The FourFourTwo Preview: Man City vs Stoke
A 2-0 Manchester City win, with cherries on top.*
MAN CITY FORM
- Man City 3-1 Liverpool (Prem)
- Newcastle 0-2 Man City (Prem)
- Man City 0-3 Arsenal (C. Shield)
- Olympiakos p2-2 Man City (F)
- Liverpool p2-2 Man City (F)
- Stoke 3-0 Portsmouth (LC)
- Hull 1-1 Stoke (Prem)
- Stoke 0-1 Villa (Prem)
- Freiburg 1-1 Stoke (F)
- Stoke 2-0 Real Betis (F)
Always beware the possum. They play dead, not moving to avoid detection of feed, before reviving back to life when the time is right. A voracious reader, intellectual and qualified engineer, you wouldn’t put it past Manuel Pellegrini reading up on the little rodents and adopting their survival strategy for Manchester City’s title defence.
Yes, it’s pre-season, but the Premier League champions didn’t look all that special. Against Arsenal in the Community Shield, in particular, they looked laboured and devoid of ideas. Successive two-goal victories against Newcastle and Liverpool to begin their title league quest followed.
City’s display against the Reds almost had the tactic down to an art form. The visitors had much of the ball, poking, prodding and occasionally annoying their prey during much of the first half.
No reaction. Then Stevan Jovetic pounced on left-back Alberto Moreno’s concentration lapse and scored just before half-time. Unleashed from the bench, Sergio Aguero netted with his second touch for 3-0 from City’s fourth shot on target.
Aguero has exploded from the bench in both league games, Jovetic is injury-free and irresistible and David Silva his usual smooth self. Plus, Yaya Toure has barely broken into a trot, let alone a sweat.
For all the talk of Chelsea’s impressive beginning to the campaign to back up an equally exciting transfer window, City look tight and capable of detonation at a moment’s notice.
Stoke have exemplarily performed the first part of the possum tactic. It’s the springing to life bit they’ve struggled with in a surprise home loss to Aston Villa and uninspiring 1-1 draw against Hull.
When the Tigers’ James Chester was sent off just 14 minutes into the game, Stoke dominated possession but lacked a cutting edge. Bojan is yet to fully replicate his excellent pre-season form – bar one delicious through-ball to Peter Crouch against Hull – while Mame Biram Diouf’s physique must be better allied to an end product.
Manager Mark Hughes was honest in his reaction. “We didn’t deserve a great deal,” he said. “We didn’t show enough intelligence and didn’t create enough chances for the superiority we had.”
The intelligence, he has a point – more must come from Marko Arnautovic – but the chances, less so. The Potters had 19 shots with only three on target. To get an unlikely result at City, they must be more like, er, City.
Edin Dzeko is a doubt after picking up an ankle injury against Liverpool. Fellow forward Alvaro Negredo remains the only other absentee with a broken foot. Expect Aguero to start.
For Stoke, Robert Huth is nearing full fitness after last season’s serious knee injury, while Bojan, Phil Bardsley and Glenn Whelan all face late tests after the knocks they picked up at Hull.
Key battle: Stevan Jovetic vs Ryan Shawcross
It wasn’t long ago that Jovetic seemed on borrowed Etihad time after an injury-hit first season and question marks surrounding his pain tolerance. Not so now after two impressive showings against Newcastle and Liverpool. Both goals against the Reds proved he knows where the goal is, while the second was created thanks to his own back-flick, so he can create, too.
Stoke captain Shawcross is the Potters’ talisman and best player. In showing the goal-sense that eluded Stoke’s attacking players, he rescued the point at Hull. But keeping Jovetic quiet is the key to Hughes’ men getting a result. He won every tackle and lost one aerial duel at the KC Stadium and must throw a similar fire blanket over City’s luscious array of attacking talent at the Etihad. If his defensive colleagues can match the former Manchester United man’s consistency and will to win, Stoke have a chance.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- City 1-0 Stoke (PL, Feb 14)
- Stoke 0-0 City (PL, Sep 13)
- Stoke 0-1 City (FAC, Jan 13)
- City 3-0 Stoke (PL, Jan 13)
- Stoke 1-1 City (PL, Sep 12)
Though Stoke failed to score in both games against Pellegrini’s men last season, Hughes demonstrated the tactical acuity to trouble the Citizens, especially in the shutout at the Britannia. Expect a tight midfield three of Steven N’Zonzi, Whelan (if fit) and Steve Sidwell to shutdown the spaces between lines that Samir Nasri and David Silva are so adept a filling for City.
For his part, Pellegrini will expect much the same from his men, rarely deviating from the tried-and-trusted 4-4-2. Control the game and feed the forwards at each opportunity and they should win.
Facts and figures
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- Stoke have won just 1 of their 12 Premier League games against City, and 0 of the last 10.
- City have scored at least once in 69 of their last 70 Premier League home games.
- Stoke have played 12 Premier League games in Manchester (City and United combined) and lost all 12.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
We told you earlier. 2-0 home win. Damn possums.
*There are no cherries, whether on top, down below or on the side.