Stoke 1 Manchester City 4: Kevin de Bruyne was left perplexed by the reception received by Raheem Sterling at the hands of Stoke supporters who must have struggled to recognise the performance put in by the Manchester City winger compared to the desperate efforts he displayed representing his country at Euro 2016.
Sterling’s first trip away from the Etihad Stadium this season brought a chorus of boos to his every early touch.
“I don’t know why because he’s a great English player. They should be supporting him instead of booing him. But that’s the way it goes. The City supporters will cheer him,” said De Bruyne.
“He’s a great player. I don’t care what people say about him after last year or the Euros. These things happen, footballers have ups and downs. Hopefully he can continue this for us now because he is very dangerous.”
Sterling has certainly responded well to life under Pep Guardiola, who has now seen his side win three successive games at the start of his first season in charge.
The former Liverpool winger, 21, looked overawed last season by the size of the €56m (€64.6m) transfer fee that took him from Merseyside to Manchester.
Now, he looks more purposeful and, in tandem with Sergio Aguero, proved too much for Stoke to handle.
An early shot went just over the bar but much else of what he did was spot on, apart from conceding the penalty — converted by Bojan Krkic — that briefly allowed Mark Hughes’s side back into the game just after half-time.
Sterling was ruled by referee Mike Dean to have pushed Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross, who had earlier fallen foul of the official when he gave away a spot-kick for pulling the arm of Nicolas Otamendi following a corner.
Dean certainly took to the letter of the law a new directive given to referees which aims to stop fouling in the penalty area from set-plays.
If Dean’s interpretation proves to be the benchmark for the rest of the season, there could be some high-scoring games unless, according to Stoke’s former England international Peter Crouch, who watched on as an unused substitute, players are able to learn and adapt quickly.
“I think we’ll probably have a meeting and talk about it this week because we can’t give penalties away like that. Giving Man City a goal start like that, it’s so hard to come back,” said Crouch.
“We were told they were going to give more penalties this year so we can’t say we weren’t given a warning.
“Even so, it’s hard to take. If you’re going to give penalties away like that there are going to be a lot of penalties.
“A few years ago, it was part and parcel of the game. You just knew a defender was going to hold you and impede you. It’s going to be a long season for defenders and if I get a game it will be difficult for me as well when I come back for corners.”
Aguero missed two penalties in City’s midweek Champions League win over Steaua Bucharest, but didn’t pass up another opportunity as he put City ahead after Shawcross’s indiscretion. When he then headed home a De Bruyne free-kick he took his goal tally to six in three games.
When Stoke’s brief revival came to nothing, Aguero was given a late breather but City didn’t settle for what they had, substitute Nolito tapping in his first two Premier League goals to show Guardiola’s men mean business.
Given 6; Bardsley 6, Shawcross 5, Wollscheid 6, Pieters 6; Whelan 6, Imbula 6; Bojan 7, Allen 7, Arnautovic 6; Diouf 5.
Haugaard, Muniesa, Adam, Walters, Cameron, Crouch, Ramadan.
Caballero 7; Zabaleta 7, Otamendi 7, Stones 7, Kolarov 7; Fernandinho 7; Navas 6, De Bruyne 6, Silva 7, Sterling 8; Aguero 8.
Hart, Fernando, Nolito, Delph, Clichy, Maffeo, Iheanacho.
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