Club Focus – Manchester City – City’s credentials tested by a trip to Stoke

Vincent Kompany wants Manchester City to do their talking on the pitch. Expressing his disdain at Harry Redknapp’s claims that Tottenham are capable of winning the Premier League title, Kompany said that no such talk would willingly come from the City dressing room. Their prime concern is simply winning football matches.

The Britannia Stadium is notoriously a place where actions speak louder than words. Brittle teams fold under Stoke’s high intensity, direct approach, supplemented by no mean quality in attack. It is a place where teams must earn the right to play – a test that compels mental, physical and technical strength. More compellingly in terms of expressing City’s title credentials, both Tottenham and Manchester United have gained the maximum three points from trips to Stoke this season. Struggling Liverpool, on the other hand, failed dismally. Stoke is the litmus test. Title challenges are made and broke by visits to the Britannia Stadium.

City will be thankful to be travelling to the Britannia Stadium following their best performance of the season. In their 4-1 defeat of Fulham, a new City seemed to be revealed. Forgoing their tactical conservatism, the Citizens were adventurous from the off. With just over half an hour gone, they led 3-0 – a lead whose margin was merited on the balance of play. David Silva, Jo and Yaya Toure possessed threats in the final third which have hitherto rarely been seen this season. The midfield three for once acted as more than a defensive shield. The 4-3-3 functioned like a 4-3-3 is supposed to; more Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona than Iain Dowie’s Crystal Palace.

They go into the game therefore with confidence that the team can rarely have enjoyed so far this season; a positive thing surely, considering City’s abject recent performances at the Britannia Stadium. Cowed by the intimidating atmosphere and the physical approach, one of Roberto Mancini’s early disappointments in the City hot-seat was an early FA Cup exit to Stoke. Two recent Premier League trips to Stoke have yielded just one point. For all of City’s riches, it seems, no amount of money has been able to buy the requisite courage and skill to come to places like Stoke and win.

The sounds coming from the dressing room are pugnacious. Aleksandar Kolarov spoke for his teammates in the run up to the game: “Stoke especially play hard and are a very physical team,” he said. “But we are strong as well. We can match them and battle as well as play football.” The way Stoke play is notorious, he said. The difference being that this time, City are prepared to cope with it.

Manchester City will hope to have more success at the Britannia than their Under-15s had against Chelsea. Like their first-team, the academy is one of the best resourced in Europe, a result of English clubs being put under pressure to produce players from  home soil rather than build a team solely comprised of foreign imports. No amount of money could stop them from being annihilated 9-0 by Chelsea’s counterparts. Even if results do not mean everything at that age as the players’ development is still only just beginning, it acts as a symbolic blow to their aspirations. City will hope that a similar disappointment is no awaiting them on Saturday.

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