Staring at a possible six-point deficit to Chelsea, Manchester City's Premier League season was in jeopardy as they unsuccessfully labored through much of their match against our old friend Mark Hughes and Stoke City. With a match in hand, it's not as though as a draw here would've officially eliminated City, but with the next Premier League match not coming until March 15 against Hull City, anything less than the full three points would've probably left City manager Manuel Pellegrini clawing for another nationality to kick out of football.
Yaya Toure changed that, though, when the Ivorian finished Alexsandar Kolarov's service in the 70th minute. The goal, a skillful and peculiar one in which Toure looked to have the flexibility of a ballerina, was exactly the decisive moment City needed to return within three points of first place. City's 1-0 victory was neither pretty nor super exciting, but it got the job done in terms of keeping pace in an extremely tight battle at the top of the Premier League.
Toure would be my pick for MOTM, followed closely by David Silva. Silva's only shortcoming was his reluctance to shoot, which probably cost City a second goal after a clever interplay between him and Toure.
Samir Nasri returned from injury to play the full 90, an encouraging sign for Pellegrini. With matches building up, Pellegrini will need every available body, as his quest for the quadruple--while obviously a bleak idea after the Barca match--is still alive.
Unfortunately for the Blues, problems at forward persisted. I didn't expect much from the Edin Dzeko-Alvaro Negredo pair, and for the majority of the match they were paired together, they looked like someone trying to cut a steak with a spoon and a hammer. Dzeko did come very close with a curling effort in the first half, but the ball rolled just wide of fellow Bosnian Asmir Begovic's goal.
Stevan Jovetic replaced Negredo in the 56th minute, but he only lasted 14 minutes before suffering what was reported as a hamstring injury. 99% of the squad seems to have suffered a hamstring injury this season; it's becoming as inevitable as commentators calling David Silva a magician. (Speaking of: when was the last time we made it 60 minutes before a magic reference?)
Javi Garcia came on to replace the injured Jovetic, which provided Yaya much more freedom to attack. I know Pellegrini will ride the two-striker bandwagon forever, but I'm convinced that the Aguero-less City look best with a single striker.
Minutes after Toure's goal, Dzeko took a shot right into his other leg, which in my eyes was the miss of the season for City thus far. Dzeko's hilarious miss--only because City were winning--from approximately eight millimeters was given an exclamation point when he kicked the post in disgust afterward. Dzeko looked understandably frustrated all game, and the imminent return of Sergio Aguero will thankfully give Pellegrini a chance to change things up.
The defense looked a whole lot better against Stoke than they did against Barcelona--a big surprise. As president of the Anyone But Martin Demichelis Club, I have to offer an apology to the Argentine, who looked solid today. His lack of mobility is far less obvious against a team like Stoke. He and Vincent Kompany performed well today, and provided City the luxury of really throwing numbers forward in the second half.
Joe Hart didn't have much to do, as Stoke only put two shots on frame. City's keeper did a lot of shrieking in the first half, though, so he might want to give his vocal chords a rest before the League Cup final.
City return to the pitch next Sunday with the chance at their first trophy of the season at Wembley against Sunderland.
What did everyone else think?