A much-changed Stoke City side put a dent in Manchester City's title bid with an impressive and disciplined defensive performance to claim a well-deserved point in their 0-0 draw Wednesday at Etihad Stadium. It was a far-from-dominant performance by the hosts, who, for all their possession, did very little with the ball to worry the Potters until the latter stages.
Indeed, it was Mark Hughes' men who finished the game with twice as many shots on target as their illustrious opponents in a performance that will give them plenty of confidence ahead of another difficult game against Chelsea.
The introduction of mobility to the midfield and final third of the pitch transformed a side who have struggled this season to transition quickly between defence and attack. It was a truly well-organised effort, with everyone knowing their roles and successfully implementing a game plan crafted to frustrate the opposition.
The only negative is the disappointment that one or two of the missing players didn't get the chance to shine in a shape they too would have benefitted from playing in.
9 (out of 10)-- Hughes completely tore up the rule book by picking a starting XI that absolutely no one could have predicted, and for that he deserves credit. It was a change in shape and personnel that paid dividends, and the substitutions he made were positive to round off a profitable evening.
Player ratings (1-10, with 10 the best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Lee Grant, 7 -- He comfortably dealt with Aleksandar Kolarov's free kick, which was the only shot on target he faced all night. His distribution was mixed, but this wasn't a game in which he was expected to meaningfully contribute to moves forward.
DF Phil Bardsley, 8 -- He linked well with the central defenders while offering support to the winger in front of him. He coped admirably against the dangerous Leroy Sane, who, having gotten very little out of his full back, resorted to diving to gain an advantage.
DF Ryan Shawcross, 9 -- This was a much-improved game from the captain, who, more often than not, got a telling touch on dangerous balls into the area. Shawcross led by example and didn't give Sergio Aguero an inch all evening. He was the man of the match.
DF Bruno Martins Indi, 8 -- He worked in tandem with Shawcross to keep Aguero at bay in addition to making a couple crucial blocks. He showed good anticipation when defending and composure when bringing the ball forward.
DF Erik Pieters, 8 -- This was a solid showing from the Dutchman, who worked hard to defend the back post and support his teammates. He made one particularly important block with his head from a curling Aguero effort that looked destined for the top corner.
MF Mame Diouf, 7 -- Diouf worked tirelessly to play his part in containing Leroy Sane and made at least two vital tackles to win back possession when the ball looked to have been lost. A soldier on the back foot, he was unable to impact the game quite as successfully further up the pitch before retiring through injury.
MF Joe Allen, 8 -- Allen was charged with a more defensive remit on the night and showed good discipline while managing to break forward to support attacks. He had one or two iffy moments, but they were a mere blot on an otherwise impressive copy book.
MF Geoff Cameron, 7 -- He worked well alongside Allen, and his agility in the middle was an important facet of the side's ability to get up and down the pitch. He got himself into some good positions but was constantly let down by his final ball, which was erratic at best.
MF Ramadan Sobhi, 7 -- He didn't get too much of a chance to shine but used his strength brilliantly to keep the ball from Bacary Sagna. He did well early on in the final third but played the majority of the contest on the back foot.
FW Saido Berahino, 7 -- Berahino thanklessly plugged away to cut the hosts' passing angles but found personal chances few and far between. He understandably tired as the game wore on but more than played his part.
FW Jon Walters, 7 -- Walters contributed in defence and attack, using his experience to win fouls that gave the side a break from defending and the chance to get up the pitch.
MF Ibrahim Afellay, 7 -- He kept possession in a busy middle third but didn't track his winger out wide as well as the man he replaced, Diouf.
MF Glenn Whelan, NR -- His fresh legs for the middle of the pitch also freed Allen to help a lone Walters.
MF Giannelli Imbula, NR -- Imbula was a bold substitution who, while offering a threat on the break, didn't quite muck in defensively.