ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
Manchester City 4
Stoke City 0
LONDON • Pablo Zabaleta is a cult hero to the Manchester City faithful and unsung in the wider football consciousness.
Yet, the way he zoomed along the right and then selflessly created Kelechi Iheanacho's third goal yesterday was a moment worthy of marking his 300th appearance for the club.
The Nigerian's 10th goal of a breakthrough campaign came on 64 minutes and allowed his team to cruise home. Iheanacho bagged a second towards the end after substitute Wilfried Bony played him in.
On Tuesday, Real Madrid will be at the Etihad stadium for the Champions League semi-final, first leg and this was ideal preparation. Real had to come from two down at Rayo Vallecano to triumph 3-2 with a double from Gareth Bale.
The Stoke win lifted Manuel Pellegrini's men up to third place in the Premier League on 64 points with three matches remaining, though Arsenal can leapfrog them today if they win at Sunderland.
RESULTS & FIXTURES
Manchester City 4 Stoke 0
Liverpool 2 Newcastle 2
Bournemouth 1 Chelsea 4
Aston Villa 2 Southampton 4
Sunderland v Arsenal
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Leicester City v Swansea City
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In the reverse fixture in early December, Pellegrini's side were given a schooling, Stoke beating them 2-0.
The start yesterday suggested a differing story. There were chances for each team but none of the slick passing and domination Mark Hughes' side enjoyed at the Britannia Stadium.
City always look dangerous when they come forward. Jesus Navas was the key man in the opening goal that came in the 35th minute.
The Spaniard raced towards the byline and hit a low cross in that was turned away for a corner.
Navas then hit over a enticing ball that found Fernando and his glancing header beat 40-year-old 'keeper Shay Given at the far post for a goal that was old-school in its direct and simple manner.
City had a second as the interval neared. What can be missed in Sergio Aguero's act as a top scorer is how sweet a footballer he is.
The 27-year-old fashioned a casual yet killer pass along the right touchline that would lead to the penalty he converted for a 23rd Premier League strike of another stellar campaign.
When the play eventually reached Stoke's area, Iheanacho was pulled down by Ryan Shawcross and, after a pause, the referee, Robert Madley, pointed to the spot. Up stepped the lethal Aguero to give Given no chance to his right.
In the 64th and 74th minutes came the Iheanacho show, with some fine support from Zabaleta and Bony. There was a scare near the end when Yaya Toure went down injured, but he continued to the end.
Pellegrini will hope the Ivorian is fine and that they have hit peak form as Cristiano Ronaldo and company arrive in town.