Article written by Skoorb.
Pep Guardiola and his squad return to the comforts of home at the Etihad on Wednesday evening where they face a Stoke City side who are comfortably berthed in mid-table (9th). After Chelsea re-asserted their claim on this season’s Premier League crown with a victory over West Ham on Monday evening this fixture provides a brief opportunity to gently re-apply some pressure and move back into 2nd place in the table and reduce their lead to 8 points.
We have been here before haven’t we? A team seemingly moving imperiously towards an inevitable title win with a large points lead over their rivals…it couldn’t happen again could it? Who knows? All that City can do is win their games and let the rest of the world take care of itself. In truth there seems little chance that Conte’s side will implode as certain other side who ‘know how to win from here’ did back in the heady days of 2012 but…you never know. Even without the pressure of Champions League football to distract them (funny how this rarely gets mentioned when commentators are lauding Conte’s success) the Chelsea players seem a more focused side and, whilst not giving the title up, I will be astonished if they let it slip.
But back to Wednesday’s action…
Mark Hughes returns to the Etihad with a Stoke team that have secured only one victory in their last six away games and that was against our last opponents, Sunderland. Included in those five away defeats were visits to Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea where only Wenger’s side scored less than 4 goals against them (3-1). City on the other hand have only lost once in all competitions at home – THAT game against Chelsea in early December – an impressive record that also seems to have flown under the radar with the pundits and commentators who were so keen to talk up streaks involving clubs just outside the City of Manchester.
So – another walk in the park? Another 5 goal feast to follow on from the victories over Monaco and Huddersfield?
Well it would be nice of course (for the improved goal difference alone) but I suspect that few City fans are counting any chickens in this game where the opposing manager arrives always feeling that he has a point to prove after his services were terminated so soon into the tenure of the new management at City. Guardiola will want his side to carry on their rich vein of home goal scoring form – they haven’t scored fewer than two goals in a home fixture since the Champions League draw against Celtic in early December. Indeed he wanted more goals from his side against Sunderland (he’s greedy, he always wants more goals) and never stops to rest on his laurels with his players, always demanding more, always seeing ways in which they can improve as his impromptu mini coaching lesson to David Silva on the pitch after the victory at the Stadium of Light illustrated. Even the winner of Sky’s Man of the Match doesn’t get off without some form of extra tip and guidance form his coach moments after the final whistle.
Given the poor performances witnessed at the weekend from some of the refereeing fraternity we can only hope that Neil Swarbrick didn’t get an invite to Anthony Taylor’s now infamous stage do in Marbella and has a good game at the Etihad on Wednesday without any controversial calls to make. Taylor’s awarding a penalty to Burnley for a handball by a Burnley player was almost as inexplicable as Kevin Friend’s missing of Twatan’s elbow being brutally assaulted by Tyrone Mings at The Swamp. I am not sure how any of the officials missed the latter incident as it happened right when the ball reached the two players so if they were watching something else happening I’d love to know what it was. Maybe the Assistant Referee was tweeting a picture. Although Mr friend may have ducked his responsibility at the weekend he at least stepped up and was consistent in his match report by saying that he hadn’t seen the incidents involving the pair and so allowed the ‘expert panel’ to take up the case. We await with interest whether they all agree, as they did with Sergio Aguero’s ‘brutal’ assault on Winston Reid, that a ban is deserved for Maureen’s latest love child. The case for the belated and oh so long overdue introduction of some limited form of Video Referee support for the officials has only been strengthened by these incidents in my view. It cannot be right that the person charged with the greatest responsibility and ability to affect the game is the worst informed person in the ground. The focus has got to be on getting the correct decision at the time and the application of retrospective bans hardly assists the teams during the game – Burnley would never have been awarded a penalty and taken the lead and the rags would have had to play the remainder of the game with ten men etc.
In team news late fitness tests are awaited for Stoke’s Arnautovic, Shaqiri and Liverpool reject Glen Johnson and will be without Jack Butland, Martin Indi and ex-City player Stephen Ireland.
Aside from long term absentees Gabriel Jesus & Ilkay Gundogan City’s coach has a full squad to select from with the only doubt remaining over the fitness of club Captain Vincent Kompany. After a pretty decent return to 90+ minutes of football against Crystal Palace in the FA Cup the City skipper has once again drifted off into the netherworld of ‘nearly ready to return’. I am not alone I am sure in wishing the guy all the best but at the same time wondering deep down whether his goose at City is well and truly cooked. It is hard to see the club and manager indefinitely holding a pace open for him in every squad list and effectively handicapping the side by reducing your rotation options and also putting additional pressure of the remaining members of the defensive unit. I would love to see the guy’s commanding presence at the heart of the City defence alongside the burgeoning talent of John Stones and providing a stable foundation for the side but I have to admit to concerns that this may not be something which we can bank on seeing. I hope I am wrong.
One game at a time, all we can do is win our fixtures and see what unfolds.
Come on CITY!
Manchester City v Stoke City Preview
Article written by Skoorb.