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Pablo Zabaleta, Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero struck as Manchester City claimed a routine 3-0 home win against Stoke City. The Barclays Premier League champions were rarely troubled as they eased to a convincing victory at the Etihad Stadium after Zabaleta opened the scoring late in the first half. Dzeko tapped in for a second just before the hour and the lively Aguero added a third from the penalty spot 16 minutes from time.
The only concern was that Aguero limped off before the end of what was also expected to be talisman Yaya Toure’s last game before the African Cup of Nations. It was another painful trip to the Etihad Stadium for Stoke, who have now lost on all five Premier League visits and conceded 14 goals in the process without reply themselves. Their last league win at City came in October 1997 when the two clubs were in the third tier and there seemed little prospect of the Potters improving that record from the outset.
The champions were dominant from the first minute but it took them until the 43rd to make the breakthrough. Aguero combined well with James Milner in the area early on but Asmir Begovic saved his low shot with his legs. Toure looked to sign off in style before international duty but twice shot over from distance. Aguero met a dipping cross from Gareth Barry but his first-time shot flew narrowly over the bar.
Stoke switched off as David Silva was allowed a free header from a Barry free-kick but the Spaniard’s effort was well off target. Aguero had another good chance when he controlled well and turned to shoot inside the area but Begovic was equal to it.
Dzeko, starting a second successive game after his double at Norwich City on Saturday, found himself through on goal but failed to work his Bosnia team-mate Begovic. Aguero did beat Begovic when he got on the end of a Barry cross but the Argentinian’s header came back off a post. The hosts were finally rewarded for their superiority two minutes before the interval when Milner’s cross was parried by Begovic and the excellent Zabaleta drove home the rebound.
City carried their momentum into the second half and Robert Huth, who had regularly been troubled by Aguero, bundled the Argentinian over outside the box. The champions failed to make the most of the free-kick but Stoke’s goal was soon under threat as Dzeko latched onto a Toure through-ball and sent a dipping half-volley narrowly over the bar.
Dzeko was getting closer to troubling his compatriot and he accepted a gift from him to double the lead in the 56th minute. Aguero weaved his way through the area and poked a shot at Begovic which, unsighted by a defender, he could only parry and Dzeko pounced inside the goal area. Dzeko celebrated by revealing a T-shirt which displayed the message "Happy New Year" but his joy was ended by a yellow card from Michael Oliver.
The introduction of Matthew Etherington for Kenwyne Jones gave Stoke greater width as Jon Walters moved into a central position. For the first time they started to give the home defence something to think about but Joleon Lescott looked solid.
Joe Hart also showed he was still alert as he palmed away a free-kick from Charlie Adam. Steven Nzonzi, free to play after appealing his sending-off against Southampton last weekend, made a good run but was quickly crowded out.
But Nzonzi was the guilty party as he fouled Silva to give City a penalty, from which Aguero scored. It proved Aguero’s last meaningful contribution, however, as he pulled up soon after with what seemed a hamstring injury and he was replaced by compatriot Carlos Tevez.
The game started to peter out but Stoke had a late flurry as Glenn Whelan, with the possible aid of a deflection, brought a fine save out of Hart with a long-range low shot, which was tipped on to a post.
Manchester City assistant manager David Platt: “We should take credit for limiting Stoke to so few opportunities because we know they can cause problems from set-pieces but I can’t recall them really creating too much. We’ve had a lot of teams that have come here, sat back and defended and we know Stoke have been difficult to score against this season.
“Sergio [Aguero] won’t play at the weekend and is probably doubtful for the trip to Arsenal but we’ll know more in 48 hours. It’s a blow for us because he’s been playing so well. There are different degrees of Hamstring injuries which is why we need to assess the extent of what has happened.”
Stoke City manager Tony Pulis: “City were the better team and deserved to win and I don’t want to take anything away from them. We needed City not to be at their best and we have to be at the top of our game to come away with anything, and we weren’t today – sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and accept that.
"We would like to do some business but we have to wheel and deal as well. We have to get a few out. If we can do that we will try to get a couple in. I think the squad needs a little bit of fresh blood but we have to generate it. We can't go out and spend the money. If we get room and space and the players are available, then we will do it."
|13 Jan 2013||v Arsenal (A)|
|19 Jan 2013||v Fulham (H)|
|29 Jan 2013||v QPR (A)|
|03 Feb 2013||v Liverpool (H)|
|09 Feb 2013||v Southampton (A)|
|24 Feb 2013||v Chelsea (H)|