Ah, the Premier League is finally back after a thrilling international break where people across the globe were able to witness some quite remarkable moments of football – that is unless they were watching England…
As players return to their respective clubs, their focus must now shift back to the league and for the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Kyle Walker and Leroy Sané that means preparing to face Stoke at the Etihad tomorrow.
After beating the Potters 4-1 away at the start of last season, you would be forgiven for thinking that the Blues would brush them away with ease in the reverse fixture at the Etihad, but obviously it just wasn’t to be. The 0-0 draw was one of many frustrating games in Manchester last season and if we are to take one lesson from those games it’s that ‘there are no guarantees in football’ – or really just any other football cliché will do.
Anyway, my point is that Stoke will be no pushovers. They’re the only team to take points away from United this season and could be a potential slip-up for Pep as everything is going a little too well at the moment.
Here’s a look inside the opposition…
Predicted Stoke team
After gaining his sixth England cap during the international break against Lithuania, Jack Butland will return to his club full of confidence and determination to put in enough strong performances from now until next summer in an attempt to secure himself as the nation’s first choice keeper at the World Cup.
Stoke have set up with a back 3 in recent games with new addition Kurt Zouma proving to be a bit of a coup for the club. Alongside him it looks as though Kevin Wimmer and Geoff Cameron will start with Bruno Martins Indi still regaining fitness after a recent injury.
Mame Biram Diouf and Erik Pieters are most likely to start as wing-backs in an attempt to limit the impact of City’s devastating wide play.
Darren Fletcher and Joe Allen have both played an instrumental part of Stoke’s season so far and whilst the former will most definitely return to the starting line-up in Manchester tomorrow, the latter has recently been ruled out due to a head injury sustained during the international break. In his place the likeliest candidate is Charlie Adam who last started alongside his fellow countryman Darren Fletcher in the Potter’s 2-0 loss to Bristol City in the Carabao cup earlier this season.
Stoke find themselves with plenty of potential up-front nowadays and have several Champions League winners amongst their ranks – well technically anyway. Xherdan Shaqiri will be one that Pep will pay specific attention to when devising his defensive plan, having coached him during his time at Bayern. Recent additions Choupo-Moting and Jesé have also started their Stoke careers with goals and some good performances which will probably just put them ahead of the likes of Berahino, Sobhi and Crouch when the team sheets are in.
Man to Watch
It could have been a number of Stoke’s front line really. The inconsistent but high-potential nature of players like Shaqiri and Jesé were nearly enough for me to highlight them as the main threat. It would be typical for one of these players to pull out one of their few world class performances against us but I think there is a bigger threat in Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.
Although the Cameroon international has only recorded two goals (both against United) and an assist in his seven Premier League appearances this year, I think our defence could be in for a test against him.
At 6’3” he is an obvious target for crosses into the box, deep clearances and general hold-up play. Earlier this season against Everton, City often struggled with the presence of Dominic Calvert-Lewin up front, and he was able to hold up the ball and bring others into the game with relative ease – also he managed to get Kyle Walker sent off.
If we have an obvious weakness to exploit in the team at the moment it is probably the average height of our starting eleven and this is something that Mark Hughes and his men will most likely be looking to take advantage of, especially during any set plays high up the pitch when Otamendi inevitably takes the man instead of the ball.
We’ve been very solid so far this year so I’m confident in our defence but it only takes one slip up to throw the three points away.
A view from the opposition
Our opposition view this week comes from the guys at the Wizards of Drivel podcast as we get their perspective on this weekend’s match up.
Can you tell us a bit about your season so far?
Doing okay. The result against Southampton was a big one as it was our first win against a side of about our level. We’ve been good at home – the only side to take points off your Red mates this season – and there was a great win over Arsenal. Goal scoring is the big issue, but overall I feel like there’s much more optimism about the place this season. Save for a pretty unforgivable League Cup exit.
What are your thoughts on Mark Hughes?
He’s winning more people over with good signings and I think something must have lit a fire in his belly over the summer, as there were many calling for his head after a really really drab last campaign. Happy to stick with him for now.
Who should City fans look out for when the teams meet?
Xherdan Shaqiri has been our standout player this season and is capable of producing something spectacular – but he’s also added more consistency to his game which is pleasing. Going forward Choupo-Moting can be a handful too. At the back, we’ve fallen in love with Kurt Zouma so it’s a big test to see if he can deal with your amazing attacking players. Also shout out to Jack Butland, frankly ridiculous he isn’t England’s established number one.
What are your predictions for the game?
We managed to cling onto a point last time but I think injuries to key players means that won’t be doable this time round. 3-0 to you.