Stoke vs. Manchester City: Key Battles to Watch in FA Cup Tie
Stoke vs. Manchester City will hold plenty of memories for FA Cup enthusiasts. The two sides met in the 2011 final—a match that finished 1-0 in favour of Roberto Mancini's side. Such occurrences will have Tony Pulis' side desperate for revenge.
A loss in the FA Cup Fourth Round could significantly halt the progress of both sides. City need a win to maintain hopes of a domestic double, while Stoke need to get back on track after failing to beat a Premier League side in 2013.
A number of key clashes will take place across the pitch. Which are shaping up to be the most significant? Let's take a look.
Kenwyne Jones vs. Vincent Kompany
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Kenwyne Jones knows he is playing for his future (via the Daily Mail). A recent string of excellent performances means he is likely to start over Peter Crouch.
As one of England's most physical sides, Stoke need to play in a certain way. Vincent Kompany and his defensive colleagues aren't the type to be caught out from long balls. Despite Jones' physical presence, the towering forward needs to keep City's centre-backs under pressure whenever the Cottagers enter the second half of the field.
He can do this by dropping short. Jones can isolate Kompany if he offers hold-up play by taking up deep positions. If the City defender bites, he will be pulled out of the area and towards an individual who can spread the ball wide.
With a turn and burst of pace, a crossing opportunity opens itself up. Could this be the first ingredient of revenge?
Steven N'Zonzi vs. David Silva
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David Silva was sensational in his last match. Against Fulham, the Spaniard completed 92 percent of his passes, scored two goals and was the catalyst for any City success.
He needs to be stopped. Steven N'Zonzi will be the man tasked with this objective. The 24-year-old dominates Silva in a physical sense—but it isn't as simple as that. Silva's movement cannot be restricted to one area of the pitch, as shown here.
He will weave his way past opponents and into the final third with speed, meaning N'Zonzi has to keep pressuring. If Tony Pulis sets his midfield up without individual responsibility, expect City to cruise into the next round.
Geoff Cameron vs. Pablo Zabaleta
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Pablo Zabaleta is expected to shrug off a foot injury in time for the Stoke match (via ESPN). His presence is key to defensive and attacking stability.
As we can see here, the Argentinian loves to make direct runs into the opposition's box. He will support wingers by sprinting beyond their position and offering an outlet for the ball. Geoff Cameron needs to be aware of this. If the American defender acts intelligently, he can even take advantage of free space on the counter.
This is likely to be a yo-yo battle. Zabaleta will bomb forward and Cameron will be urged to do the same. He can provide an overlap for Matt Etherington and Michael Kightly, allowing Stoke to attack with incisiveness.
Ryan Shawcross vs. Edin Dzeko
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Edin Dzeko maintaining his place in the City starting 11 makes complete sense. Not only has the Bosnian scored four in his last five starts (via ESPN), he offers a retort to Stoke's powerful centre-backs.
Ryan Shawcross is best equipped to combat Dzeko. He won 60 percent of aerial battles in the recent match against Swansea—but this won't be enough in the City tie.
Both Shawcross and Robert Huth need to cut out the option of a long ball. City will be wary of their defensive capabilities and should be inclined to pass their way through.
Early domination of Dzeko in the air could shape up Roberto Mancini's strategy for the rest of the match. If Shawcross intimidates from the off, City will be forced into intricate football that Stoke will be confident of breaking down.
Tony Pulis vs. Roberto Mancini
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Tony Pulis needs to approach this FA Cup fixture with a greater sense of confidence. Stoke have been poor in the Premier League of late, but this competition should be attacked.
The Stoke manager needs to stop City playing football. He must make this contest frustrating—and ultimately—get the Britannia crowd excited for the chance of payback. This is a knockout competition, meaning Stoke have the right to play with a greater sense of freedom.
Roberto Mancini will be hoping for the opposite. His team need to take control of possession and wear Stoke out. The likes of David Silva, Javi Garcia and Gareth Barry will be instrumental in stopping the opposition gaining momentum.
Both managers need to get their tactical decisions correct. Strategies will change quickly due to the winner-takes-all format and should be reacted to quickly. If Stoke frustrate far enough, perhaps they can coax the Italian into setting up with a back three.
Which key battles do you think are significant? Let me know in the comments section below and be sure to follow me on Twitter: