defeat on Saturday as their Premier League title hopes suffered a
serious blow at Stoke City.
Xherdan Shaqiri, their £12 million ($18.1 million, 16.7 million
euros) record signing, was at the heart of the success with assists for the two goals and a wonderful all-round display.
Despite leading the table at the start of the day, Manchester City
now have just one win from their last four league games and are
experiencing a very tough spell of the season.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side improved slightly after half-time, but
rarely threatened a fightback after a dreadful defensive display in the
Stoke made a dream start as Arnautovic gave them a seventh-minute lead following fine work from Shaqiri on the right.
The Switzerland international showed fine balance to get the better
of Fernando on the touchline before crossing for Arnautovic, who darted
between two defenders to finish.
Kevin De Bruyne had a chance to level for the visitors after skipping
from midfield to the edge of the area, but his tame shot on 14 minutes
was well saved by goalkeeper Jack Butland.
A minute later Stoke doubled their lead as Shaqiri and Arnautovic combined again.
– Fernando limps off –
There was more brilliance from Shaqiri, whose superb turn outfoxed
Fernando before his fabulous pass gave Arnautovic the chance to produce a
cool, low finish for 2-0.
After a quiet spell, Bojan threatened to score a bizarre third goal
for Stoke when he made the most of several ricochets to ride three
challenges before eventually being crowded out 10 yards from goal.
Then Stoke had a glorious chance to add to their tally when a
back-heel from Ibrahim Afellay released Glenn Whelan on the left and the
midfielder’s cross was headed wide at the near post by Arnautovic.
Arnautovic missed an even better chance to put the game beyond City
just before the interval when he was released by another fine Shaqiri
pass, only to see his shot bounce back off the right-hand post.
City goalkeeper Joe Hart had to make a smart save early in the second
half to block a shot from Bojan after another weaving run from the
Barcelona striker. The rebound fell to Arnautovic, who fired just wide.
Then the Austrian went close again when he collected a wonderful
flick from Bojan and closed in on goal before sending a firm cross-shot
just wide of the far post.
Bojan was the next to go close for the hosts when he collected a
clever pass by Shaqiri and beat Hart to the ball before having his run
checked by the visiting goalkeeper.
The afternoon got worse for Pellegrini when Fernando was forced to
limp off on 73 minutes, reducing his side to 10 men, with three
substitutes already used.
City applied some pressure in the second half, but Butland, Hart’s
deputy with England, was rarely called into action as Mark Hughes’s men
dug in for a resonant victory.