Manchester City aimed for maximum points on a tough trip to the Britannia in the Premier League's opening fixture of the weekend. A first-half brace from Marko Arnautović fired Stoke City to a well-deserved victory, as they took advantage of the League leaders' slow start with counter-attacking brilliance throughout on a windy afternoon in Staffordshire.
Early team news
City had a few injury concerns to contend with - Sergio Agüero (ankle) was a doubt, and consequently, not risked. However, they were boosted by the returns of crucial creative midfielder David Silva (ankle) and first-choice goalkeeper Joe Hart (hamstring) in the starting XI.
Unsurprisingly given his unfortunate injury history, Fabian Delph was left on the substitutes' bench with the Brazilian duo of Fernando and Fernandinho the two holding midfielders ahead of the backline.
Potters start fast, City sluggish
Manchester City held the majority of possession in the first-half, but were unable to grab a few goals to justify their spells on the ball. Their hosts, on the other hand, started brightly and always looked a dangerous threat on the counter-attack.
Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautović's link-up play was a joy to behold in the final third; between the two forwards, they were easing their way towards Joe Hart's area with seeming ease every time.
Fernando struggled to contain the threat on his side of midfield, whilst the opening goal epitomised Stoke's threat on the break. Shaqiri danced past three players before cutting the ball back into the area for Arnautović - who fired home from close range past a helpless Hart with the goal gaping at the Austrian's mercy.
Kevin de Bruyne came close to levelling the scoring at the other end, but for a smart stop from Jack Butland - merely stinging the goalkeeper's gloves in the face of potential pressure on his goal.
Stoke drive forward with pace and purpose
Then, Stoke grew in confidence. Shaqiri continued his playmaking exploits and created another excellent assist, spotting Arnautović's run to perfection.
The former Inter Milan maverick was gifted another opportunity to score, and he was never going to miss from that range - tapping home with Hart unable to close down the angles quickly enough. Arnautovic could, and should, have grabbed a hat-trick, but the post denied him after more good work in-and-around the box.
City had chances, which were overshadowed by Bojan's magic
de Bruyne was, unsurprisingly, City's focal point in attack, but was unable to find teammates in space to pass to. David Silva's effectiveness was relatively snuffed out as Stoke ensured they had marked him tightly in 50-50 duels, and Wilfried Bony was isolated up-top with virtually no service to test Butland from.
Bojan Krkic was certainly enjoying himself too, as he always went on a dribble forward with the ball at his feet. City's defenders struggled to get near him, and he was left to create magic in midfield with the home supporters left in awe.
Silva combined well with Raheem Sterling on the left, and the young Englishman, who turns 21 next week, found fullback Aleksandar Kolarov rushing down the flank in space.
The Serbian latched onto Sterling's well-weighted pass, and let fly with a powerful strike goalwards. Unfortunately for him though, Butland was equal to the effort and the danger was averted.
It could have been more than a two-goal cushion going into the half-time interval, everyone knew.
Surprising decision by Pellegrini
A big surprise as the second-half began though, was that Manuel Pellegrini kept the team the same. No substitutions, as the Chilean possibly felt his side couldn't perform in the same vein, especially as they were losing and had to chase the game for goals.
Nicolas Otámendi was brandished the first and only yellow card of the match after 50 minutes, for a cynical kick on Shaqiri - who made him look silly with a few cheeky drag backs.
Pellegrini's patience was wearing thin, and after 55 minutes, he made a double substitution in an attempt to change things. Fernandinho and Bony were brought off - in place of Delph and Kelechi Iheanacho in like-for-like swaps, whilst Sterling operated in a more attacking role to partner the young Nigerian who'd just been introduced to the fray.
Bojan's cheeky backflick fell perfectly for Arnautovic in the area, and despite having the chance to go for goal himself, the Austrian unselfishly squared the ball towards the path of Shaqiri. Somehow though, Shaqiri was unable to get proper contact on the ball, which trickled out for a goal-kick.
Standing ovations and worse news for visitors
Stoke were on-fire and City looked helpless to stop them. Bojan was taken off to a standing ovation from the home supporters, as was Shaqiri with the clock ticking down on the affair, but things were about to go from bad to worse for the sky Blues.
Fernando pulled his hamstring with 15 minutes to play and was unable to continue as a result, as Jesús Navas was introduced in place of Silva prior to the Brazilian's injury, meaning City had no more substitutions to choose from. That, quite literally, typified the problems that the visitors were facing. Ironically, the 10-men of City looked more convincing in possession than they did with eleven. A poor showing, and questions will relentlessly be asked of Pellegrini's man-management, simply due to the manner of their defeat today. A very bad day at the office.
Leicester City, as well as Manchester United and Arsenal, all have the opportunity to leapfrog the Citizens in the table - after this disappointing result. Their third defeat in their previous five fixtures (all competitions), not exactly the type of display you'd expect from a side challenging for the league title.
As for the hosts, Mark Hughes will be understandably delighted with his team's collective performance, where they made the League leaders look ordinary for large parts of the game. They've moved up into 9th place with the rest of this weekend's action still to play, and they'll be confidently hoping they can cement themselves in the top eight if performances like this one, are anything to go by.