City 3 - 0 Stoke: Five Thoughts

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 21: Adam Johnson of Manchester City celebrates with his team mates after scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Stoke City at the Etihad Stadium on December 21, 2011 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Habits are very easily formed and over the course of 2011 City have undoubtedly (effortlessly?) developed the important habit of winning at home. Stretching back to the end of last season they have now put together a consecutive win streak of 14 games and there is now not just a belief, but an expectation that when City take the field at home they will come away with the three points. In particular, the ability to navigate the mid and lower-level Premier League sides (an achilles heel in the not too distant past) has been key to this; evidenced once again with the convincing win over Stoke which saw City convert a hard-working and patient display over the first thirty minutes to completely dominate their opponents.

The numbers from the game reveal quite how convincing City were, setting new season highs in terms of passes attempted (924), passes completed (842), pass completion (91%) and posession (76.1%). There were four players - Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri, Gareth Barry and Vincent Kompany - who attempted over 100 passes to enable them to completely snuff out any threat from Stoke, who came in on the back of four consecutive victories, but turned in as poor a showing as seen this season at The Etihad Stadium - although a large part of that was down to City dominance in the passing game restricting their ability to create anything remotely resembling an attacking threat.

Whilst Roberto Mancini made three changes to the side that beat Arsenal (Gael Clichy, Joleon Lescott and Adam Johnson in for Pablo Zabaleta, Kolo Toure and Mario Balotelli) it was the selection of Johnson that was of the most interest with his inclusion in the side ensuring City overran Stoke in this area. This dominance led to City reducing any attacking threat from Stoke to a mere ten minutes at the start of the second half - which was ended when City scored their second. It was Johnson's first Premier League start since mid October (at home to Aston Villa) and although he faded a little as the game wore on it was an impressive enough performance to suggest he will pick up plenty of minutes over the next couple of months.

This of course left Sergio Aguero as the lone striker (just when there was plenty of talk around the burgeoning Aguero/Balotelli partnership) but it was a role in which he thrived. His goal tally (for a debut season) shouldn't be underestimated (netting 13 times so far, including a hat-trick and four doubles) yet his ability to adapt to different formations has been equally impressive. This allowed Mancini the ability to bring in Johnson last night, safe in the knowledge that there would be no drop off in penetration and threat with Aguero shouldering a greater responsibility. If he is able to maintain his form over the course of the season he could well be every bit as important as the likes of David Silva or Yaya Toure to City's fortunes.

Top at Christmas then. Although no guarantee of anything in terms of titles (just eight of the 19 who have previously resided at top spot on Christmas Day have gone on to lift the Premier League) it is an important position to be in psychologically for a side who are in many ways treading new ground. The side have responded well to defeat at Chelsea, with that loss (and the Champions League exit) perhaps sharpening body and mind to the challenges ahead. Post match, Roberto Mancini spoke of likely needing 90 points to take the title - an average of 2.36 points per game. Considering City's start has seen them accrue an average of 2.58 points per game (44 points from 17 games) so far it is an indication of just how big a challenge it will be for them be crowned Premier League champions come next May.

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