EPL: Stoke City v Manchester City Preview

Our football writer analyses Stoke's meeting with Manchester City in an in-depth preview for the first EPL fixture on Saturday.

This has actually become one of City’s trickiest fixtures in recent years.  Few will forget Peter Crouch’s season-defining goal from two seasons past.  Or how about Diouf’s mesmeric run that really cut defined some of the weaknesses that constantly plagued Pellegrini’s City?

 Pep Guardiola will no doubt be aware of this recent history and will be hoping to rectify that.  His side will look to choke the possession statistics and use their superior mobility to their advantage.  Stoke will no doubt see this as a chance to utilize their abundant physicality and unsettle the possible centre-half pairing of Stones and Kolarov.

Stoke v Manchester City | Saturday 20 August | Britannia Stadium | 13:30

To Win (90 Mins)

Stoke 15/4 | Draw 28/10 | Manchester City 7/10

Jack Butland is reportedly close to full fitness and could be available to start this weekend.  Giving the extent of his layoff, I suspect Hughes will exercise prudence and start with former City player Given.  Their backline has a settled, robust look to it that will look to nullify City’s attempts at intricacy.  I do worry about their ability to deal with the mobility and dexterity of City should they find their gear as they did against Steaua Bucharest.  Imbula and Whelan will be hard pressed to deal with Nolito and Silva, while Sterling will look to run Pieters absolutely ragged.

One area where Stoke can legitimately look to prosper is in their new look centre half pairing.  Stones has developed a reputation for unreliability while Kolarov’s transition will be put under pressure by the pace and physicality of Arnautovic and Diouf.  Shaqiri will also be looking to keep Clichy pegged in while Bojan is likely to float.  Therefore one should expect their usual competitive nature to be present at set pieces while the possibility of a miscommunication in the City ranks is not beyond the realms of possibility.

Manchester City
City racked up a pass count last weekend that would have been the fifth highest for any side in the entire season last year.  It is clear that Guardiola’s death by possession tactics will be paramount in his attempts to win the title this year.  I was disappointed by how seldom Sagna and Clichy actually got forward.  It almost seems as if Guardiola is urging his side to keep a fairly flat back four at present- perhaps allowing some time for his side to gel.  Fernandinho was immense in the holding role, freeing up the likes of Silva and Sterling.  The young English winger had more impact in last week’s match then ninety percent of the matches last season.  Sterling seems reinvigorated and could be a major asset for Pep.

Joe Hart seems likely to be loaned out- the first casualty of the Guardiola revolution.  Their midweek demolition of Steaua will have done a lot to ease the pressure off the side.  It is clear now what they are capable of.  Nolito has taking to the side perfectly while Aguero managed to score a hat-trick despite missing two penalties.  I see Sterling dominating Pieters on that right hand flank.  The Stoke players will look to get behind the ball but will be undone by the intricacy of Silva and Aguero.  De Bruyne’s broad range of passing also opens up the more direct approach- with rapier-like cross field balls able to switch attacks fluidly.

Verdict: Man City HT/FT Double (31/20)
This sounds like a fairly bold call, but I think Stoke are perfectly set up for this side, especially playing at home. Hughes will not be foolish enough to instruct his side to press the game, but as the home side they will occasionally fall into the trap of trying to assert themselves. City’s forwards have too much ingenuity and speed for this Stoke side and I think that they will flex their muscle this weekend. Stoke also looked slightly poor against Middleborough and may need a few more signings to freshen up the squad.  

Written by Damien Kayat @Hollywoodbets

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