Two goals from Marko Arnautovic condemned Manchester City to a 2-0 defeat on Saturday as their Premier League title hopes suffered a serious blow at Stoke City.
The Austrian forward netted twice in the first half and missed several chances for a hat-trick as a dominant Stoke side claimed a well deserved win at a windswept Britannia Stadium.
Xherdan Shaqiri, their record signing, was at the heart of the success with assists for both goals and a wonderful all-round display.
Despite leading the table at the start of the day, Manchester City now have just one win from their last four league games and are experiencing their toughest spell of the season.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side improved slightly after half-time, but rarely threatened a fightback after a dreadful defensive display in the first period.
Stoke made a dream start as Arnautovic gave them a seventh-minute lead following fine work from Shaqiri on the right.
The Switzerland international showed fine balance to get the better of Fernando on the touchline before crossing for Arnautovic, who darted between two defenders to finish.
Kevin De Bruyne had a chance to level for the visitors after skipping from midfield to the edge of the area, but his tame shot on 14 minutes was well saved by goalkeeper Jack Butland.
A minute later Stoke doubled their lead as Shaqiri and Arnautovic combined again.
There was more brilliance from Shaqiri, whose superb turn outfoxed Fernando before his fabulous pass gave Arnautovic the chance to produce a cool, low finish for 2-0.
— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) December 5, 2015
After a quiet spell, Bojan threatened to score a bizarre third goal for Stoke when he made the most of several ricochets to ride three challenges before eventually being crowded out 10 yards from goal.
Then Stoke had a glorious chance to add to their tally when a back-heel from Ibrahim Afellay released Glenn Whelan on the left and the midfielder’s cross was headed wide at the near post by Arnautovic.
Arnautovic missed an even better chance to put the game beyond City just before the interval when he was released by another fine Shaqiri pass, only to see his shot bounce back off the right-hand post.
City goalkeeper Joe Hart had to make a smart save early in the second half to block a shot from Bojan after another weaving run from the Barcelona striker.
The rebound fell to Arnautovic, who fired just wide. Then the Austrian went close again when he collected a wonderful flick from Bojan and closed in on goal before sending a firm cross-shot just wide of the far post.
Marko Arnautovic vs Manchester City Goals: 2 Touches in the box: 6 Distance covered: 5.44 km pic.twitter.com/yBBFKFInhD
— Goal UK (@GoalUK) December 5, 2015
Bojan was the next to go close for the hosts when he collected a clever pass by Shaqiri and beat Hart to the ball before having his run checked by the visiting goalkeeper.
The afternoon got worse for Pellegrini when Fernando was forced to limp off on 73 minutes, reducing his side to 10 men, with three substitutes already used.
City applied some pressure in the second half, but Butland, Hart’s deputy with England, was rarely called into action as Mark Hughes’s men dug in for a resonant victory.
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