City still stuttering as European mission looms large

Stoke 0 Manchester City 0

City still stuttering as European mission looms large

But, as they prepare for their first Champions League match of the season at Viktoria Plzen tomorrow night and the derby at the weekend, they are still waiting for evidence that issues of squad depth have been resolved.

Pellegrini started with just 14 different players over the course of the impressive 4-0 mauling of Newcastle, the defensive shambles of the 3-2 loss at Cardiff and the scrappy 2-0 win over Hull.

At Stoke, of the front six only Yaya Toure had started this season and it showed, with Stevan Jovetic lacking sharpness on his debut and Samir Nasri failing to translate an impressive pre-season into a genuine claim for a regular starting spot. But a third clean sheet in four matches and a point from a ground where they have never won in the Premier League is hard to rank any worse than underwhelming.

Joleon Lescott, on the bench with a hamstring problem at the Britannia Stadium, and Gael Clichy should be available tomorrow night, while Pellegrini will make a late call on whether to risk Vincent Kompany (groin).

With defenders Michael Demichelis and Micah Richards also absent, along with David Silva, few City fans will be complaining about their first Champions League away game being in Plzen, rather than the combustible games at Bayern Munich and Real Madrid that have marked the first travels of their past two campaigns.

“We’d like to have a few more points. In the first game we played really well, setting our standards high, and since then we haven’t quite hit those, for whatever reason,” midfielder James Milner admitted.

“We have a new manager and new players coming into the club so it will take time for everyone to get on the same page but the longer we spend together, and the longer we play together, the better we will be.

“And we now have a few weeks before the next international break.

“That’s more time without everyone jetting off, and the more we are together the better the manager can get across his ideas and we can work together.

“Any team that has qualified for the group stages of the Champions League are obviously a strong team and deserve to be there. The groups in previous years taught us not to take anything lightly.”

Those that have you believe Stoke are all of a sudden playing like Arsenal are a long way wide of the mark but the progress under Mark Hughes is clear and they deserved a win at the weekend, with Jon Walters and Kenwyne Jones guilty of poor finishing.

Hughes, a former City manager, believes Pellegrini will be measured by his success in the Champions League.

“I think the progression is there for everyone to see,” Hughes said.

“They have won every cup and have gone on from cup competitions to wining the Premier League and the one thing they have not been able to make any progress in is the Champions League. I suppose that is the basis on what they will judged by this year because of their lack of success in it. It is probably the one stick that people can use to hit them over the head with so they will be looking to do better in the Champions League this year I am sure.”

STOKE (4-5-1): Begovic 6; Cameron 7, Shawcross 7, Huth 7, Pieters 6; Walters 6, Nzonzi 8, Wilson 6, Adam 8 (Arnautovic 70, 7), Etherington 7 (Ireland 70, 6); Jones 7 (Crouch 77).

MANCHESTER CITY (4-4-2): Hart 7; Zabaleta 7, Garcia 7, Nastastic 7, Kolarov 6; Milner 6, Toure 6, Rodwell 7, Nasri 6 (Navas 73); Negredo 7, Jovetic 6 (Aguero 63)

Referee: Mark Clattenburg.

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