Manchester City: Once More into the Breach at the Britannia Against Stoke City
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"We never win there."
Recent results certainly back up that sick, sinking feeling. Since Stoke rejoined the Premiership for the 2008-2009 season, City has played at the Britannia five times in four Premier League games and one FA Cup tie. Out of fifteen possible points, City have only come away with three (0-2-3.)
City's last three appearances at the Britannia have yielded 1-1 draws. Twice, City needed late equalizers to avoid coming away empty-handed. Yaya Toure scored in the 76th minute last season to answer Peter Crouch's ridiculous volley into the top corner in the 59th minute. Two years prior, Gareth Barry struck in the 85th minute to secure the draw after Stoke had taken a late lead on Glenn Whelan's tally in the 72nd minute.
Certainly City is not alone in its troubles at Stoke. Even in a down season last year where Stoke finished 14th on the table, the Potters lost only four times in nineteen home fixtures (7-4-8.)
In the Premiership, playing at Stoke means expecting a physical, difficult, borderline-dirty contest. In three of City's most recent five trips to Stoke City, one of the sides finished with ten men.
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Reversing this tide will require a much more cohesive effort than seen in any of City's first three games this year. Stoke figures to approach this game like many of City's opponents do. They will likely set up in a defensive formation and look to stifle City's prodigious attacking play for extended lengths of time.
In fact, given Stoke's apparent willingness to gladly accept a scoreless draw in the season opener with Arsenal, City can fairly expect Stoke to sit back and let City come to them, hoping for a chance to spring Jonathan Walters on the counterattack or for a long, high ball to Crouch off a set piece.
City would desperately love to see David Silva, he of the rumored mega-deal set to keep him in sky blue, shake off his early-season inaccuracy and make life easier for Carlos Tevez, Toure and Samir Nasri. More than anything else, though, City will have to resist the Potters' invitation to mix it up off the ball and ignore the late/borderline challenges almost certain to occur with frequency all over the pitch.
The temptation when playing Stoke at the Britannia is to fall into the trap of playing Stoke's game. Perhaps this inclination is natural. When the homestanding opponent seems to be getting away with chippy play and questionable tactics, the competitor's urge is to respond in kind.
But that would be a waste of time.
City's best chance this week will come from exploiting its most significant advantage over Stoke: talent.
Rather than trying to out-punch a puncher, City must pound Stoke into submission with finesse and skill and with speed and accuracy. If City plays its best game, Stoke will be terribly out-classed.
"Easier said than done, you say."
Well, that's true. But the only way to get past the sentiment of "we never win there" is to go and win there.
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