Manchester City and Stoke City clash on Wednesday evening at the Etihad Stadium with both teams coming into the contest on the back of comfortable two-goal victories at the weekend.
Sergio Aguero starred for Pep Guardiola’s side as they claimed three points at the Stadium of Light whilst Mark Arnautovic struck a brace for The Potters as they saw off struggling Middlesbrough on home soil. However, there is a clear gulf in quality between these two sides and Stoke supporters will be travelling to the blue half of Manchester more in hope than expectation.
Pep Guardiola continues to mould Manchester City into a formidable, free-flowing attacking force and The Citizens have gone relatively unnoticed under the radar since slipping out of the title race following a mid-season slump in form. However, they have lost just one of their previous 12 fixtures across all competitions and continue to show signs of progress under the guidance of their charismatic Spanish manager as they compete on three different fronts. The Etihad Stadium has become something of a fortress this campaign with City losing just one of their 16 contests on home soil, (against league leaders Chelsea in early-December), although Middlesbrough, Southampton, and Everton have all claimed a point from their visits to the blue half of Manchester.
Stoke City are in good form having lost just two of their eight Premier League contests since the turn of the year and travel to the Etihad Stadium on the back of a comfortable two-goal victory against struggling Middlesbrough on Saturday. The Potters are a formidable force on home soil, having not lost at the Bet365 Stadium since mid-November, but have a tendency to be a little fragile on their travels – especially against the top six. In their previous four matches against the ‘elite’ Premier League sides, Mark Hughes’ team have conceded a remarkable 15 goals without picking up a point (4-0 against Tottenham Hotspur, 4-2 against Chelsea, 4-1 against Liverpool, and 3-1 against Arsenal). In fact, Stoke have yet to beat a team that are currently placed above them in the league table so far this campaign and suffered a torrid four-goal defeat against Manchester City in the reverse fixture back at the start of the season.
Manchester City are currently in the middle of a run of five games that are being played in the space of sixteen days so it would be little surprise to see Pep Guardiola make changes to his starting line-up for the visit of Stoke City. They face, arguably, more important matches against Middlesbrough in an FA Cup quarter-final at the weekend and then the second leg of their Champions League tie against Monaco the following Wednesday. Vincent Kompany could be a surprise inclusion with the Belgian defender closing in on a return to fitness following a number of muscle injuries in recent months whilst Gabriel Jesus (metatarsal) and Ilkay Gundogan (ACL) are both likely to miss the remainder of the season.
Mark Hughes will have no concerns over fixture congestion. The Potters spent six days on a warm-weather training camp in the Middle East prior to their defeat at White Hart Lane and have only one further game to fulfill before the start of April. However, Stoke do have a number of key injury concerns. Bruno Martins-Indi limped out of the game against Middlesbrough with a knee injury and is a major doubt for Wednesday evening whilst charismatic Austrian winger Marko Arnautovic is struggling with illness. Xherdan Shaqiri could be in line for a recall after missing the last two fixtures with a calf strain whilst Jack Butland (ankle) and Stephen Ireland (leg) are both long-term absentees.
Predicted Starting Line-Ups
Key Player: Sergio Aguero
There have been questions raised over the long-term future of the Argentinian goal machine after Pep Guardiola elected to drop Manchester City’s leading scorer to the bench for much of the early part of 2017. However, injury to Gabriel Jesus has re-opened the door for the 28-year-old to resume his starting role leading the City attack and he netted his 23rd goal of the season against Sunderland on Sunday. The battle between Aguero and Stoke City central defender Ryan Shawcross is bound to have a significant impact on the game – do not be surprised if the Argentinian striker increases his goal tally.
Both teams have been in good form since the turn of the year but it is hard to see anything but a comfortable victory for Manchester City. The hosts have made the Etihad Stadium a fortress whilst Stoke City have proven so far this campaign that they have a tendency to roll over without much of fight when they face the top six on their travels. The only glimmer of hope for Mark Hughes’ side is that Pep Guardiola may choose to rotate his starting eleven that may leave The Potters with a weakened side to exploit.
Predicted Score: Manchester City 2, Stoke City 0