Premier League | Etihad Stadium | Sat 22 Feb | 3pm
Can Peter Crouch and Stoke match Barcelona’s 753 completed passes and gun down title-chasing Manchester City?
One week they’re the real deal, the next they’re just a work in progress. After Tuesday night’s 2-0 loss at home to Barcelona in the Champions League, Manchester City are back to being unpolished contenders.
MAN CITY FORM
- Man City 0-2 Barcelona (CL)
- Man City 2-0 Chelsea (FAC)
- Norwich 0-0 Man City (Prem)
- Man City 0-1 Chelsea (Prem)
- Spurs 1-5 Man City (Prem)
- Stoke 1-1 Swansea (Prem)
- So'ton 2-2 Stoke (Prem)
- Stoke 2-1 Man Utd (Prem)
- S'land 1-0 Stoke (Prem)
- Chelsea 1-0 Stoke (FAC)
Some pundits thought their 5-1 demolition of Spurs at White Hart Lane would turn the title race into a City-led procession. But since that romp things have stalled. A tactical masterclass from Jose Mourinho helped Chelsea secure a 1-0 win at the Etihad Stadium. Manuel Pellegrini’s men then squandered the chance to return to the top of the Premier League after drawing away at Norwich. They exacted revenge on Chelsea in the FA Cup to maintain their four-fronted trophy charge, but were brought crashing back down to earth by the Catalans, who all but ended their European aspirations.
After a 20-game unbeaten run, which included 18 wins, this stuttering form has raised questions about City’s ability to clench their cheeks during squeaky bum time. In reality, they’re only three points off the top of the Premier League with a game in hand. At the start of March they face Sunderland in the League Cup final and then take on Wigan in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup a week later.
Stoke’s situation isn’t quite so laden with potential silverware. They’re out of all the domestic cup competitions and in the thick of a relegation battle. Mark Hughes’ men are 14th, three points above the drop zone. Worse still, Sunderland in 18th have a game.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. After a trio of defeats in the league they’re unbeaten in three, thanks to a win over Manchester United and draws against Southampton and Swansea. They have a blueprint on how to frustrate City, too. In September they stifled Pellegrini’s free-flowing attack and created a number of match-winning opportunities, but failed to capitalise and the game finished 0-0.
They can’t afford to be as wasteful at the Etihad, where they’ve lost four of their last five visits 3-0. They even lost the odd one out 2-0.
City are hopeful star striker Sergio Aguero will return to action after four weeks out with a hamstring injury, but Pellegrini admitted it was just a “maybe”. Serbian defender Matija Nastasic, who has been sidelined with a knee injury, could make it subject to a late fitness test.
For Stoke, winger Matthew Etherington and full-back Andy Wilkinson could be in line for a return, but winger Oussama Assaidi has hurt ankle ligaments in training during a warm-weather camp in Dubai.
Player to watch: Alvaro Negredo (Man City)
The Beast has lost his bite in recent weeks. After scoring nine goals in January, he hasn’t netted in four games this month. His last goal in the Premier League came against Newcastle on January 12.
But this might have something to do with Aguero’s absence. The pair were dovetailing brilliantly before the Argentine limped out of City’s 5-1 win over Spurs. Due to a lack of games together, Negredo hasn’t managed to forge a similar partnership with either Edin Dzeko or Stevan Jovetic.
But the win against Newcastle at St James’ Park did see the Bosnian and Spaniard work together effectively. Both netted and Negredo managed 8 attempts on goal – 5 of which hit the target. Truth be told, he wasn’t hugely successful elsewhere on the pitch, however, losing 7 of his 9 aerial duels.
However, that doesn’t matter when you’re making a difference in the opposition’s penalty box – something that’s been missing in recent weeks. Saturday is a chance to break his duck.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Stoke 0-0 City (Prem, Sep 13)
- Stoke 0-1 City (FAC, Jan 13)
- City 3-0 Stoke (Prem, Jan 13)
- Stoke 1-1 City (Prem, Sep 12)
- Stoke 1-1 City (Prem, Mar 12)
Is the pressure starting to get to Pellegrini? The usually cool-headed Chilean launched an angry and bizarre rant at Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson after City lost to Barcelona at the Etihad. According to Pellegrini, Sweden is too much of a footballing minnow to produce referees for games of this magnitude. He claimed Eriksson was “not impartial” after the Swede failed to give City a free-kick for a challenge on Jesus Navas, which led to the Catalans winning a penalty and the dismissal of Martin Demichelis.
Hughes was equally baffled by Jon Moss’ decision not to award Stoke “a couple” of penalties during his team’s draw with Swansea. Nevertheless, he appeared satisfied with the result: “We’ve had a decent return in the last three games. We’ve picking up points, which we need to do.” Yes, that does usually help. A win, combined with other results going their way, could see them climb to the top of the bottom-feeders’ table in 10th.
Facts and figures
- Man City have won this fixture in each of the past five seasons with four 3-0 wins.
- Man City have won 12 of 13 home games against bottom-half teams since the start of last season with 10 wins to nil.
- Stoke have not won in 11 away games – the longest away winless streak in the league.
- 6 of Stoke’s last 11 away matches have had at least 4 goals.
Stoke haven’t won at City since 1997 when a Ray Wallace goal secured three points in the second tier. Since then they’ve lost six out of six, conceding 16 and scoring one. City to get back on track, just. 2-0.