Going into tomorrow's match with Stoke, many would consider the West Midlands club to be in a bit of a transition. Former City manager Mark Hughes has been set on transforming the club from a long ball, rough and tumble and audaciously physical team, to a more finessed, technical and for lack of a better term, "pretty" squad.
It's not to say that the Potters have not faced success with City since returning into the top flight under Tony Pulis in 2008. In returning to the Premiere League, Stoke have been what many (including us) consider a bogey team for Manchester City, where in their home they have reeled off a series of draws and a few wins. That luck may have changed recently with City going into the Britannia Stadium this past February and coming out with a 4-1 victory, but it's fair to say that Stoke will be hard pressed to leave some of their old traits behind.
With a 4-1 home win against Hull City in Cup play during the week, Manchester City now take the show on the road as they look to string together two consecutive league victories. In the match against Hull, City looked complete, focused and possessed the killer instinct that many who watch can familiarize themselves with. Fabian Delph was a man possessed in the middle of the pitch, while David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne patrolled the box giving City supporters a glimpse of what can be if the squad remains fit.
Injuries have been the bane of City's existence for the greater part of the season, and with major players like Vincent Kompany, Kun Aguero and Yaya Toure out for this match, the focus will be on remaining healthy. City are still alive in all four competitions, and with crucial run of matches coming up, keeping a solid rotation of players fresh is paramount.
How City Can Win:
Last week, Stoke lost against Sunderland 0-2. The Potters looked unbothered as they saw a lower league side dominate them in nearly every area of play. Sunderland had 18 shots on goal to Stoke's seven, and seemingly threatened them every time they had possession in their opponent's side of the pitch. This is where City can take advantage, Ryan Shawcross will be back from suspension after receiving a red card against the Black Cats, and that would mean that he and Phillipp Wollsheid will be in charge of staying in front of David Silva, De Bruyne and the rest.
Stoke have not found the proper formula for scoring goals as of yet this year, and with skill players like Bojan, Shaquiri and Afellay, it's difficult to understand exactly why they still lack movement in the final third. The Potter's attacking players enjoy using quick, one touch passes to switch play, but that's something City defenders are used to dealing with on a day to day basis in training. Kevin Walters has been scoreless in his last six league matches, and Mame Diouf has the potential to miss the game due to the birth of a child, so it could be a fairly light day for Joe Hart as he returns from injury. Diouf is Stoke's biggest threat with Walters being out of form, so to rule him out would not be wise.
If City come out aggressive in the opening minutes of the game, it could bode well for them. Fabian Delph has injected some life into a midfield that has seen Yaya Toure slowing down and lacking skill that say, Fernando could bring. So if Delph and Silva can link up in the middle of the park, there's no reason why the outlets on the wings combined with Bony and Iheanacho can't produce.
How City Can Lose:
Simple. Lack of focus.
A few weeks ago we saw how Stoke bullied Chelsea around the pitch in a victory in a match that saw a single goal from Marko Arnautovic, and while that is a style of play that Mark Hughes is looking to escape, it's a method that can work given the proper circumstances. With Bony at the top of the pitch, City haven't always looked as impressive as they could be or usually are with Sergio Aguero. Given that Aguero is a top talent, this can possibly be overlooked, but when players who are slight of build like Sterling, Navas and Silva get tossed around, they seem to check out and not put in their maximum effort.
It would seem more appropriate that a draw is more likely than a win, but provided the proper amount of luck, Stoke may be able to come out with three points if City allow them the opportunity. Also something to look out for: Jack Butland up against his English mentor Joe Hart in between posts.
Match Time: 1245 GMT/745EST
Location: Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent, England
Referree: Martin Atkinson
Injuries and Suspensions:
City: Eliaquim Mangala (susp), Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany, Samir Nasri, Pablo Zabaleta, Patrick Roberts
Stoke: Peter Crouch, Peter Odemwingie, Glen Johnson