How Manchester City Will Line Up Against Stoke City
While the Champions League may be slipping away from Manuel Pellegrini and his players―and the Chilean had plenty to say about that, per BBC Sport―the race for the Premier League title remains as hotly contested as ever.
The Potters will provide the hosts an entirely different type of challenge to that posed by Barcelona. In any case, with the rest of the Premier League's top four all facing home matches over the weekend, it remains just as important for now.
The need for three points against former City boss Mark Hughes's side is evident.
Pellegrini is certain to make changes from the team he named against Barca, but what will his lineup be?
Here, we try to get into the Chilean's head.
Goalkeeper: Joe Hart
The frustration on the face of Joe Hart following Dani Alves' goal late on Tuesday evening was plain to see, but the goalkeeper won't let that get in the way of his plans to keep a clean sheet here.
Indeed, Hart has kept Stoke out in each of his three matches against them at the Etihad Stadium, with the hosts winning 3-0 each time.
If he does his job correctly, with the attacking talent his team possess further up the pitch, Hart knows the Citizens should claim the three points that everyone expects them to.
Defence: Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany, Joleon Lescott, Aleksandar Kolarov
He's not suspended until the second leg against Barcelona, but perhaps Manuel Pellegrini would be wise to take Martin Demichelis out of the firing line here?
Plenty saw the Argentine's red card against Barcelona as an accident waiting to happen, and with Matija Nastasic struggling with injury, Pellegrini might be tempted to give Joleon Lescott a first league appearance since the 2-1 victory over Liverpool on Boxing Day.
He'd partner Vincent Kompany at the back were he to start, with Pablo Zabaleta taking up his usual right-back slot and Aleksandar Kolarov perhaps coming in on the left to add an increased attacking threat in place of Gael Clichy.
Midfield: Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, David Silva, Samir Nasri
David Silva was left somewhat isolated against Barcelona. He was stationed behind Alvaro Negredo and in front of the four midfielders behind him, but the visitors monopolised possession and constantly put their hosts on the back foot.
He should be able to perform in a more comfortable position on the left against Stoke, with Samir Nasri perhaps switched over to the right after his two appearances from the bench against Chelsea and Barca in the past week, scoring from Silva's assist in the former.
Both will look to get forward along with the typically forward-thinking Yaya Toure, with the vital Fernandinho also returning after missing the last two league games through injury.
Attack: Stevan Jovetic, Alvaro Negredo
Before the recent Premier League clash at Norwich, Stevan Jovetic's only previous Premier League start came in the goalless draw at Stoke in September.
The Montenegrin started alongside Alvaro Negredo at the Britannia Stadium, and he could earn another start alongside the Spaniard following his impressive display and goal against Chelsea in the FA Cup.
Negredo impressed at times against Barcelona before being replaced by Edin Dzeko with 16 minutes left, and after a run of just one goal in his last six Premier League matches, the forward will be determined to get back to scoring form against the Potters.
Ready in Reserve
Jesus Navas looks like being the player to lose out the most following Nasri's return to fitness, with the Spaniard perhaps dropping to the bench here after a hectic few weeks.
Due to injury, Sergio Aguero might be rested until the Capital One Cup final against Sunderland next weekend, whilst the likes of James Milner, Javi Garcia and Edin Dzeko will be around to provide their usual level of backup should it be needed.
How They'll Line Up
After playing a more defensive lineup against Barcelona, City will return to the more expansive, attacking way of playing against the Potters.
Nasri, Silva and Jovetic will form a pretty potent attacking trio behind Negredo in this setup, with this allowing for more players to get forward than we saw in the defeat to Barca.
City will have plenty more of the ball, too, allowing for Fernandinho to lay the foundations for his teammates to get forward and likely win the game for the hosts.
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