Man City's march to the title continues at Stoke after David Silva's double
STOKE-ON-TRENT, England -- Three quick thoughts from Manchester City's 2-0 Premier League win over Stoke at the bet365 Stadium on Monday.
1. Man City's title march continues
If there were any doubters left that Pep Guardiola's philosophy won't work in the Premier League, the final argument must surely now have been buried by a victory on a notorious wet and windy Monday night at Stoke City.
The gritty Potters are seen as the ultimate English test for the flamboyant passing style of foreign coaches, but City's march to the title never realistically looked like suffering a hiccup at the bet365 Stadium.
It wasn't an entirely comfortable evening, but City did enough to reinstate their 16-point lead at the top of the table and now just need three wins for Guardiola to secure his first title in England. It could be done even earlier with the dream scenario for City supporters still on: clinching the crown against United in a Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium.
But that game is four weeks away with City now facing a 19-day break before their next fixture. In the meantime, they can enjoy a warm-weather break to Abu Dhabi and catching up with owner Sheikh Mansour, who cannot have expected more this season despite another lavish spending spree in the summer.
And Guardiola's side will be delighted to head for the sun immediately after the game and a chance to recharge their batteries following a night of old-school Stoke. Paul Lambert's side have reverted back to the loud and uncomfortable tactics that had made it so unpleasant for visitors when Tony Pulis was in charge.
It didn't work in the early stages, with City enjoying more than 80 percent possession and cutting open the Stoke defence inside 10 minutes. Raheem Sterling, back for his first start in five games after injury, cleverly exchanged passes with Gabriel Jesus before laying the ball back for David Silva, who didn't need to break stride to smash his shot past Jack Butland.
Stoke tried to battle their way back into the game. Badou Ndiaye went close to an equaliser with a deflected shot from the edge of the box while Kyle Walker almost put through his own net with a mis-hit challenge.
But City took total control after half-time, and in the 50th minute Silva added a second, looping a shot over Butland after more good work from Jesus.
Sterling, Leroy Sane and Walker should all have added more goals in the second half, but a mixture of Butland saves and wayward shooting meant Stoke at least managed an improvement on their 7-2 defeat at the Etihad Stadium in October.
2. Silva shines again
There are few players in England who know what's needed to win Premier League titles more than David Silva, and the Spanish international looks destined to secure a third medal as a City player. With a young City forward line of Jesus (20), Sane (22) and Sterling (23), Silva stepped forward on an awkward night.
He has become a more regular scorer for Spain recently, playing further forward and contributing seven goals in his past nine appearances, and could potentially beat his best goalscoring season of 12 for City -- having scored eight already this season.
But his performances this season have been all the more remarkable given the backdrop of difficult personal circumstances after his son was born prematurely in December. Silva missed last week's Champions League game against Basel to be with his family and will fly back to Valencia while his teammates go to the United Arab Emirates.
"He is a huge competitor," Guardiola said in the build-up to the Stoke game. "He is shy, he doesn't speak too much, but on the pitch when the moment is there and the game is on, he is the guy who never hides in tough conditions when the game is not going well. He makes a step forward and that is so important."
Silva stepped up again at Stoke.
3. Stoke need goals
Lambert has tightened the Stoke defence since his arrival in January, but their lack of goals or even threat is a big concern to their hopes of beating the drop.
Stoke have now managed just three goals in their past six games, and carried sporadic threat in a game that was effectively a free hit with no one expecting a result against the champions-elect.
With Mame Biram Diouf injured and Saido Berahino bereft of confidence after going without a goal in more than two years, Lambert opted to give Jese his first start since October. The former Real Madrid striker has scored just once -- on his debut in August -- since his summer loan switch from Paris Saint-Germain and there was little opportunity for him to add to his tally against City.
Despite having Xherdan Shaqiri and Maxim Choupo-Moting playing outside him, Jese was often far too isolated with the wide men acting as auxiliary full-backs in an attempt to stop City's attacks. Shaqiri had some joy against rookie left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko, and nutmegged the Ukrainian for Stoke's best chance in the first half when he pulled the ball back for Ndiaye, but his shot from the edge of the box deflected off Fernandinho and just wide.
But it was a tough night for Jese, who was forced to chase too many long balls and was comfortably shackled by experienced duo Vincent Kompnay and Nicolas Otamendi. He was taken off after 62 minutes and replaced by Peter Crouch, who instantly won a header that resulted in a rare sight of goal, but Bruno Martins Indi blasted high over the bar.
Stoke need goals if they are to fight their way out of the bottom three, but it's difficult to see where they are going to come from.
Jonathan is ESPN FC's Manchester City correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @jonnysmiffy.