Thursday 22 February 2018

Shaqiri's brilliance piles pain on shambolic City

Stoke City 2-0 Manchester City

Stoke’s Marko Arnautovi celebrates after scoring against Manchester City yesterday
Stoke’s Marko Arnautovi celebrates after scoring against Manchester City yesterday
Erik Pieters of Stoke City and Kevin de Bruyne of Manchester City compete for the ball
Stoke's Xherdan Shaqiri and Fernando of Manchester City compete for the ball

John Percy

This was the day when Xherdan Shaqiri proved he can do it on a wet and windy afternoon in Stoke, as Manchester City were blown away at the Britannia Stadium.

Shaqiri underlined exactly why he is known as the Alpine Messi, with two moments of first-half brilliance in his best performance since his eye-catching £12m move in August.

The Swiss playmaker can count Bayern Munich and Inter Milan among his former clubs, but this was emphatic proof that he feels at home in the Potteries, creating both goals for Marko Arnautovic, as Mark Hughes secured a famous victory against the club which sacked him in 2009.

Arnautovic, Bojan and Ibrahim Afellay were also outstanding as Manuel Pellegrini endured a chastening afternoon and a third Premier League away game without a goal. City's only moment of fight came after the final whistle, when Fabian Delph was involved in a confrontation with Arnautovic, on a shambolic day for the league leaders.

For a team with title ambitions, this was remarkably poor and Vincent Kompany, injured and sat in the stands, watched in horror as City's back four were brutally exposed time and time again. Kompany, Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero and Pablo Zabaleta cannot return from injury soon enough for Pellegrini. He said: "I always miss important players, but you have to play with the ones you have. We are playing with 13 players in all competitions.

"I don't think there is a lack of leaders, we are the only team in all four competitions. It wasn't just a case of defending badly, we also didn't create chances."

While the post-mortem from Pellegrini will be extensive, nothing can be taken away from Stoke and Hughes, whose brave tactics were handsomely rewarded. They were ahead after six minutes, with Shaqiri injecting some magic after a messy opening to the game played in a strong wind. Picking up the ball on the right, he shook off a challenge from Fernando and then bypassed Aleksandar Kolarov to bend in an exquisite cross, which presented Arnautovic with a simple finish.

It was a goal that will have infuriated Pellegrini, with Martin Demichelis also at fault for allowing Arnautovic to escape into the six-yard box, while Joe Hart's positioning was suspect.

City's defence were exposed again in the 15th minute, barely 60 seconds after Jack Butland had produced a fine save to keep out a low shot from Kevin De Bruyne. Shaqiri was again the architect, with a sublime turn to bamboozle Fernando, before threading through a wonderfully-weighted pass to Arnautovic, who slotted the ball under Hart.

City were abysmal and only De Bruyne appeared capable of threatening the Stoke defence, while David Silva - making his first league start in two months - was anonymous.

Pellegrini must have unleashed the hairdryer at half-time, but there was little response. Bojan was denied by Hart after easily bypassing the City defence, with Arnautovic fluffing the rebound, and Shaqiri only just failed to provide the final touch to a fluid move.

Just when Pellegrini thought City's afternoon could not get any worse, Fernando hobbled off in the 72nd minute to leave the visitors with 10 men, having already used their three substitutes. That was an embarrassing footnote for Pellegrini, but Hughes can feel optimistic about the season ahead.

"We're making real progress," he said. "It was satisfying to see the team perform the way they did."

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