Manchester City 1-0 Stoke: Man City clinch first trophy since 1976 after Toure strike
Yaya Toure’s powerful shot 15 minutes from time gave Roberto Mancini’s men the victory.
Mancini was able to call upon Carlos Tevez upfront, meaning Edin Dzeko dropped to the bench. Mario Balotelli started on the wing, and Aleksander Kolarov played over Pablo Zabaleta at left-back.
Tony Pulis brought Matthew Etherington back into the side – though he didn’t look fit – and Robert Huth also recovered from injury to play at the back. Thomas Sorensen got the nod over Asmir Begovic in goal.
City were better throughout the game – never quite in complete control, but always the better side. They carried out their gameplan more effectively than Stoke.
Formations / Stoke threat
The battle of formations was pretty much as expected. City were 4-2-3-1, Stoke were more 4-4-1-1 than 4-4-2, as Jon Walters was asked to keep goalside of Nigel de Jong in the midfield zone.
That was part of Stoke’s problem, because Walters was therefore forced to play far too deep and this meant Kenwyne Jones lacked support throughout the contest. For his part, Jones played the centre-forward role very well – he won free-kicks from Vincent Kompany (who looked uncomfortable coming up the pitch) won headers against both centre-backs, had a penalty shout in the first half when he caused Kompany problems, and also had Stoke’s best chance of the game when getting on the end of an Etherington ball over the top in the second.
That was the extent of Stoke’s threat, however. With Walters deep, Etherington lacking his sharpness and Jermaine Pennant’s delivery from the right rather poor, Stoke were underwhelming. Stoke are notoriously a long ball side , but their passing performance in open play was poor even by their standards – Opta recorded, for example, that Stoke’s first half pass completion ratio was their worst of the season, and by the end of the game half of their outfield players finished with below a 50% pass completion ratio. They were outnumbered in the midfield zone and didn’t spread the play wide well enough.
In open play, the main point of note was how City brought their wide players inside and were fluid in and around the penalty box. Sometimes this produced chances in itself – Balotelli cut in and forced a superb save from Sorensen, whilst Silva found himself with a great chance but thumped the ball into the ground and over the bar. On other occasions, it opened up space for the City full-backs to get forward – Kolarov was a real threat down the left but his delivery was erratic. Micah Richards was a little too reserved on the other side and could have asked more questions of the half-fit Etherington, especially with the excellent Nigel de Jong providing protection deep in midfield.
Delap’s throws were dealt with reasonably well, and Pennant’s free-kicks from the right were disappointing. In fact, the most interesting set-pieces were goal-kicks – when Stoke had one, they brought their wide players inside to try and get on the end of Jones’ flick-ons (the only time he had support in the game) and when City had one, Stoke pressed them high up the pitch which forced Joe Hart to go long, often conceding possession. Hart also conceded possession when he tried quick goal-kicks after set-pieces, with Stoke’s centre-backs were up the pitch. He is a fine goalkeeper, but his distribution is not quite at the level it should be.
Aside from the wide players coming inside, City often looked dangerous when players moved forward from deep, central positions. Both Toure and Kompany had efforts from long distance – with Stoke’s two central midfielders moving towards their own centre-backs quickly and Walters staying on De Jong (rather than in a specific zone), City had space in that area of the pitch.
Pulis elected not to make a chance at half time, despite his two wide players struggling and Stoke being outplayed in midfield.
With the same XIs for the second half, the game continued in the same pattern. City were the better side, and despite Jones’ golden chance, looked more likely in front of goal.
Etherington’s injury eventually meant he had to depart, with Dean Whitehead coming on and Delap going left. This meant that they looked more readily to Pennant on the right, but Kolarov was more defensive in the second half and had few problems.
Mancini gambled on 72 minutes with an attacking move – Gareth Barry off, Adam Johnson on. Barry may have been carrying a knock, but it was still positive for Mancini to go with an extra attacking player, rather than with Patrick Vieira, for example. Silva came inside and Johnson went to the left, with Toure dropping deeper.
This had a clear impact for the goal – Toure may have been starting off further out, of course, but he still got forward, and it was notable how many players City had in the box for the goal, as Toure arrived late to crash the ball in. That wouldn’t have happened if the more reserved Barry had been the ’second function’ midfielder rather than Toure, so Mancini’s substitution deserves credit.
Stoke caused few problems late on. John Carew replaced Delap with Walters coming to the left, but Stoke looked physically drained and were unable to win the ball back quickly enough. Their natural response without the ball – to drop deep and wait for attacks to come, was no longer good enough and Manchester City were calm in the final ten minutes.
Mancini brought on Zabaleta for Tevez and went 5-4-1ish, with a spare man at the back against the double aerial threat of Carew and Jones, and Vieira replaced Silva very late on for extra protection, but Manchester City were comfortable and deserved the win.
Stoke didn’t play well. They didn’t carry out either aspect of their gameplan well enough – the classic physical/long ball threat was not as dangerous as usual, partly because of a high line from Mancini, and partly because Jones didn’t get enough support. They didn’t play well enough on the floor, either, unlike in the 5-0 semi final win over Bolton – despite a fine pitch, the passing was wayward and they were hampered by Etherington and Pennant’s reduced mobility.
Mancini’s side were not spectacular, but very well organised and, with the exception of Jones single-handedly causing Kompany and Joleon Lescott physical problems, composed with and without the ball. Tactically, Mancini got things spot on here. His side were in control of the game early on, and then he injected another attacking player to add fresh impetus when Stoke were growing into the contest.