MANCHESTER, April 23- Manchester City enjoyed the perfect preparation for their Champions League semi-final showdown against Real Madrid with a 4-0 thrashing of Stoke City at Eastlands on Saturday.
Goals from Fernando, Sergio Aguero, via the penalty spot, and a second-half Kelechi Iheanacho double left City in buoyant mood before Cristiano Ronaldo and company arrive in Manchester.
With the first-leg visit of Real for one of the biggest matches in City’s history just four days away, manager Manuel Pellegrini left Kevin De Bruyne on the substitutes’ bench, left out Fernandinho and didn’t risk a second game inside a week for captain Vincent Kompany.
Raheem Sterling was also an unused substitute but the selection did not backfire as City climbed back to third place after securing the Premier League points they needed to move closer to a guaranteed top-four finish and Champions League football again next season.
With De Bruyne among those held back for Europe, teenage forward Iheanacho was given a fourth league start of the season.
And he was only inches away from a fourth league goal as City made a positive start, collecting a pass from Aguero before curling a low shot just wide from 20 yards.
With the fit-again David Silva always prominent before he made way with an hour under his belt following two games out with his on-going ankle problem, City looked as though they were keen to get their business done early to avoid over-exerting themselves ahead of next Tuesday’s big night.
But Stoke, looking to complete a league double over City for the first time since 1980-81 following a 2-0 home win in December, mounted a brief threat themselves.
– Constant problem –
Stoke manager Mark Hughes, who spent 18 months in charge of City up to December 2009, had asked his players for a response to a run of just one win in six games which had all but ended their hopes of a place in next season’s Europa League.
And after 15 minutes Glenn Whelan almost caught out Joe Hart with a long-range free-kick which the City goalkeeper pushed over the bar for a corner, from which visiting captain Ryan Shawcross volleyed just wide.
Joselu also headed a chance wide and it was almost against the run of play when City went 1-0 up 10 minutes before half-time when Jesus Navas delivered a corner to the near post, where Fernando arrived perfectly to glance a header beyond Shay Given to claim his second goal of the season.
That eased the pressure and when City doubled their lead from the penalty spot three minutes later it was virtually game over.
City’s forward movement was a constant problem for Stoke’s defence and after Shawcross pulled back the elusive Iheanacho, Aguero converted his 23rd league goal of the season to move one behind the total of Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane.
Aguero didn’t get the chance to add to his tally as he was also withdrawn from the firing line after 64 minutes to avoid any possible late injury scares.
And by then City were 3-0 up as Iheanacho got on the scoresheet as Pellegrini was preparing to make a change.
Pablo Zabaleta, making his 300th appearance for City, charged down the right flank and his pull-back was perfectly weighted for Iheanacho to side-foot home his 10th goal of the season past Jakob Haugaard.
Haugaard had replaced the injured Given, who was 40 on Wednesday, at the break and had earlier saved from Iheanacho and Yaya Toure.
Stoke also had their chances at 2-0 but a bad miss from Joselu and Joe Hart’s fine save from Marko Arnautovic snuffed out any chance of a comeback before Iheanacho completed City’s win with another assured finish, rounding Haugaard to slot home 16 minutes from the end.