No. 4: Mark Hughes, Stoke's home "fortress" and new signing Erik Pieters
By Alex Mason
Ahead of this weekend’s clash against Stoke City, we caught up with Potters fan Niall Cope (@copiee), as he talks about Manchester City’s chances of winning the title and how Stoke will fair on Saturday against the Blues.
With Mark Hughes at the helm, what is your view on the appointment of the former Man City boss?
Niall: I think the Coates family have made a very astute appointment. Mark Hughes is a manager who is vastly experienced at Premier League level. His spells at Blackburn Rovers and Fulham are what the owners hope he can replicate in the Potteries. At both clubs he worked well on a reasonable budget which Stoke are looking to implement with a more ‘value for money’ approach to new signings.
Meanwhile his time in charge of Manchester City showed he is not adverse to developing young talent which our owners hope he can reproduce after they have invested heavily in the academy over the past couple of years and gained category one status in the new Elite Player Performance Plan.
The Britannia is a very intimidating place for any team to play in the Premier League, do you think Stoke will settle for a draw or will they go for the win?
Niall: After a period of divided opinion surrounding the appointment of Hughes, supporters have certainly been heartened by our start to the season. The performance away at West Ham United before the international break was one of, if not our best, since returning to the top-flight and in truth the margin of victory should have been far greater. We controlled the game from start to finish and stopped the Hammers from notching a single shot on target.
Whereas before our manager would say it was a privilege to be playing the likes of Manchester City and focusing on their threats, Mark Hughes is more concerned about what we can do to cause the opposition problems so I would suggest it could be a more open game than it has been in previous seasons at the Britannia Stadium.
Who is Stoke City's key player going to be this season and why?
Niall: Despite the signings we’ve made this season, including a recognised left back in Erik Pieters, it’s a player who was brought to the club by Tony Pulis. Steven Nzonzi oozes class and after a very good debut season he looks to be the player who Mark Hughes is going to rely on to start attacks and produce consistent performances. His appearance from the bench in our recent League Cup game against Walsall ,which at the time was at 2-1, helped to calm any nerves and allowed us to comfortably see out the game.
Where do you think Stoke will finish this season?
Niall: A top-ten finish is not of the question and is clearly what the club desires after spending heavily under the previous manager. Hughes has been left with a good nucleus of players who should have no problem adapting to his methods and although it is very early in the season, signs are promising that strides are being made to not only improve results, but performances too.
Predictions on Stoke City's line-up for Saturday?
Niall: After experimenting with a number of formations during pre-season, Hughes has implemented a 4-3-3 system which has certainly given the players greater freedom to express themselves and create goalscoring opportunities which has been an aspect of our game that we’ve struggled with previously.
An injury picked up by Charlie Adam whilst away with Scotland may open the door for Stephen Ireland to make his debut for the club. The former Republic of Ireland midfielder has already stated that he is fit and raring to go despite not playing any football since January. Meanwhile, fellow deadline-day signing Marko Arnautović, who is Mario Balotelli’s best friend, could be in line to start after arriving from Werder Bremen for £2 million.
Jermaine Pennant will hope that his match-winning performance against West Ham will guarantee him his first Premier League start for over a year.
Begoivc; Cameron, Shawcross, Huth, Pieters; Wilson, Ireland, Nzonzi; Pennant, Jones, Arnautović
Stoke have a bad penalty conversion record, Jon Walters has already missed a penalty this season, so if Stoke get awarded a penalty on Saturday, who would you want to take it?
Niall: Yes, his penalty conversion rate stands at around 66% which is not a record which is going to strike fear into opposition goalkeepers. The candidate who stands out is Charlie Adam but as Hughes has stated it is down to whoever has the bottle to stand up and take it.
Which Man City player do you think will have a big impact on the game on Saturday and why?
Niall: Jesús Navas is someone who could possibly have some joy against Geoff Cameron. The American international was converted into a right back by Tony Pulis and Mark Hughes has decided to leave him in that position. Although he is gradually improving and has considerable pace, Navas may have the nous to outfox him.
|Navas could be the key to unlock Stoke's defence on Saturday|
Photo: Official MCFC Facebook
What are your predictions for the Premier League title?
Niall: It’s hard to look past Chelsea. They have added to their squad once again and have a manager in José Mourinho who knows how to win titles, including the Premier League. His tactical ability means the Blues are a team who will no doubt be the best at grinding out results at crucial times over the course of the campaign and ultimately, in my eyes, go on to win the Premier League.
And finally, what is your prediction for the game?
Niall: I expect the Potters to give Manuel Pellegrini a rude awakening to English football. Although we may have slightly changed our style and system this season, we still have the power and strength to cause problems from set-pieces and rattle an unsettled Manchester City backline – including Joe Hart. After watching your previous games against Cardiff and Hull, it is clear there are a number of areas which we can exploit. I think there will definitely be goals.
Stoke City 3 – 2 Manchester City