The sight of Pep Guardiola marching onto the pitch after the final whistle to lecture Leroy Sane said it all: the Manchester City manager wants more. This comfortable victory, earned through two sublime David Silva goals, was not enough in a campaign in which City can break all kinds of Premier League records. And, with the Champions League draw on Friday, still achieve even greater things.
City will be in Abu Dhabi when that draw takes place, as they enjoy a break before resuming their campaign against Everton at the end of this month. Win that and it means that they can claim the title in their next fixture – which just happens to be against Manchester United at home on April 7. The countdown is on.
Guardiola said that City will “come back stronger” from the Middle East and it sounded like a threat as much as a promise. Just how much stronger can this dazzling City side be? Stoke are no mugs under Paul Lambert and, as they should, they fought for their lives as they desperately try and beat relegation. But they did not even register a shot on target.
Interestingly, Guardiola chose to highlight the fact that this result meant City had achieved the double over Stoke for the first time since 1999-2000, and it shone a light on the fact that such records and achievements really do matter to him.
Guardiola does not want to just win this league but to achieve new landmarks in doing so. Already City have earned 81 points, the first team to achieve that after 30 games, and the highest-ever points total in the Premier League – Chelsea’s 95 under Jose Mourinho in 2004-05 – is in Guardiola’s sights. City can top 100 points and, with 85 goals already, can beat the record of 103 achieved by Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea in 2009-10. A double century – 100 points; 100 goals – is possible.
This result also means that City surpassed their points total of 78 earned last season. And have done so with eight games to go.
But it is not enough. It also matters to Guardiola that City do not relent once the Premier League is won and stay full-on in Europe. There was an insight into that in the way he spoke to Sane, who had wasted chances, and he also called over captain Vincent Kompany to instruct him once Stoke had brought on substitute Peter Crouch. Kompany later joked that he was pretty well aware what that would mean tactically.
The goals were worthy of winning any match. They summed up the silky brilliance of City as they cut through Stoke. The first came after just 10 mintes with Fernandinho, fit again and recalled, playing the ball in to Gabriel Jesus who turned and took out three Stoke players with a pass that released Raheem Sterling down the right. Sterling looked up quickly and crossed low for the onrushing Silva who arrived between two more Stoke defenders to side-foot first time into the net. It was breathtaking, marvellous stuff.
It also quickly set back Stoke’s plan to defend deep and try to counter aggressively, with Jese asked to take on the City centre-halves. Their best outlet was matching up Xherdan Shaqiri against Oleksandr Zinchenko and the Swiss international nutmegged the full-back before teeing up Badou Ndiaye whose shot deflected off Fernandinho’s foot and flew narrowly past the post.
So would we have a contest after all? It seemed possible when Jack Butland – in front of the watching England manager Gareth Southgate, who announces his next squad on Thursday – launched a goal-kick which flew over Kompany’s head, with Jese running through. Kyle Walker recovered but toed the ball, looping it over Ederson who back-pedalled to tip it over the cross-bar.
At the other end, though, City racked up chances. After Guardiola’s accusations that his team forgot to attack following the Champions League defeat at home to Basle last week, this was a clear response with Butland turning away a low Fernandinho shot and then watching, relieved, as Sane volleyed just wide.
Stoke were, rightly, cheered off at half-time. No-one could fault their effort. They had worked hard, they had bitten into tackles and tried to close down their opponents, even if there was always that sense that City were a simple shift through the gears away from extending their advantage.
And they did just that. Sterling won the ball back and found Fernandinho who played it in to Silva. The midfielder’s first touch deftly picked out Jesus who lifted the ball across the area. Should Butland have come from his goal quicker? Instead he hesitated but Silva was always going to get there first and he guided the ball into the net.
City poured forward. De Bruyne struck the side-netting from a tight angle when through, then Sterling tricked his way beyond Kostas Stafylidis and dumped Geoff Cameron to the turf – only for his close-range shot to be saved by Butland with his outstretched leg. There was more: a Zinchenko shot beaten away, a curling Sane effort just wide, Walker slicing wildly when clear and Butland saving from Sane.
Stoke desperately needed some respite and almost achieved it when Crouch headed a free-kick back across goal for Maxim Choupo-Moting who headed it back again to Bruno Martins Indi, only for the defender to blast his volley over from four yards.
So there would be no late drama except when Sterling provoked an angry response as he whisked away possession, following a drop-ball after a clash of heads, and ran through on goal only to be tackled by a furious Ndiaye. It led to some pushing and shoving. It was the only aggravation this imperious City side faced all evening.