Manchester City will be aiming to re-cement their place in the top four of the Premier League by beating mid-table Stoke City, whose season is in severe danger of fizzling out as a result of their poor form.
There will clearly be an emphasis from Man City boss Manuel Pellegrini on his side’s upcoming Champions League semi-final with Real Madrid, but domestic football still ought to be high on his list of priorities as a place in Europe’s premier competition for next season is still far from assured.
They have shown many times this season what they are capable of when turning on the style, but some performances have not quite been up to scratch and that was very much the case in midweek when they could only draw with struggling Newcastle United, whose battling display unsettled them slightly and prevented them from finding maximum fluency.
It saw a very timely return for captain Vincent Kompany, and although he was far from the top of his game due to a lack of match fitness, the central defender and skipper certainly makes a big difference to the team’s mentality when he is fit and able to lead the side. If risked here, he will need to be aware of the intelligent runs in behind that Stoke top scorer Marko Arnautovic has made his specialty.
Arnautovic was marginally the brightest spark for the Potters as they were crushed by a rampant Tottenham, the second game in succession in which they have conceded four. Up against inspired opponents that had plenty to play for, they were unable to so much as compete for long periods and were constantly caught on the break.
Manager Mark Hughes will have expected more from his players that night and must surely be demanding better here as they visit the side against whom they produced their best performance of the campaign, winning 2-0 in comprehensive fashion back in December. That was the benchmark, but too often they have failed to replicate that form.
If Stoke can play to their strengths and find some attacking rhythm, there is no disputing the fact that they are capable of emerging victorious at the Etihad Stadium for the second season in a row. There are quality players in the squad, so they must feel there is a point to prove after Monday’s mauling.
A muscle injury means Man City are without Samir Nasri, but Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna and David Silva are all available.
Erik Pieters remains suspended for Stoke, who are also unable to call upon Xherdan Shaqiri after he picked up a hamstring injury in the first half against Tottenham.
Last Meeting: Stoke condemned Man City to only a second home defeat in the Premier League under the stewardship of Manuel Pellegrini as Mame Biram Diouf’s pace saw him net a goal on the break to seal a shock result. The Senegalese striker ran 70 yards before beating Joe Hart at his near post; rewarding a fine defensive effort from the visitors.