Preview: Stoke City v Manchester City
Buoyed by last week’s victory over Fulham, Roberto Mancini will be looking for our third consecutive away victory in a potentially tricky fixture against the Potters. Following an FA Cup defeat and hard fought draw in trips to the Britannia Stadium last season, the City manager will be well aware of the dangers posed by Tony Pulis’ side.
It’s no surprise to hear that Mancini has had the squad working on the defending of set pieces in training this week. With Pablo Zabaleta suspended either Jerome Boateng will resume at right back, or Micah Richards if the German isn’t fully fit.
This will give plenty of height in the back four, with only Kolo Toure as a potential weak link. Vincent Kompany has been struggling for fitness and Joleon Lescott would be the natural replacement, unless Mancini goes for Boyata. Both are strong in the air, with Lescott possessing the additional strength required against Kenwyne Jones and co.
It’s hard to imagine Mancini making major changes to the side that played so well against Fulham. The big question is whether Balotelli will return in place of Jo. Balotelli’s talent and goal threat makes him the obvious choice, but there are other factors to consider.
Stoke and their crowd can make for the most unsettling environment in the Premier League, and Balotelli at West Brom looked like he could provoke a fight in an empty room. The polar opposite of Jo, who did ok last week, winning headers, linking up play and getting into the box to support Tevez.
Mancini may be tempted to keep Balotelli on the bench initially. The upcoming home games against Salzburg and Bolton may be more accommodating enviromments for our new prima donna.
Stoke are on a decent run and are sure to offer a more disciplined defence than that encountered against Mark Hughes’ side. Tevez is likely to feel the presence of the uncompromising Shawcross and Huth. It will also be a test of character for Silva.
Pulis’ main injury concern is Jermaine Pennant. The talented winger is in good form and capable of providing the first real defensive test for Kolarov. It would be interesting to see how the Serb copes.
“It will be a tough, physical challenge but we will go into the game in great confidence and really go for the win.
“We’ll be prepared because Stoke gave us a number of tough encounters last season and they were up the challenge each time. They are also on a good run of form at present so it will be a real test.”
Last week Mancini showed a greater attacking intent by having Kolarov and Zabaleta pushing forward to augment the midfield and attack. It will be intesting to see if the same tactic is possible as Stoke look to Etherington and Pennant/Tuncay to pin us back on the flanks.
Chelsea’s recent defeats have left us a mere three points from the top. Whether or not we can sustain a title challenge remains to be seen, but it sure adds extra motivation. Fourth is the main target, yet the prospect of reaching the summit is thrilling.
Blue Days line-up (4-2-3-1):
Boateng – K Toure – Kompany – Kolarov
de Jong – Barry
Silva – Y Toure – Jo
Prediction: 2-0 to Manchester City.