Manchester City 1 Stoke 0
It was not just the comfort blanket of footballer’s reticence that had Samir Nasri sounding cautious ahead of next week’s Capital One Cup final against Sunderland.
Set a target of a trophy a season by chief executive Ferran Soriano, Manuel Pellegrini, whose side stayed within three points of leaders Chelsea with a game in hand with this scrappy victory, are in the FA Cup quarter-finals and, for the time being, are in the Champions League, and have the first chance of silverware at Wembley on Sunday.
But while the final three months of the campaign offers so much, Nasri is still haunted by his experience with Arsenal three years ago. With the League Cup final against Birmingham to come, Arsene Wenger’s side were four points off leaders Manchester United, had beaten Barcelona 2-1 in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie and were in the FA Cup quarter-finals.
But after Obefemi Martins’ 89th minute goal secured a 2-1 win for Alex McLeish’s side, Arsenal imploded, winning just two of their remaining 14 matches.
It was a run that saw them knocked out of Europe by Barcelona, the FA Cup by Manchester United and finish 12 points adrift of Alex Ferguson’s side.
The League Cup may be the ugly little sister to the other prizes on offer but Nasri, who is becoming increasingly important for Pellegrini’s side since his return from a knee injury, thinks Sunday could be pivotal to City’s season.
“I don’t have good memories in the cup because I lost the final with Arsenal,” Nasri said.
“It can be [a good platform for the rest of the season] but I have the experience with Arsenal. We got to the Carling Cup final with Arsenal and lost and after that we won only two games in the league, so a win would be really important for us and for the confidence.”
At least Sergio Aguero is set to return to training tomorrow, after almost a month out with a hamstring injury, to refresh a flagging attack.
Alvaro Negredo appears to be struggling with the after-effects of a shoulder injury, Edin Dzeko is rarely effective — Saturday was a particularly woeful display with the Bosnian flicking on to his own leg three yards from an open goal — and Stevan Jovetic suffered a hamstring problem at the weekend as his injury problems continue.
Stoke were compact and broke well when they got the chance. They had the best two opportunities of the first half, Charlie Adam going close.
With David Silva offform, City looked like they might follow up their 2-0 defeat to Barcelona with more frustration until Yaya Toure touched in Aleksandar Kolarov’s cross with 20 minutes left.
“It was a boost for the team. After the midweek defeat, we were all down, because of the circumstances but we did the job,” Nasri added.
“We were not really fresh. And playing a team who has 10 at the back is always difficult, especially after playing a team like Barcelona.”
Stoke remain just three points above the drop and might have snatched a point if substitute Stephen Ireland had not driven wide from a good position in added time.
“I’d love to retake my chance at the end again,” Ireland said. “It’s very frustrating because they’ve not created an awful lot of chances.
“It’s going to be difficult but we’ve got a good squad. We have been working hard. There are a lot of teams going to be there or thereabouts. It’s going to be an interesting end to the season.”
MAN CITY (4-4-2): Hart 7; Zabaleta 6, Kompany 7, Demichelis 6, Kolarov 7; Nasri 7, Fernandinho 7 (Navas 63, 7), Toure 7, Silva 6; Dzeko 5, Negredo 6 (Jovetic 56, 6, Garcia 68, 6).
STOKE (4-4-1-1): Begovic 7; Cameron 7, Shawcross 7, Wilson 6, Pieters 7; Odemwingie 6, Whelan 7 (Etherington 82), Adam 7, Arnautovic 7 (Palacios 68, 6); Walters 7 (Ireland 77); Crouch 6.
Referee: Chris Foy (Lancashire).
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