This was a dominant City performance. The type that hasn’t been seen often enough this season, yet the type that last season’s success was built on. Stoke City, a side with one of the best defensive records in Europe so far this term, and a team known for being difficult to play against, were made to look second-rate and tactically inflexible. This was excellent from the Blues.
Man of the Match from a long list of candidates was Gareth Barry, who continues to excel and prove the doubters wrong. Criticisms of Barry used to annoy me. It was frustrating that a player so effective for us would seldom receive praise from anyone outside the City ranks. Their criticisms now make me laugh with pity. If you don’t rate Gareth Barry and the role he plays for City, you really should stop watching football. This was classic Barry. Interceptions, tackles, simple and effective passes: the man is vital to our cause. I’ve said it many times but you notice just how good he is when he doesn’t play because there is a great big gaping hole that no one else seems capable of filling.
Sergio Aguero was another to excel yesterday, with a dazzling display of speed and skill. His talent is matched by his work-rate, and he caused Stoke all sorts of problems, just like he did to Norwich in the previous game. Clichy and Milner were also superb and deserving of praise. Clichy’s pace and ability to move us forward with surging runs is so good to watch, and he is far and away the best left-back at the club. Milner, I feel, will have a hugely important role to play this season.
Attention now turns to the transfer window. The site of Harry Redknapp conducting a 9am interview with Sky Sports News, window down and cockney accent turned up to 11, brought in the new year in familiar fashion. Demba Ba looks set to join Chelsea, with Sturridge going to Liverpool. But what about City? Mancini said in his pre-match press conference on Monday that we will ‘probably’ do a deal but what the scale of any deals will be remains a mystery. The idea of us doing a £60m deal for Falcao seems remote, but there are other potential deals to be done, not least Fernando Llorente, the Spanish international striker who has six months of his Bilbao contract left. He’s a class act and looks set to leave, with Juventus leading the race to sign him. He would be an ideal replacement for Edin Dzeko were the bosnian to leave City, but his goalscoring form this season now has many wondering whether we should hang on to him. My view is simple: if we could offload Dzeko and sign Llorente, I’d do it. Dzeko’s goals have been important but he struggles to start games because he can’t get involved in the intricate passing and one-touch football that the likes of Aguero, Nasri, Silva and Tevez like to play. Llorente has the ability to do that as well as be a target man. Sign him up.
Theo Walcott is another who is available. City need pace and Walcott has bags of it, and he wouldn’t cost the earth. Walcott is far from class but he has elements to his game that City could benefit from. It’s also easy to forget that he is only 23. He has scored 14 goals in 21 appearances this season, and even has 9 assists to his name. That is outstanding. Maybe he is just starting to fulfill his undoubted potential, and with his contract running down it may not be the worst deal City could do. The British quota system is the reason we bought Rodwell and Sinclair. Walcott is better than both of those.