ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
Stoke City 2
Manchester City 0
LONDON • A day after Manuel Pellegrini refused to rule out the possibility of a quadruple for Manchester City, his side failed to put in a performance worthy of champions.
They went to the Britannia Stadium as the Premier League leaders yesterday, and left 0-2 losers.
Stoke City put on a masterclass and were everything Pellegrini's men hoped to be - quick, slick and teeming with dazzling trickery.
The headline acts in Stoke's fourth consecutive home victory were Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic, who scored both goals and could have had a hat-trick.
Shaqiri was the Potters' creator and the visitors' tormentor-in-chief. It was his two sublime balls that punched the hole in the visiting defence from which Arnautovic beat Joe Hart.
Said Shaqiri: "We tried this (partnership with Arnautovic) in training so we of course are happy that we scored in the game like this.
"It is important that we play how the coach wants and today we see that from the first minute we want to win the game.
"The two goals were very nice."
While Stoke were impressive, the visitors were close to embarrassing. They went down toothless - hitting passes straight out, lacking a first touch and having all base elements of the elite player missing.
The fault line in Pellegrini's team runs through the defence. When Vincent Kompany is absent, as he was again yesterday, they struggle.
Martin Demichelis, the replacement for the Belgian, had already been left behind by a skipping Arnautovic before he punished City with the opener.
This time, the Austrian beat Demichelis to Shaqiri's perfectly measured cross and it was 1-0.
Yet, the centre-back would not have been exposed if Fernando had challenged the Swiss to prevent him motoring forward and finding Arnautovic.
More of the same slipshod defending was about to come.
The Stoke No. 10's first came after seven minutes, his next was on the quarter-hour.
Again, Shaqiri was the provider. Again, Fernando failed to reach him. This time, the forward skipped infield from the right and passed forward towards Bojan Krkic.
The latter failed to collect and the ball travelled on to Arnautovic.
Bacary Sagna may have been covering across from right-back but he should still have been closer. He was not and Hart was given no chance by Arnautovic for the fifth of the campaign for the club.
So scant were the visitors' forays into Stoke territory that any felt like news. Kevin de Bruyne was as becalmed as Raheem Sterling, Wilfried Bony and David Silva.
At the other end, Stoke's ability to knife through the Sky Blues had become regulation stuff by the time the break arrived.
The potent Shaqiri-Arnautovic axis again came close. The former beat the comatose rearguard with the same familiar ball around the back and the latter was unlucky his shot rebounded off the post.
By the closing third of the contest, Jesus Navas for Silva, Kelechi Iheanacho for Bony, and Fabian Delph for Fernandinho, had all been thrown on by Pellegrini.
The changes made scant difference. Just like the 4-1 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur and at home to Liverpool, City seem more like title pretenders than genuine contenders.