Make no mistake, there were folks who thought Stoke City had a chance to win when they hit the road to face defending Premier League Champions Manchester City Saturday. There just weren’t very many of them.
None of that seemed to bother coach Mark Hughes’ team against a powerful Sky Blues side. Behind a second half tally from Mame Biram Diouf, the Potters buckled down, stayed organized and defended with determination to post a shocking 1-0 victory at Etihad Stadium.
For Manchester City coach Manuel Pellegrini, a second home defeat in two seasons couldn’t have been more unexpected. His squad, carried by enough world-class skill to buoy five Premier League teams, possessed the ball 74 percent of the time, outshot Stoke more than 2-to-1 and looked dangerous offensively for the balance of the second half.
In the end, Diouf’s goal was all it took for a middling side to take down the reigning champs.
The win could serve as a jumping off point for Stoke. Always regarded as a tricky team to negotiate, the Potters play with the kind of plucky scrappiness that often confounds elite sides like the Sky Blues.
On the other side, Manchester City is now left to face one unmistakable truth, winning the Premier League is an exercise in overcoming adversity. While English teams have been derided in recent seasons for poor showings on the European stage, no league boasts a deeper set of squads than the Premier League.
Will the defeat define Manchester City’s season? Probably not. When a team carries as much skill and depth as Pellegrini’s does, extended slumps don’t happen often. Nevertheless, Saturday’s loss should serve as a wake-up call for a club that has claimed two of the past three English titles.
No team, no matter how talented and deep, is safe in the Premier League these days. Parity is the name of the game in England, a fact revealed in stark fashion Saturday.
Manchester City will be afforded the chance to bounce back in coming weeks with matches against Arsenal, Chelsea, Bayern Munich and AS Roma. If Pellegrini’s side was guilty of overlooking Stoke on Saturday, those concerns should be put to rest with such stiff competition coming up.
It isn’t games against Europe’s elite that will define the season however. Rather, Manchester City’s fate may be determined by its ability to defeat lower level opponents at the domestic level.
Last season, Liverpool saw its title hopes go up in flames against another plucky side in Crystal Palace. Cross-town rivals Manchester United can also look to several recent defeats against smaller clubs as a primary reason for their current malaise.
Until now, the Sky Blues have avoided a similar fall from grace. But if the loss to Stoke proves one thing, it’s that nothing can be taken for granted when it comes to the Premier League. Hopefully, Pellegrini’s team will embrace the message whole-heartedly. Otherwise, that third domestic title in four years will be little more than a dream.