Stoke 0 Manchester City 2
It promises to be an enjoyable five-day break in the sun for Manchester City's players, who boarded their flight to Abu Dhabi last night enjoying the view from the top of the Premier League, 16 points clear of Manchester United once again, and safe in the knowledge that they can wrap up the title against their neighbours on April 7th if they win at Everton the weekend before.
Pep Guardiola's side must feel like they are within touching distance of that crown after David Silva delivered another masterclass to enable City to register their 26th league victory of the season and deepen Stoke's relegation worries in the process. Returning to the starting lineup after being allowed compassionate leave to spend time with his wife in Spain, where the couple's prematurely born son continues to receive medical attention, Silva scored two splendid goals and was a joy to watch throughout.
Raheem Sterling created the first and Gabriel Jesus laid on the second as a cold night in Stoke presented few problems for a team that will be guaranteed a warm welcome in more ways than one when they touch down in the Middle East. Stoke, on the other hand, remain second from bottom and Saturday's home fixture against Everton feels critically important for a side that have now won only one of their last 11 league matches.
It tends to be a chastening experience for most clubs when they come up against Manchester City these days and the last thing that Stoke needed to do was concede an early goal. Yet with only 10 minutes on the clock the home team were already behind and chasing the game after another beautifully constructed Manchester City goal.
Sterling was heavily involved from the outset, playing a pass infield to Fernandinho that the winger got back via a terrific reverse ball from Jesus. Sterling's fine run down the Stoke left went untracked and it was a lovely cut-back that picked out Silva, with the ball so perfectly weighted that the Spaniard never had to break his stride. Arriving into the penalty area between Kurt Zouma and Moritz Bauer, Silva expertly opened up his body and coolly dispatched a left-footed shot into the far corner. Slick, incisive and clinical, it was Manchester City at their elegant best.
Stoke were pinned in for long periods in the first half, rarely touching the ball and chasing shadows at times, yet there was still some encouragement for the home team to take come the interval. The fact that they managed to prevent Manchester City from adding to their lead prior to half-time was a source of hope and there were also a couple of signs of vulnerability at the other end, where Xherdan Shaqiri seemed to fancy his chances up against Oleksandr Zinchenko. It was Shaqiri's clever nutmeg on the Manchester City left-back that led to an opportunity for Badou Ndiaye to equalise, only for the midfielder's low shot to take a deflection off Fernandinho and slide inches wide of the far upright.
Stoke also had a bit of success when they played more direct, with one long punt upfield from Jack Butland ending up with Kyle Walker, under pressure from Jesé Rodríguez, nearly scoring a spectacular own goal. Ederson, frantically back-pedalling, managed to fingertip the England defender's clearance over the bar.
For much of that opening 45 minutes, however, Manchester City were in total control and creating the sort of chances that suggested it was only a matter of time before they added a second. Jesus, starting in place of the injured Sergio Agüero, came agonisingly close to getting his head to a sublime Kevin De Bruyne free-kick.
In that context it was no real surprise when Silva scored his second of the evening within five minutes of the restart. Once again there was so much to admire about the build-up play, with Fernandinho again involved before Silva and Jesus exchanged passes. Butland dashed from his line to try to make life difficult for Silva as Jesus’s lofted pass bounced in front of him, but the Manchester City midfielder showed such composure as he effortlessly hooked the ball past the Stoke goalkeeper and into the empty net.
Playing with a swagger, City now threatened to totally overrun Stoke. Butland saved at Sterling's feet and Leroy Sané, swinging his left boot 22 yards from goal, curled a shot narrowly wide. Stoke's threat could be described as sporadic at best, although Lambert was left holding his head in his hands after Bruno Martins Indi volleyed over from inside the six-yard box. Normal service soon resumed as Butland denied Sané and then Sterling again.