Friday, 25 January 2013

Match Preview: Stoke vs Manchester City

Can City end a run of draws at the Britannia?

By Aaron Leggott

Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images Europe
Speculation regarding the future of Mario Balotelli has been the most newsworthy information coming out of the Etihad Stadium this week, with reports heavily linking him to his boyhood club, AC Milan.

However, with his agent quick to deny any move for the Italian, it seems that Balotelli is set to stay put at City at least until the end of the season.

Along with the rumours that Txiki Begiristain wants Roberto Mancini to move towards the infamous 4-3-3 formation used consistently by Txiki's former club Barcelona, there has been less of a focus on this weekends FA Cup tie at the Britannia Stadium.

The two sides meet in the competition for the first time since Yaya Toure won Manchester City the trophy at Wembley in May 2011, and the Potters will be looking for some revenge to that disappointing day in the capital.

And with City's recent record at the Britannia, Stoke City fans have every right to be encouraged by the visit of the champions. Despite being in the middle of a poor run of form, Stoke have held City to three consecutive 1-1 draws in the past three seasons, and if we see a similar result the two sides will meet again ten days later.

However, their has been an encouraging sign that City are slowly getting back to their true selves, with both the attack and defence looking solid once again, as we look to fight on two fronts after elimination from European competitions.

Ahead of the game, we spoke to Stoke City fan Niall Cope, who gave us his views on the upcoming fixtures:

What do you think of the threat of Manchester City and who do you think will be the key players?

Niall: Manchester City clearly have the quality to unlock any defence on their day, however the key is 'day'. The defeat away to a well drilled Sunderland team in December showed how the Citizens were frustrated in their attempts to pick up a result, whilst they struggled to get past relegation candidates Reading the week before at the Etihad. 

The absence of Yaya Toure could be key as the giant midfielder has been an influential figure in the last few fixtures between the two teams. However the Potters will still have to be alert to the threat posed by Carlos Tevez and the returning Sergio Aguero. 

Do you think you can carry on your impressive home record against City and get revenge for the FA Cup final defeat in 2011?

Niall: Our recent record against Manchester City at the Britannia Stadium has been impressive and I expect it to continue on Saturday. The last three games in the Potteries have ended in a 1-1 draw and although that scoreline is a good bet again, Stoke will be looking to take the game to their opponents and secure a result at home rather than the tie being taken back to Manchester.

This fixture certainly brings back memories of our unsuccessful attempt to lift the FA Cup for the first time in 2011. As a team we didn't turn up on the day although it wasn't helped by the injuries to Robert Huth and Matthew Etherington in the build up to the final. Meanwhile the recent taunt of 'did you cry when Yaya scored' will certainly add further spice to what has always been a feisty game.

Who do you think your key players will be for this game?

Niall: Cup 'keeper Thomas Sorensen will need to be on the top of his game, meanwhile Steven Nzonzi has the opportunity to dominate the midfield battle with Yaya Toure missing for the visitors. Kenwyne Jones has finally started to show why the Coates family paid out £8m for his services from Sunderland by adding goals to his overall team play, whilst Jonathon Walters loves to play alongside the big Trinidadian and showed against Liverpool on Boxing Day how potent the pair can be together.

Sorensen will need to be on top of his game tomorrow
Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images Europe

What is your predicted line-up?

Niall: Sorensen; Whitehead, Huth, Shawcross, Cameron; Kightly, Nzonzi, Whelan, Etherington; Walters, Jones.

There has been a lot of unrest amongst the stands at the moment regarding the management style of Pulis. Do you think this is fair or do you think the fans need to patient?

Niall: Our 17 game unbeaten Premier League record at the Britannia was recently torn up by Chelsea, however it has been the performances away from home that has caused the most unrest amongst supporters. Ever since returning to the top-flight five seasons ago we have struggled on our travels and it continues to hold back our push to move to the next level. 

Team selection has been a long-running issue. Many supporters believe the manager approaches games too negatively and continues to play square pegs in round holes despite spending almost £100m on player recruitment since promotion.

However Tony Pulis has given the supporters what they have longed for, which is a competitive Premier League outfit capable of securing the club's first silverware since the 1972 League Cup.

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You can also follow Aaron on Twitter: @aaron_leggott
You can also follow Niall on Twitter: @copiee 

(c) The Sky Blue View 2013

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