15:00 KO (BST); Saturday 14th October; Etihad Stadium (Manchester, England)
The Pep Guardiola express continues to move quickly across the Premiership this season with only a draw against Everton blotting City’s copybook. They have now recorded 19 home games in all competitions without defeat (W13 D6), winning their last two home matches by a handsome 5-0 margin. While tied on points with their Manchester rivals at the top of the table, it was against Stoke that United dropped points and that should serve as a stark reminder of what the Potters are capable of.
For Stoke, it is another indifferent season in which their high-profile players have largely failed to live up to their expectations. Stoke’s recent trend of claiming points from the top sides fell away in the previous game against Chelsea and they will be aiming to restore that when they travel to the North-West. While Stoke have only won two of their last sixteen meetings against the Citizens, a battling performance saw them take a well-earned point from their last trip to the Etihad in March and Mark Hughes will be targeting another spirited effort this weekend from his players.
LAST TIME OUT
Chelsea 0 – 1 MANCHESTER CITY (Premiership)
For all of City’s promise last season, it was ultimately their performances against top teams which resigned them to a trophy-less year. Against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge they took a huge step to allay fears of this season suffering a similar fate. City were always in full control during this game and they were unlucky not to win by a bigger margin, even without their top scorer Sergio Aguero.
There was a hint of irony that Kevin De Bruyne, a player who Chelsea let slip through their fingers, was one of the best players on the pitch. With six key passes and a fine goal to cap his display, the Belgium playmaker camped in the Chelsea half and constantly tried to move the ball forwards into dangerous areas of the pitch. Credit should also be given to the City back-four who looked solid throughout without captain Vincent Kompany present to marshal the defence. While this is only one game, it definitely moved City another step forwards as many people’s tip to win the league.
STOKE CITY 2 – 1 Southampton (Premiership)
Stoke recorded their first win since they beat Arsenal in the second game of the season and it was Peter Crouch who once again came to the Potters’ rescue. Stoke were looking to attack the visitors from the first whistle and there was a real purpose about their play as they created several good chances throughout the game. While Southampton came away with 71% possession at the end of the match, it was Stoke’s breakaways which carried the only real danger in the game.
Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting was at the heart of most of Stoke’s brighter moments and was constantly looking to get the ball and be involved in play. He proved equally adept at carrying the ball up the pitch and strong in holding up the ball to retain possession while his team-mates advanced in support. Just as busy was Saido Berahino but the striker found his name in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. His goal drought continues after he missed a penalty in the 43rd minute which he himself won. While his overall contribution has greatly improved, a striker will always be judged by the number of goals they take and Berahino has now gone 30 games in the Premier League without scoring.
Manchester City Lineup
Benjamin Mendy (knee) and the unfortunate Vincent Kompany (calf) will both be missing while Fabian Delph (hamstring) could also find himself watching from the City bench. In better news for City, Sergio Aguero is making rapid recovery from the rib injury he suffered in a car crash but Guardiola may be reluctant to risk starting the Argentine striker and losing him for a longer period of time.
Stoke City Lineup
Ryan Shawcross remains unavailable due to his back problem while Bruno Martins Indi also continues to recover from the groin injury which prevented him playing against Southampton. Meanwhile, Joe Allen faces a race against time to be fit following a head injury he received playing for Wales against the Republic of Ireland and Jese Rodriguez continues to be troubled by the illness of his third child but should return to the team if selected. This could potentially lead Hughes to field the same starting lineup he used to take a battling draw from Manchester United.
Key Battle: John Stones vs Max Choupo-Moting
After spending last season in and out of the team, Stones has now started in all but one of his side’s main fixtures with 7 of those 8 seeing City keep a clean sheet. It’s also to his credit that the absence of captain Vincent Kompany has not caused the usual tremors in defensive solidity that have plagued the club when he’s been injured in the past. While Stones is often cited as being the ball-carrying player that fits Guardiola’s prototype, his tackling and alertness to danger are the abilities which have recently come to the fore.
With Saido Berahino again struggling to find form, Stoke’s main goal threat will come in the shape of Choupo-Moting. Whether he’s played as the main striker or sitting just behind on the left side of the pitch, the Cameroon forward always looks the most likely avenue for success within the Stoke side. Having already scored twice against a Manchester opponent, he’s proved he can perform against top defenders and will look to prove that he can do so consistently. If Stoke are to get anything from this game, this battle will be the key way for them to achieve their aim.
More Than Just a Chequebook
After just over a year in charge of the Citizens, Pep Guardiola has already made significant improvements to the side he took over last summer. While many people often point to the vast sums of money which he’s had at his disposal to overhaul this team, the City managers before him also had similar resources at their fingertips. None of them have brought about a change in the club’s fortunes though which make the current performances all the more promising.
The strong identity which Guardiola has stamped on this team in terms of his belief in the system his team should play has been one major factor in this. Another has been the man-management skills which he’s bought into the club to unite the dressing room and provide clear direction. With a mix of old and new players now under his guidance, the team can truly be called his own and it remains to be seen if and how much success he’s able to engineer in the Premiership with a philosophy that many said would fail him in England.
While Mark Hughes has slowly evolved his team to play a more technical, passing style than the team he inherited from Tony Pulis, he’s also managed to curb and control the aggression of the players under his stead. After seven games of the new season, Stoke’s image of being a team of dirty players may need to be drastically reassessed by those that still harbour the notion.
With no red cards and an average of one yellow per game, the Potters are currently at the top of the Premier League fair play table. They’ve also committed only 60 fouls from the early fixtures, a statistic which is only bettered by Liverpool (60) and Bournemouth (57) who have both collected more cards than Stoke. While City have only 65 fouls against their name, they have amassed 12 yellow and 2 red cards so far which leaves them trailing far behind in 16th position.
PREDICTION: Manchester City 3 – 1 Stoke City
Taking eight points from the first seven games, Stoke have found themselves in the relative tranquillity of mid-table meaning they don’t have any huge pressure or expectations from this match. This scenario often produces a good result for Mark Hughes’ team but with City looking merciless it will be a big ask for them to gain any points from the fixture. Stoke do have players that can trouble the Citizens and it could be a very interesting game if they score first. However, beating City may be a bridge too far for Stoke.
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