Stoke City's Ryan Shawcross, left, and Manchester City's Leroy Sane battle in action during the English Premier League soccer match at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, England, Wednesday March 8, 2017. (Mike Egerton(/PA via AP)
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Manchester City's faint ambitions of catching Premier League leader Chelsea were damaged by a 0-0 home draw against Stoke on Wednesday.
It was the first match in which City failed to score at Etihad Stadium under Pep Guardiola this season, leaving the team 10 points behind Chelsea with 11 games remaining.
With Guardiola choosing to rest in-form winger Raheem Sterling completely amid a busy schedule and only using playmaker David Silva in the second half, City lacked energy and imagination going forward. Stoke — coached by former City manager Mark Hughes — packed its defense and impressive center backs Ryan Shawcross and Bruno Martins Indi didn't offer up a clear-cut chance to City's star striker, Sergio Aguero.
City only had one shot on target — and that was a long-range free kick by Aleksandar Kolarov that was easily palmed away by goalkeeper Lee Grant. The best opening fell to Silva in the 72nd minute, but the Spain international dragged a shot narrowly wide after jinking into the area.
Guardiola had already virtually given up on the title, calling Chelsea "almost unstoppable," and two dropped points makes City's task even more unlikely. City is behind second-place Tottenham on goal difference and plays Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea — three rivals in the top six — in its next three league games.
City is playing a match every three or four days due to its involvement in the FA Cup and Champions League.
"When you have one game a week, you can play (the same) 11 players no problem," said Guardiola, whose team must travel north to Middlesbrough for an early kickoff in an FA Cup quarterfinal match on Saturday.
"I don't have regrets about how they run, how they fight. We have a lot of games in our legs."
As for Stoke, its players have rebounded well from a humiliating 4-0 loss at Tottenham, which came soon after the squad returned from a warm-weather training camp in Dubai.
A 2-0 win over Middlesbrough has been backed up by a well-earned point at the Etihad, leaving the club from central England in ninth place.
"We had many questions asked of our performance at Spurs," Hughes said. "We held our hands up, we weren't good enough. That was fresh in our minds and you saw our response."
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80