Pep Guardiola extended his 100 per cent start as Manchester City manager as Sergio Aguero’s brace and a late double from Nolito secured an impressive 4-1 win at Stoke on Saturday.
City’s away form last season undermined their efforts to regain the Premier League title with just four wins from Manuel Pellegrini’s last 16 away league games in charge.
But they are expected to do much better on their travels in the Guardiola era and this emphatic result suggests the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager will successfully adapt to English football.
City had won on just one of their eight Premier League trips to Stoke and, allied to the usual buffeting by the wind which regularly swirls around the Britannia Stadium, that could have made this a tricky test.
Stoke manager Mark Hughes also likes nothing better than to put one over his former club but City avoided a potential hazard in impressive style.
“In the first half, we played good. We arrived many times in the box with one against one,” Guardiola said.
“We created a lot of counter attacks in the second half – good situations – but the last pass was not good. We have to try and finish the action.”
Jesus Navas earned his first start of the season in place of Nolito, but Guardiola otherwise stuck with the side that had demolished Steaua Bucharest 5-0 in mid-week to all but secure their place in the group stage of the Champions League ahead of Wednesday’s return leg.
Argentina striker Aguero has hit the ground running this season and added to his tally to give City a 26th-minute lead from the penalty spot.
It was a soft penalty for Stoke to concede but referee Mike Dean’s decision to penalise Ryan Shawcross for pulling back Nicolas Otamendi following a corner was the correct one.
Aguero had twice missed from the spot in Romania but added to his opening-day conversion in the Premier League by confidently driving the ball beyond 40-year-old former City keeper Shay Given.
– Predatory –
Given did then keep out an angled drive from Aguero but 10 minutes before the break was beaten again as City went 2-0 up.
Aguero once again showed his outstanding predatory instincts to get his head on a free-kick from Kevin De Bruyne and glance the ball into the corner of the net.
Stoke had looked a threat until falling behind, with Marko Arnautovic twice making chances for Giannelli Imbula.
The hosts felt they should have had a route back into the game when Aleksandar Kolarov barged Joe Allen to the ground in the follow-up from Willy Caballero’s fine save from a thumping Phil Bardsley volley.
But the home side only had to wait until three minutes into the second half for Dean to even things up by awarding them a penalty, this time penalising Raheem Sterling for putting his hands into the chest of Shawcross when the diminutive winger was strangely allocated the job of marking the big Stoke defender.
Bojan Krkic, who played under Guardiola at Barcelona, converted the spot-kick and suddenly City didn’t look so convincing.
Caballero – again preferred to Joe Hart – had one or two uncertain moments with his kicking, much to the amusement of Stoke’s fans but City weathered a spell of Stoke pressure without wilting.
And with four minutes to go they guaranteed all three points thanks to a first Premier League goal from Nolito.
Kelechi Iheanacho, fresh from signing a new long-term contract, had replaced Aguero and after rounding Given the teenager kept his composure to lift his head and pick out Nolito for a far-post tap-in.
City were now in the comfort zone and made the result even more emphatic in stoppage time when Nolito slotted home his second after the impressive Sterling glided through Stoke’s non-existent defence to tee up the Spain international.