Zabaleta: We played perfect game
Pablo Zabaleta was keen to share the praise with his team-mates after starring in Manchester City's 1-0 FA Cup win at Stoke. The tireless right-back, who is enjoying an outstanding season for the Premier League champions, settled a gritty fourth-round tie with the only goal late on at the Britannia Stadium. It was fine reward for another non-stop performance from the Argentinian but, in keeping with most of the others, he was unwilling to claim all the limelight for himself. The 28-year-old said: "I think it was well deserved for the team. I think we did a great game. "We knew it was going to be tough. It has always been a difficult pitch for us in the last few years. "But I think we played a fantastic game. We were very solid at the back. We worked really well as a team. "We created a lot of chances. I think it was the perfect game for us." Manager Roberto Mancini rotated his full-backs throughout last season's title-winning campaign but injuries to Micah Richards and Maicon have almost made Zabaleta a permanent fixture this term. He has arguably been City's most consistent player and his goal was his third of the season. Yet when asked if this was his best year since joining the club from Espanyol in 2008, Zabaleta was again modest. He told City TV: "Probably, I think it is one of the best seasons for me since I signed for Manchester City. "I am always trying to improve myself on everything but also I have to say I am playing with great players around me. That makes every player better." Zabaleta struck in the 85th minute to settle an underwhelming contest. He was in the right place to tuck home six yards out after a ball from Sergio Aguero was helped on by Edin Dzeko. It was City's first win at the Britannia Stadium in seven visits but they had been the stronger side and hit the woodwork through David Silva during a dominant spell in the first half. Carlos Tevez also twice went close but City's momentum was slowed after captain Vincent Kompany limped off after the half-hour, forcing a change of system. With no senior centre-half on the bench, Mancini switched to a three-man back line but Matija Nastasic could return alongside Joleon Lescott for Tuesday's Premier League trip to QPR. The extent of Kompany's calf strain is not yet known but he is definitely out of the midweek game. City were already short on centre-back options with Kolo Toure at the African Nations Cup and Richards still sidelined. The second half was a scrappy affair but City always looked the sharper, particularly after Aguero came on, although Peter Crouch headed narrowly over. Zabaleta said: "We were very solid in set-pieces. We knew they always try to get something from corners, set-pieces and throw-ins - I think we did fantastic. "Up front we were sharp and created chances. We couldn't score more goals but at the end we won it. "This is the most important. Now we must be focused on QPR away."
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