Man City reclaim third spot with routine win over Stoke
Manchester City 4 0 Stoke City
Manchester City warmed up for Real Madrid by moving back into third place in the Premier League with a 4-0 victory over Stoke.
The empty seats at the Etihad demonstrated this was far from City's biggest match of the week but, with Manchester United breathing down their necks, it was undoubtedly an important one for their top-four hopes. And they made sure there were no more slip-ups after the midweek draw with Newcastle to climb back above Arsenal, for 24 hours at least.
Fernando's header and a Sergio Aguero penalty put City two up at the break, and the impressive Kelechi Iheanacho's second-half double sealed the points. Stoke conceded four goals for a third successive match and look set to finish a positive season on a low note.
Manuel Pellegrini's selection clearly had Tuesday's Champions League semi-final in mind, with Kevin De Bruyne on the bench and Vincent Kompany missing from the squad altogether.
Stoke were dealt a major blow before kick-off when it was confirmed Ibrahim Afellay suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury in training on Friday, potentially ruling him out until 2017.
The hosts almost scored after six minutes when Aguero set up Iheanacho, making his fourth Premier League start, and the youngster curled a shot just wide.
At the other end, Glenn Whelan tested Joe Hart with an audacious free-kick and Ryan Shawcross had a good sight of goal from a corner but snatched at his effort.
Stoke attacks were few and far between but ironically the visitors were having their best spell of the match when City opened the scoring in the 35th minute.
The Potters were weak at defending crosses against Liverpool last weekend and that was the case again as Fernando nipped ahead of Geoff Cameron at the near post and flicked his header into the far corner.
The goal helped lift City out of third gear and further pressure was rewarded when Shawcross hauled down Iheanacho after he had played a one-two with Yaya Toure.
Aguero's 43rd-minute penalty gave Shay Given no chance in the week he turned 40, finding the bottom corner for his 28th goal of the season. So comfortable were City that centre-back Nicolas Otamendi tried a shot from 40 yards as the half drew to a close.
That proved to be the end of Given's afternoon, with Jakob Haugaard - 17 years the Irishman's junior - sent on for the second half. Stoke improved markedly after the break and Mato Joselu should have scored with a shot from 10 yards but sent it over the bar before Mame Biram Diouf headed just wide.
In between, Iheanacho gave Haugaard an early test with a fizzing shot that the Dane pushed over the bar. Marko Arnautovic was proving a handful and he forced Hart into a save but, as in the first half, a period of Stoke pressure ended with a City goal. Pablo Zabaleta, making his 300th City appearance, got away down the right and cut the ball back for Iheanacho to tap home in the 64th minute.
The teenager was enjoying himself and 10 minutes later, with Stoke's defence caught square, he ran onto substitute Wilfried Bony's pass and rounded Haugaard before slotting home.
It was a thoroughly miserable return to his former club for Stoke boss Mark Hughes, who had been looking for a third straight win against City. The only concern for Pellegrini, meanwhile, was an apparent thigh injury picked up by Toure late on, although he was able to finish the game.