Manchester City warm up for Real Madrid with comfortable win over Stoke
Manchester City warmed up for Real Madrid by moving back into third place in the Premier League with a 4-0 victory over Stoke.
The empty seats at the Etihad demonstrated this was far from City's biggest match of the week but, with Manchester United breathing down their necks, it was undoubtedly an important one for their top-four hopes.
And they made sure there were no more slip-ups after the midweek draw with Newcastle to climb back above Arsenal, for 24 hours at least.
Fernando's header and a Sergio Aguero penalty put City two up at the break, and the impressive Kelechi Iheanacho's second-half double sealed the points.
Stoke conceded four goals for a third successive match and look set to finish a positive season on a low note.
Manuel Pellegrini's selection clearly had Tuesday's Champions League semi-final in mind, with Kevin De Bruyne on the bench and Vincent Kompany missing from the squad altogether.
Stoke were dealt a major blow before kick-off when it was confirmed Ibrahim Afellay suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury in training on Friday, potentially ruling him out until 2017.
The hosts almost scored after six minutes when Aguero set up Iheanacho, making his fourth Premier League start, and the youngster curled a shot just wide.
At the other end, Glenn Whelan tested Joe Hart with an audacious free-kick and Ryan Shawcross had a good sight of goal from a corner but snatched at his effort.
Stoke attacks were few and far between but ironically the visitors were having their best spell of the match when City opened the scoring in the 35th minute.
The Potters were weak at defending crosses against Liverpool last weekend and that was the case again as Fernando nipped ahead of Geoff Cameron at the near post and flicked his header into the far corner.
The goal helped lift City out of third gear and further pressure was rewarded when Shawcross hauled down Iheanacho after he had played a one-two with Yaya Toure.
Aguero's 43rd-minute penalty gave Shay Given no chance in the week he turned 40, finding the bottom corner for his 28th goal of the season.
So comfortable were City that centre-back Nicolas Otamendi tried a shot from 40 yards as the half drew to a close.
That proved to be the end of Given's afternoon, with Jakob Haugaard - 17 years the Irishman's junior - sent on for the second half.
Stoke improved markedly after the break and Mato Joselu should have scored with a shot from 10 yards but sent it over the bar before Mame Biram Diouf headed just wide.
In between, Iheanacho gave Haugaard an early test with a fizzing shot that the Dane pushed over the bar.
Marko Arnautovic was proving a handful and he forced Hart into a save but, as in the first half, a period of Stoke pressure ended with a City goal.
Pablo Zabaleta, making his 300th City appearance, got away down the right and cut the ball back for Iheanacho to tap home in the 64th minute.
The teenager was enjoying himself and 10 minutes later, with Stoke's defence caught square, he ran onto substitute Wilfried Bony's pass and rounded Haugaard before slotting home.
It was a thoroughly miserable return to his former club for Stoke boss Mark Hughes, who had been looking for a third straight win against City.
The only concern for Pellegrini, meanwhile, was an apparent thigh injury picked up by Toure late on, although he was able to finish the game.
TWEET OF THE MATCH
"4 goals. 3 points. Ready for the semi-final on Tuesday. #CmonCity #MCFC" - absent City skipper Vincent Kompany (https://twitter.com/VincentKompany/status/723872284604284928)
Joe Hart: 7
Pablo Zabaleta: 7
Eliaquim Mangala: 6
Nicolas Otamendi: 6
Aleksandar Kolarov: 6
Yaya Toure: 6
Jesus Navas: 7
David Silva: 6
Sergio Aguero: 7
Kelechi Iheanacho: 8
Fabian Delph (on for Silva, 57): 6
Wilfried Bony (on for Aguero, 65): 6
Martin Demichelis (on for Fernando, 72): 6
Shay Given: 6
Phil Bardsley: 6
Ryan Shawcross: 5
Philipp Wollscheid: 5
Marc Muniesa: 6
Geoff Cameron: 5
Glenn Whelan: 6
Giannelli Imbula: 7
Mame Biram Diouf: 6
Marko Arnautovic: 7
Jakob Haugaard (on for Given, 46): 6
Charlie Adam (on for Arnautovic, 75): 6
Kelechi Iheanacho. Manuel Pellegrini has been reluctant to start the teenager this season, frustrating City fans by using Wilfried Bony alongside Sergio Aguero, yet he took his chance here with a second-half brace. In doing so, he may be Pellegrini's first thought when he looks to his bench against Real Madrid in midweek.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
The defending for City's fourth and final goal was dreadful but Iheanacho showed real composure to round Jakob Haugaard and roll the ball into the empty net. The 19-year-old had shown great anticipation and pace to burst between the two Potters centre-backs at first in the build-up to his 11th goal of the season.
VIEW FROM THE BENCH
Pellegrini was able to rest Kompany, Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling without slipping up in the race for the top four. Mark Hughes was unable to have such a luxury, with Ibrahim Afellay suffering a serious knee injury in training on Friday and Shay Given and Marko Arnautovic both withdrawn here having seemingly picked up problems as well.
MOAN OF THE MATCH
Stoke's end-of-season apathy was once again evident and this was the third straight game in which they have conceded four times.
WHO'S UP NEXT?
Manchester City v Real Madrid (Champions League, Tuesday, April 26)
Stoke v Sunderland (Barclays Premier League, Saturday, April 30)
Iheanacho told Sky Sports 1: "I'm very pleased, very happy to score goals today.
"I think I'm improving a lot, I need to work hard in training and in games to show my quality.
"Any time I'm in the game, I know I have to work hard."
Goalkeeper Hart was able to enjoy the youngster's performance from his vantage point at the other end of the field and he said: "He's been brilliant.
"He turned up last pre-season somewhat unknown, it's fair to say, but he's worked hard and got stuck in.
"He's an asset to our squad and we're pleased to have him, proud he's come through our academy and is scoring goals."
The win continues City's strong form ahead of the Real showdown.
And Hart said: "It's really important, since the international break we've done well.
"We've done well in the Champions League and we need to keep that going."