Manchester City vs Stoke City
An imperious looking Manchester City – returning from the international break off the back of an impressive 1-0 win over Chelsea and eight consecutive wins – entertain a Stoke City side wracked with their own Jekyll and Hyde inconsistencies.
It may have taken a season and over £200 million in transfer fees, but Guardiola’s City are starting to look like real contenders – with their 1-0 win away at Chelsea banishing many doubts about whether City have the bottle to perform when it truly matters. The win lifted them to top of the table, albeit only a goal ahead of neighbours Manchester United, and with their aforementioned rivals facing a tricky trip away to Liverpool, City will be hoping they finish the weekend a few points clear at the top.
Mark Hughes will be baffled with what he has seen from his Stoke team so far this season. Promising results against Arsenal and United have been contrasted with dismal performances away at Newcastle and at home to Chelsea. Last week’s last gasp win against Southampton lifted them back up away from the relegation zone. However a poor performance this Saturday will leave Mark Hughes back at square one.
City will be boosted by the surprisingly quick return of Sergio Aguero from a car accident in Amsterdam late September (although some post-truthers amongst us may suggest this had more to do with a potential failed drug test). Fabian Delph, who has found a new lease of life under Guardiola is a doubt, while talismanic captain Vicent Kompany is set to miss out. Otherwise, Pep has a wealth of options to choose from and may rest key players with the visit of in-form Napoli in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Stoke will struggle defensively, with Ryan Shawcross and Bruno Martens-Indi unlikely to feature, while Joe Allen will also miss out following a concussion picked up in the international break. Mark Hughes will therefore be putting his faith in Kurt Zouma, Geoff Cameron and Erik Pieters in defence, possibly as a back 3 with Glen Johnson and Kevin Wimmer as wing backs. Ultimately they will be seeking a repeat of their 0-0 draw at the Etihad in March and any chance of this hinges on how solid their cobbled together defence stand against a free scoring City.
Few will look past City to run out as winners in this fixture, especially with Stoke’s poor away form. Whether we see a competitive game or a demolition on City’s part all depends on which Stoke City team turns up.
Written by Fabian Wood.