Manchester City remain seven points behind leaders Manchester United after a comfortable 3-0 victory over Stoke City at the Etihad Stadium.
Close-range finishes from Pablo Zabaleta and Edin Dzeko put City in firm control before Sergio Aguero completed the scoring with a penalty that was awarded despite Steven Nzonzi fouling David Silva outside the box after 73 minutes.
However, Roberto Mancini's side lost the game's outstanding attacker, Aguero, to what appeared to be a hamstring injury, taking the shine off a fourth win in five games that keeps them in touch with their local rivals.
Ryan Shawcross returned from suspension to strengthen the Premier League's meanest defence. For Manchester City, meanwhile, Samir Nasri started a three-game ban and was replaced by James Milner, with Joleon Lescott also in for Matija Nastasic.
Dzeko retained his place after scoring twice against Norwich but, as ever, the focal point of the Manchester City attack was the lively figure of Aguero, who inside two minutes had forced Asmir Begovic into action with a firm drive at the near post. He then collected a delicious pass from Gareth Barry to chest down and rifle another effort over from 10 yards.
The champions dominated possession as they spread the ball over the full breadth of the Etihad Stadium turf. They were so comfortable, in fact, that centre-back Vincent Kompany even felt empowered to do his best Crisitano Ronaldo impression with a lovely stepover to move past Glenn Whelan.
The chances continued to flow for Aguero and after he had another shot repelled by Begovic, the Argentina international struck the post with a header at the near post when ghosting in to meet a cross from Barry. Just seconds earlier, only a fantastic tackle from Andy Wilkinson prevented him from tapping home from a Milner ball.
When City did take the lead on 43 minutes it was from an Argentine's boot, but not the expected one. Silva poked a fine pass through for Milner and though Begovic got a boot to his low cross, the ball rolled into the path of Zabaleta, who tucked it home with a neat finish.
If Aguero and Zabaleta had been the central protagonists of the first half, then in the second it was time for Dzeko to shine. That much was clear when he ran onto a fine through-ball from Yaya Toure to smash a fierce effort just over the bar.
After 56 minutes he did have his third goal in two games though. The champions surprised Stoke with a quick free-kick that allowed Aguero to spin in behind Whelan and get a stabbed effort away. Begovic spilled the ball to the feet of Dzeko and he swept his shot home, celebrating by revealing a t-shirt reading 'Happy New Year' and being booked as a result.
Stoke were denied a possible route back into the contest when play continued despite a shot appearing to strike Lescott on the arm, but they were the architects of their own downfall minutes later when Geoff Cameron scooped a shot over the bar from close range after Cameron Jerome flicked a corner into his path.
The hosts secured all three points in rather fortunate fashion when Nzonzi tripped Silva just outside the box. A penalty was incorrectly awarded and Aguero tucked the ball out of the reach of the diving Begovic. It was to prove his final noteworthy contribution to the game though as he soon pulled up with an apparent hamstring injury.
Stoke flickered late on as Whelan struck a tremendous shot from 35 yards that Joe Hart touched onto the post, but they were unable to prevent a first defeat in 11 games as Roberto Mancini's side started the year in fine fashion.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Sergio Aguero (Manchester City) - Got the goal his performance deserved. Was a constant thorn in Stoke's side and his energy and application will be missed if he is out for a prolonged spell.
Manchester City: Hart 6, Zabaleta 8, Kompany 7, Lescott 6, Clichy 6, Toure 6, Barry 7, Milner 7, Silva 7, Aguero 8, Dzeko 7. Subs: Tevez 6, Sinclair 6, Raazak N/A.
Stoke City: Begovic 7, Cameron 6, Huth 7, Shawcross 7, Wilkinson 6, Whelan 7, Nzonzi 6, Adam 5, Walters 6, Jerome 6, Jones 5. Subs: Etherington 6, Whitehead 6.
- Sports & Recreation
- Sergio Aguero
- Stoke City
- Manchester City
- Pablo Zabaleta
- Asmir Begovic