Professional football is a glamorous living indeed. Expensive cars, beautiful women, more money for one match than most of the fans earn in years...quite the charmed existence.
On the other hand, there are the days you have to truck through snowy weather back to Stoke-on-Trent for the second time this season, this time for a fourth-round FA Cup match that you may or may not feel like playing.
Predictably, the cold weather and the comparatively low stakes of this match for the visiting Sky Blues brought a tepid lineup (Costel Pantilimon for Joe Hart, no Matija Nastasic, more healing time for Sergio Aguero) and pragmatic rather than electric play.
But a 1-0 win at the Britannia is the sort of result Roberto Mancini and his team would have happily signed on for before leaving Manchester, and that is exactly what they got.
Players are graded on a scale of one (having to go to Stoke for a fourth-round FA Cup match in late January) to five (appearing at a second consecutive parade celebrating the Prem title...one can dream, anyway).
Costel Pantilimon: It still does not feel like having Hart back there, certainly. Pantilimon understandably took some time to look comfortable. Still, he faced four shots on target and turned them all away. 3.
Vincent Kompany: The captain's frequent inability to stay on the pitch this season is becoming a serious concern. Kompany hobbled off in the 33rd minute after tracking down a long ball in space, rolling his ankle in the process. Kompany was solid while he was out there, but that is becoming the alarming refrain. 3.
Pablo Zabaleta: Hard to say where City would be without Zabaleta this season. It seems like every goal he scores is enormous. Today's match-winner in the 85th minute is no exception. 4.
Joleon Lescott: No Matija Nastasic today (not even on the bench), so Lescott was entrusted with pairing with Kompany to counter Stoke's plodding size. Lescott was equal to the task. 3.5.
Aleksandar Kolarov: Played a sound game of defensive positioning, but mishit too many free kicks and sailed his last effort of the day into the stands. Substituted for Sergio Aguero in the 63rd minute, which further emphasizes the so-so nature of his day. 2.5.
James Milner: As with Gareth Barry, many of Milner's contributions do not leap off the screen. And his ability to make things happen in the offensive end was muted by the need to drop back and stabilize the middle after Kompany limped off. 3.5.
Javi Garcia: After looking a touch slow of foot in recent appearances, Garcia picked up the pace against Stoke. He also shook off a late challenge from Glenn Whelan that probably should have seen Whelan sent off in the 47th minute. With Kompany already down to injury, Garcia played through pain by necessity and deserves credit for it. 3.5.
Gareth Barry: Pundits are running out of ways to say how unspectacular, yet solid, Barry's game is. That quality was evident in spades today against a Stoke side that required patience and discipline. 3.5.
David Silva: Now that Silva is at the top of his game again—he was special today, even given Stoke's emphasis on denying him time and space with the ball—the main question City fans must be asking is how long he can stay at this level. City's hopes of retaining the Premier League crown rest largely on Silva's form. 4.
Edin Dzeko: This was a better performance from a starting role than Dzeko has given in other opportunities. But it still sometimes feels like Dzeko and Tevez are playing different parts of the same piece out of time. 3.
Carlos Tevez: If the rating were solely for energetic play and industry, Tevez would get a 5. But all the bold runs and creative passing on the day amounted to not much. Perhaps if Aguero had been out with him all day the end result would have been more. 3.
Gael Clichy (40th minute for Kompany): Pressed into service after Kompany's injury, Clichy put in a good shift and contributed significantly to the clean sheet and the win. It took Mancini long enough to call his name, but it was the right call in the end. 3.
Sergio Aguero (62nd minute for Kolarov): OK, so maybe his crossing pass that eventually found Zabaleta for the only goal of the match was actually intended for Dzeko. There is no room on the scorecard for description. 3.
Jack Rodwell (87th minute for Tevez): No rating.
Roberto Mancini: So he picked a decent lineup and the formation was solid enough. Zabaleta's late winner saved the day for him. But the approximately seven minutes it took the manager to decide whether to pull an obviously injured Kompany from the pitch (and who to replace him with) was inexcusable. Even against Stoke, there was no need to play down a man for that length of time.
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