Has Manchester City's dominance at home finally come to an end?
In their last three matches at the Etihad Stadium, the Citizens have lost twice. Sure, those losses came to Chelsea in Premier League action and Barcelona in the Champions League, hardly shabby opponents. But in the previous six months, City had lost just once at home, against Bayern Munich in the group stage of the Champions League.
Of course, Stoke City are no Barcelona, Chelsea or Bayern Munich. Heck, the Potters have taken just six of a possible 39 points away from home this year, a dreadful mark. Stoke have played well in February, however, with five points from their three matches in the month.
Can they do the unthinkable and steal points against City at the Etihad? Or will the Citizens resume their dominance at home?
When: Saturday at 10 a.m. ET
Saturday at 3 p.m. GMT
Where: Etihad Stadium, Manchester, England
Watch: NBC Sports Live Extra
Chances: Manchester City (68.6 percent), Stoke City (12.2 percent) and draw (18.2 percent), according to Bloomberg Sports
City's season took a disappointing turn earlier in the week when they lost to Barcelona in the Champions League round of 16, 2-0. Going to the Camp Nou and winning, let alone making up a 2-0 deficit, is nearly impossible, so City's Champions League hopes will probably be coming to an early end.
But there is still the business of winning a Premier League title, and manager Manuel Pellegrini doesn't expect the disappointment from the loss to the Catalans to carry over to Saturday's contest, as he told Richard Jolly of ESPN:
I'm sure all the players know what happened in that game, we analysed it and it can have a different relationship to the Premier League.
They are absolutely clear in their minds that we are fighting for the Premier League and we must continue to the end. So I don't think there will be a psychological link between one competition and the other.
What may hamper City, however, is the continued injury of Sergio Aguero. While the star striker may resume training next week, according to Jolly, he won't be available against Stoke. Ditto for central defender Matija Nastasic.
Given City's depth, however, overcoming those injuries is expected.
Oussama Assaidi and Robert Huth are expected to miss this game to injury for Stoke, according to Sky Sports, while loanee John Guidetti is ineligible to face City.
Stoke will take some confidence from the fact that they held City to a scoreless draw on September 14 when these teams last met, though that game was at Britannia Stadium. Still, it was just one of five times that City have remained scoreless this season.
Interestingly enough, City have been held scoreless in three of their last four games, another fact that may give the Potters some encouragement. And in four of the five games that City failed to score, Aguero didn't start or missed the game entirely due to injury.
Hey, you can't blame Stoke City for holding on to any shred of hope they can get in their pursuit of stealing a point at the Etihad.
We start with a prediction from Paul Merson of Sky Sports:
Man City need to win this game, but I don't think it will be a massive scoreline like we've seen from them a few times at home this season. The games are catching up on them and the loss to Barcelona will have knocked their confidence. I still think they will win the game though; Stoke are doing fine, but I expect City to do enough. It won't be 6-0 or 7-0 but I think they will recover from the disappointment of Tuesday night.
It's a fair assessment. City have hit a rough patch, and it isn't just because of a brutal slate of games—remember, they also were held to a scoreless draw by Norwich City on February 8. Still, the talent disparity in this game is great, and City desperately need the win.
They'll get it, but Stoke will battle. City wins, 2-0.