Preview: Manchester City v Stoke City

Boxing Day sees Roberto Mancini’s first game as the new Manchester City manager and the anticipation is huge. The Italian has ramped up the expectation with his stated aim of finishing in the top four this season. The players have been put through double training sessions this week in a bid to reshape the team.

It will be fascinating to see the how the team lines up, and how the players perform under new guidance. Will Robinho start, and will he rediscover the form that saw him score a hat-trick against Stoke last season? Will the defence find a shape and system that enables Kolo Toure to show the qualities that made him one of Arsenal’s “invincibles”?

After the hammering City have taken over the dismissal of Mark Hughes, a victory is essential in the battle to quell the bad headlines. There would be no better way of restoring faith in the board and the owners than a convincing performance. Roman Abramovich was proved right in his sacking of Scolari by the subsequent success of Guus Hiddink. It’s to be hoped Roberto Mancini proves capable of a similar feat.

Full of confidence and a meditteranean style after success at his previous club, Mancini had more than a hint of Mourinho about him when introduced to a rabid press pack on Monday. Some  people are questioning his three Serie A titles, saying the achievement is diminished by the financial scandal affecting other clubs. Maybe the competition wasn’t always the strongest, but Mancini’s Inter still beat all that was put in front of them. That is something City haven’t been doing under Hughes with the run of draws against supposedly weaker teams.

The way Mancini has quickly got to work this week, with the emphasis on defensive organisation, bodes well. The concern is the number of injured defenders and proximity of the Wolves game. Two games in three days is effectively a double header, and it can make sense to select a team accordingly. For example, the fragile knees of Roque Santa Cruz and Craig Bellamy may make it unwise to play them in both fixtures.

If Adebayor is fit, then he could start on Saturday, and have a chance to put down a marker to the new manager before heading to the African Cup of Nations.

If Shaun Wright-Phillips is struggling for fitness, then Bellamy could start on Saturday, before making way for the England winger on Monday. Martin Petrov may also feature, though Mancini has admitted he is looking to get the best out of Robinho.

Tevez should retain his place, after showing his best form since joining the club and looking like he is going to score every match.

It was good to hear that Vincent Kompany was training alongside Toure in the centre of defence this week. Against the aerial threat of Stoke, the giant Belgian is going to be vital. It’s to be hoped that the recently improved Micah Richards is also available to add his physical presence to the cause.

Whether Sylvinho keeps his place is a cause for conjecture. The fact is the alternatives are limited. Gareth Barry hasn’t played full-back in an awful long time. Javier Garrido hasn’t featured in the first team this season, and is likely to be furthering his career elsewhere in the new year. Pablo Zabaleta has done a job at left-back in the past, and is a reliable tackler. The problems for the Argentinian would arise when he was going forward and having to use his ‘wrong’ foot.

Hopefully Mancini will have a solution, and the players are likely to want to make a good first impression. There should certainly be strong backing from the crowd given the week we’ve just had in the press.

Stoke aren’t in great form, though they played well at Villa last week and were unlucky to lose. Robert Huth is likely to return and will be a danger at set-pieces. The much touted Ryan Shawcross could be missing, and this would be a relief when we’re defending those said set-pieces. The lively Tuncay is the main threat on the ground, along with occasional moments of brilliance from Fuller.

City should have to much for the Potters, though Tony Pulis will doubtless send out a well organised side that won’t give much away. Along with victory, a clean sheet would be a huge confidence booster for our beleagured defence.

Roberto Mancini:

“I think I can do a job and my target, always, is to win.

“Inter Milan was a good job. I arrived there when they had not won in 18 years and after one year they won the cup and then after that the championship.

“I think I can do the same in Manchester but for this it is important that I work hard and I get to know the team fast.”

Despite all that’s been said in the press, it remains a thrilling time to be a City fan. The bid for a Champions League place is officially under way and a winning start will further the belief that Roberto Mancini is the man to take us there.

Blue Days line-up: Given, Richards, Toure, Kompany, Sylvinho, de Jong, Barry, Bellamy, Robinho*, Tevez, Adebayor.

Possible line-up against Wolves: Given, Zabaleta, Richards, Kompany, Sylvinho, de Jong, Ireland, Wright-Phillips, Robinho*, Tevez, Santa Cruz.

* Replaced by Petrov at some point.

Prediction: 3-0 to City.

  • How do you think Roberto Mancini will fare in his first game as City manager?
Reaction to the media reaction on Mark Hughes departure
Verdict: Manchester City 2 Stoke City 0

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