Pep Guardiola wasted no time in acknowledging just how tough the Premier League is after Manchester City’s late 2-1 win versus Sunderland at the Etihad last Saturday. He wasn’t wrong, and as some will have you believe, the Catalan can forget all about his past domestic and continental success because he’s about to take the truest of litmus tests – A cold Tuesday night away to Stoke.
Okay, the fixture machine has been kind enough to hand Man City a fixture at least 20 degrees warmer than usual, whereas it’s also not the sacred day for football in Stoke’s neck of the woods, so Guardiola can rest a little easier.
Or, perhaps not. In what’s usually been a more successful fixture for Man City in comparison to their rivals, Stoke have managed to take two victories in the last four meetings between the two clubs, most recently in last season’s clash at the formerly-named Britannia Stadium.
The Citizens have won once away to Stoke, so there’s certainly a degree of caution to be had over this match-up. Here are three key battles that could sway game’s result.
1 – Marko Arnautović vs. Bacary Sagna
Marko Arnautović got into the habit of scoring in the big games last season, seeing him score against the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Everton.
Man City were no exception to the rule for the Austrian, as he bagged the brace that gave Stoke their last victory against the side then managed by Manuel Pellegrini, winning 2-0.
Bacary Sagna is usually one of the most reliable right backs about, but as we saw against Sunderland on the opening day of the season, he, alongside Gaël Clichy on the opposite flank, occupies a new role in Guardiola’s system.
With the ex-Barcelona boss opting for an attacking selection of players, including David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Nolito, Guardiola has compensated for their defensive shortcomings in the middle of the park by instructing the full backs to tuck in close to Fernandinho.
Meanwhile Man City are still getting accustomed to their new system, one must wonder how much space will be afforded to Arnautović in wide positions, especially on the counter attack.