Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Pep Guardiola saw his team squander the opportunity to gain ground on Premier League leaders Chelsea in a disappointing 0-0 draw with Stoke City at the Etihad on Wednesday.
It was a strangely subdued performance by City, the result perhaps of Guardiola having opted to rest David Silva and Raheem Sterling from his all-star cast of attacking talent.
But given the fact that City had the chance to close the gap to Chelsea to eight points and move above Tottenham into second place, Guardiola’s players were well below their best.
In fact, the best chances of the first period fell to Stoke, led by former City manager Mark Hughes, who were looking to improve on a record of defeats in five of their last six away games.
They could have been well on the way to that target after just five minutes when Eirk Pieters crossed from the left wing and Gael Clichy slipped as he attempted to mark Mame Biram Diouf on the six-yard line.
Fortunately for the City defender and the home supporters, Clichy still managed to provide an obstacle and Diouf’s shot lacked the power to beat Willy Caballero in goal.
Another good attack saw Saido Berahino, starting his first game for Stoke since his controversial transfer from West Brom, play in Ramadan Sobhi, who might have won a penalty had he gone down under a challenge from Nicolas Otamendi, but played on and had his cross cut out by the goalkeeper’s outstretched leg.
Soon after Phil Bardsley’s free-kick into the City area picked out the unmarked Bruno Martins Indi although the big Stoke defender was unable to control the ball.
As the half wore on City began to exert more control but without providing visiting keeper Lee Grant with too many moments of concern.
Aleksandar Kolarov came closest to scoring for City in that period with a superbly judged free-kick which rose and dipped over the Stoke wall and required Grant to punch away to safety.
But all too often City seemed to over-complicate their approach play and, with Silva watching from the bench and the rested Sterling not even in the squad, lacked their usual cutting edge.
Jesus Navas had a rare chance to provide quality service but his near-post cross was well handled by Grant and, in first-half injury time, Otamendi’s long ball looked about to be gathered by Kevin De Bruyne with just the keeper to beat but the ball ran beyond his reach.