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Man City Focus - Stoke and Real Madrid present test of City’s credentials

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By Tom McAvoy

Friday 14 September 2012

Two more contrasting tests Manchester City could not have picked to face. Saturday brings with it a trip to Stoke as the Premier League reconvenes following the international break, followed by a mouth-watering opening to the Champions League campaign with a trip to Real Madrid, and whilst it would be ludicrous at such an early stage in the season to bestow upon the games too great a significance, there is nevertheless a sense that their outcome will offer a clear indication as to the trajectory of City’s season.

As if to add credence to the cliché, Stoke have proved notoriously tricky opponents for Roberto Mancini’s men on their travels in recent years. Each of the previous three seasons have seen City emerge from the Britannia Stadium in the manner of a naive wandering tourist from a particularly insalubrious East London joint; shaken, stirred and relieved to be left intact. The three 1-1 draws which have ensued have been juddering affairs punctuated by incandescent flickers of class, testing the champions-elect to their limits. If the issue of whether a team can perform ‘on a wet Tuesday night in Stoke’ has became one of the most derided in English football, City’s travails in the Potteries attest to the fact that such maxims are often steeped in reality.

Any intimation that the test Tony Pulis’ men will offer City is likely to diversify following the acquisition of Charlie Adam and Michael Owen ought to be quelled by the memory of how bizarrely Eidur Gudjohnsen and Tuncay Sanli were treated. No, not for playing between the lines or ‘inverting the pyramid’ is Tony Pulis. City must negotiate the threat of blunt force trauma, and with no mean panache, if they are to confound their recent history against Saturday’s opponents.

If the weekend brings with it a test of obduracy, the following Tuesday holds in store something a little more exotic. Ever the alchemist, Jose Mourinho’s 2011-12 saw him devise perhaps his most incredible scheme yet. His Real Madrid side, compact, resolute and ferociously direct on the counter-attack, succeeded in knocking the greatest club side of them all from their La Liga perch. With Barcelona dethroned, only one objective remains; to win the Champions League.

Thus lies the backdrop to the opening game in what has inevitably been proclaimed this season’s Champions league ‘Group of Death’. Whilst Les Meringues are naturally imbued with the pragmatism which forms their Portuguese Coach’s very core, the likelihood is that they will play proactively, looking to dictate an attacking tempo. Whether it comes via sonar vision of Xabi Alonso sending diagonal passes to turn the City defence onto the back foot, the idiosyncratic in-field sorties of Mesut Ozil or the megalomaniacal ruthlessness of Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, the threat facing City’s defensive unit is tangible.

Will City react with the same mildness with which they took to the pitch at the Allianz Arena last autumn (a notorious contrast to the off-pitch shenanigans involving Carlos Tevez that fateful night)? Or will they, as those of a Blue persuasion in Manchester hope, show a sense of maturity and, indeed, aspiration, befitting of their status as English champions?

If the conundrums placed before City by Stoke and Real Madrid differ somewhat, the solutions may be borne of something similar. Courage, bravery and willingness to take control - both in and out of possession - are imperative on both stages. In doing so, Mancini’s men have the ability to set in motion another season to remember.

See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Stoke v Man City

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