Manchester City-Stoke City Preview
With their spot in the Champions League all but assured, Pep Guardiola and Manchester City seek an elusive superb road performance in domestic play Saturday against Stoke City at Brittania Stadium.
Needing a two-legged playoff victory to qualify for group play in Europe's most prestigious club tournament for the sixth straight year, Manchester City has little to worry about in the return match at home next week after running riot in a 5-0 demolition of Steaua Bucharest in Romania. It was City's largest victory on European soil and their largest Champions League margin.
Sergio Aguero had a hat trick despite missing a pair of penalties while newcomer Nolito and David Silva had the other two markers. Raheem Sterling posted two assists as City placed 12 of their 24 shots on target to successfully follow up their 2-1 win over Sunderland.
"We played really, really good, the result is amazing but it's the way we played which means I'm so satisfied," Guardiola told Manchester City's official website. "All of the managers in the world want to create chances and to concede few, that's what we all want - OK, we are there, so now rest and then focus on Stoke and the second game."
Such easy victories outside the Etihad were few and far in between for Manchester City en route to their fourth-place finish last season. They went 7-7-5 and scored just 24 goals in their 19 road matches and all three relegated teams - Newcastle United, Norwich City and Aston Villa - scraped out draws at the Citizens' expense.
One of those five defeats came at Stoke City, a 2-0 defeat that was among as listless a match as Manchester City played in recent years. Xherdan Shaqiri could prove as the danger man after he sprung Marko Arnautovic for a pair of goals in the first quarter-hour as the Citizens fell to 2-5-3 in their last 10 contests at Brittania Stadium in all competitions.
"We absolutely outplayed them and they came out and acknowledged that after the game as well, and it really showed the level of performance we can hit," Potters manager Mark Hughes said.
"We need to do more of the same. They have new players and a new manager with new ideas which makes it a little bit more difficult to prepare for but we'll give it our best shot and we are encouraged by last week."
Aguero had nine of those 24 road goals - he missed four games due to a knee injury, including a 2-0 loss at Stoke City - and is undoubtedly eager to add to his haul against the Potters. The Argentina international has six goals in seven lifetime matches after converting from the spot in a 4-0 whitewash in the most recent contest last season.
In addition to Aguero's imperious form, Guardiola may turn to Nigeria starlet Kelechi Iheanacho for this match. He scored twice in last season's home win over Stoke, and on Thursday signed a contract extension that will keep him in City blue through 2021.
"Kelechi is a natural goal-scorer," said Guardiola of the 19-year-old, who had 14 goals in all competitions last season and is on the Champions League roster this season. "I like his personality, his attitude, his ability - we hope to help him reach the highest level and realise his full potential."
All of Manchester City's scoring options, which also includes Kevin De Bruyne, certainly worries Hughes. He is sweating out the availability of first-choice goalkeeper Jack Butland, who missed Stoke's 1-1 draw at promoted Middlesbrough to open the season after suffering a late ankle injury.
It was the latest setback for the up-and-coming keeper who is expected to challenge deposed Man City counterpart Joe Hart for the No. 1 shirt on England's team for 2018 World Cup qualifying.
"We need to be a little bit cautious, we're not going to throw Jack back in unless he's not feeling any pain whatsoever or if we feel it isn't the right thing to do," Hughes told stokecityfc.com. "He obviously got his setback last week and as I said after the game, it shook us up really because we thought he might be back to set one."
Forty-year-old Shay Given was between the sticks for the opener, yielding an early goal by Alvaro Negredo but nothing else. Shaqiri, though, salvaged a sluggish offence by hammering home a free kick from just beyond the penalty area on 70 minutes.
Hughes also confirmed defender Glen Johnson will miss a second straight match due to a thigh injury.