichy also outstanding on the opposite flank it demonstrated how vitally important the first choice full backs are in Mancini’s system. With Milner bursting between the defensive lines and Clichy and Zabaleta pushing forward to stretch the pitch horizontally, there was more space for Silva and Toure to operate in, although the play was still narrow at times. The feeling still persists that the side do lack genuine pace and a wide man capable of beating players. Scott Sinclair will not be trusted to prove he is that man any time soon.
Shortly after the interval Edin Dzeko continued his good run of recent form tapping home after a great spin from Aguero following Toure’s ball in behind the defence. When El Kun just about converted a perhaps harshly awarded penalty – David Silva was arguably outside the area when tripped – the game was all over bar the shouting, ‘Tony Pulis wears the club shop’ being one such humorous chant coming from the South stand. There was one negative from the afternoon however, with the very bright Aguero limping off following a bursting run moments after his goal from the spot. A hamstring injury will see him miss the cup-tie with Watford and the tough encounter at the Emirates a week on Sunday, at the very least. It is time for Carlos Tevez to rediscover his scoring streak and for Mario to prove his commitment to the cause.
Man of the Match: James Milner