Freakish veteran sets up Manchester United’s nightmare
DAVID Silva finished off two sumptuous moves to guide Manchester City to a 2-0 win at relegation-threatened Stoke and another step towards their seemingly inevitable coronation as Premier League champions.
There's a growing possibility that City, 16 points clear at the top, could wrap up a third league title in seven years by beating Manchester United in the derby on April 7.
The prospect would arise if City and second-place United both win their next games, against Everton and Swansea respectively.
"I couldn't think of anything worse for a player," former Manchester United midfielder Owen Hargreaves said.
"I'd find it difficult to do that guard of honour ... to stand there as the team walks out as champions, I would find it almost impossible.
"Manchester City have shown the level they need to be at."
Former PL midfielder Jermaine Jenas then mused: "What would be worse? Give a guard of honour, or be beaten (to seal it)?"
Captain Vincent Kompany said: "Everybody on the 'Blue' side of Manchester knows it would be a once-in-a- lifetime opportunity.
"We have one more game before United and then we'll see. (But) steady, it won't be handed to us.
"It's that time of year, every single win brings you one step closer to your goal."
But Guardiola was quick to emphasise the derby comes between the two legs of the Champions League quarter-finals against an opponent to be decided in Friday's draw, with United looking to book their place in the last eight on Tuesday.
"We want to be (Premier League) champions but, believe me, before and after United we have (the Champions League) quarter-finals and at that moment it is the most important thing, focusing on the quarter-finals," Guardiola said.
"I understand for the fans, OK, but the important thing is to be champions. When, where, it doesn't matter," he said referring to their impending English league title success.
Silva side-footed home a cross from fit-again winger Raheem Sterling to give City a 10th-minute lead, against the second-from-bottom Potters.
City dominated thereafter and Sterling won back possession to start the move that led to the second goal.
Gabriel Jesus looped the ball across the box for Silva to hook in a finish in the 50th minute.
Silva took his tally of league goals to eight in a season that has been disrupted for the playmaker while he makes regular trips back to his native Spain because his prematurely born son is receiving medical attention.
"When I play football I forget about everything else, it is good for me to play," Silva said.
"My private life is very hard for me but my son is fighting and getting better."
He was there last week, with City manager Pep Guardiola allowing Silva to miss the second leg of the Champions League last-16 tie against Basel.
Guardiola spoke glowingly afterwards of a player seemingly getting better with age.
"He can control the tempo perfect, normally people say (focus on) his skills, technical ability but he can be an aggressive competitor. He can be both," Guardiola said
"He controls the game; how to play quick, control; I think the mix, with David and Kevin (De Bruyne), they are more and more aggressive, attacking, runs in behind, it helps control the games."
Sterling was influential on his return to the team after missing five games because of injury, and he should have capped his display with a goal of his own.
Sane's curling 25-yard shot might have made it three and, when Ndiaye glimpsed a rare chance for the hosts only to volley over from six yards from Maxim Choupo-Moting's header, Stoke were doomed.
Walker shot wide for the visitors while a Sane effort was well saved by Butland, before a controversial moment in the 80th minute when Sterling dispossessed Ndiaye from a drop ball which Stoke thought they would be allowed to play after the game was stopped for injuries.
Sterling advanced and appeared about to score before Ndiaye made a recovering tackle.
While FA Cup semi-finalists City are off for some warm-weather training in Abu Dhabi amid a two-week break from league play, Stoke resume their bid to escape relegation with a home game against Everton on Saturday.