Although they may not quite be facing the proverbial ‘wet Wednesday night in Stoke’, there is nevertheless a feeling of caution surrounding the Etihad Stadium as Manchester City prepare to test their title-winning credentials against the team notorious for being considered the Premier League’s most physical.
Nevertheless, the notion that Stoke somehow present the acid test of a team’s title credentials is disingenuous. All stylistic arguments aside, the task facing Roberto Mancini’s men on Wednesday evening remains straightforward: defeat middle-of-the-table opposition to go into Christmas top of the league. Having dropped just two points at the City of Manchester Stadium throughout the whole of 2011, it is something they are evidently capable of doing. For all the resistance that a stout defence patrolled by the fearsome Robert Huth, Jonathan Woodgate and Ryan Shawcross will bring, at the risk of sounding glib, it really ought to be routine.
Nevertheless, this is Manchester City. This is a club which has thrown away insurmountable leads at the top of the division, been pipped to promotion by a hundredth of a goal – a hundredth – on goal average, and been relegated the season after finishing as champions. All the money in the world cannot change what is ingrained into the club’s history. The supporters’ default position remains pessimistic. “Even at 4-1 at Old Trafford with five minutes to go,” comedian Jason Manford told Football Focus on Saturday, “We still felt like we needed those fifth and sixth goals.” Such is the fear and trepidation which comes with the territory. While the statistics and all common logic point towards a comfortable home win, those inculcated in Manchester City’s history are all too aware of the pitfalls that lurk.
Given the mythologies which shroud both the Citizens and their Potteries opponents, you can forgive the home fans for each sharp intake of breath which will accompany every set piece falling Stoke’s way. Forgive them their anguished cries and the beats that their hearts skip with each half-chance falling to Peter Crouch. For when the teams take to the field on Wednesday evening, the fact that even Arsenal’s most impressive performance of the season could not halt the juggernaut will not be enough to assuage fears borne of a lifetime of suffering. Irrespective of whom Roberto Mancini decides to field, City should have enough in their armoury to overcome Stoke’s resilience. Just don’t expect the City fans to become complacent any time soon.
See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Man City v Stoke