This weekend's Premier League slate features one match in particular between two clubs going in decidedly opposite directions.
The traveling side are unbeaten in their last three matches, including a galvanizing win over Manchester United. The home team have won only once in four tries in all competitions—in the other three matches, they were shut out each time.
Manchester City's recent toothless form is reason enough for the Sky Blues to approach Stoke City's visit with resolve and aggression. The Potters are tied with Cardiff City for the Premier League's worst road team, so three points are there to be taken for Manuel Pellegrini's team.
Ironically, though, it is Manchester City's ongoing success in two trophy chases, and an obligatory trip to Barcelona to in all likelihood bury Manchester City's Champions League hopes, that put such a premium on this match for the Citizens.
After Stoke City leave the Etihad, Manchester City will not play another Premier League match until Mar. 15, away to Hull City.
In the interim, Manchester City will play the final of the Capital One Cup, a quarter-final FA Cup match and that now dreaded second leg of their doomed Champions League tie with Barcelona.
Remember that Manchester City have already played one fewer league match than their main rivals for the Premier League crown (Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool) after having their scheduled Feb. 12 league match with Sunderland postponed due to weather.
Presently it is fine for Manchester City to have played one fewer match than those rivals. Had Manchester City played and won that Sunderland match, they would lead the league on goal difference. So Chelsea's current three-point lead over Manchester City is not cause for grave concern.
After this weekend, though, Chelsea will play twice more in the Premier League before Manchester City visit Kingston upon Hull.
If Manchester City and Chelsea have equal results this weekend, the Blues could then win both of those matches while Manchester City are chasing other silverware and swell their Premier League lead over Manchester City to nine points.
Yes, Manchester City could pull those points back by winning the three matches they would have in hand—but on recent evidence, how sure are you that Pellegrini's men could muster that?
Put simply, Manchester City need a boost against Stoke City. They need a confidence-builder. They need a slump-buster.
After gliding past almost every opponent for three months, Manchester City suffered a slip against Chelsea in their recent Premier League match that devolved into a full stumble against Barcelona this week.
Anything short of three comfortable points against Stoke City this weekend could lead to a painful fall.