FA Cup preview: Manchester City v Stoke City

City begin a double-header against Stoke hoping to progress in the FA Cup and push the Carling Cup defeat by United further into the distance. Tony Pulis’ side will be no pushovers after defeating Arsenal in the previous round, and the match promises to be more of a full-blooded spectacle than our last two league games at Eastlands.

Whether Roberto Mancini is quite so focused on the FA Cup remains to be seen. There’s a nagging suspicion that following the defeat at Hull and other lacklustre displays, the manager may now be prioritising the chase for a Champions League spot. Liverpool’s recent revival won’t have gone unnoticed at Eastlands, and three points on Tuesday may be considered more important than a cup victory.

Not that any supporter will see it that way when the game kicks off on Saturday. With United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Everton already out, the FA Cup remains a viable trophy to end our long wait.

Stoke’s away form is a pale shadow of that at the Britannia Stadium, but they are always well organised and are unbeaten in their last seven fixtures. If Mancini tries one of his more experimental formations, which often seem to confuse our own players as much as the opposition, then we could come unstuck. Pulis’ side were unlucky not to score on their last two visits to Eastlands and the Cup environment should see them offer a more attacking outlook.

Tony Pulis:

“I am looking to pick a positive team and go there to have a right go. The game on Saturday is an important one for us and the 5,000 or 6,000 supporters who will make the trip.

“They will want to see the team have a go and we’ll want to give it a go. If you can catch it right it is a knockout competition and a one-off game.”

Kolo Toure is supposedly fit to play and Micah Richards may be ok, but that doesn’t make up for the loss of Vincent Kompany with a groin injury. Let’s hope he’s ok for Tuesday. Even with Toure fit, a centre-back pairing of Onuoha and Lescott might offer the greatest physical barrier. Boyata didn’t look the same player without Kompany alongside him at Hull last week.

Pablo Zabaleta was much improved against Bolton and could be given the important job of keeping Matthew Etherington quiet. Alternatively, Mancini may look to give Nedum Onuoha another run out at full-back.

In midfield the only certainties are that Adam Johnson is cup-tied and Craig Bellamy won’t be rushed back to play. Personally I’d give Gareth Barry a rest and pair de Jong and Vieira in the middle. If we go with a central midfield three, then it’s to be hoped Ireland makes the cut and is allowed to get forward and link with the attack.

It would be a rarity to see Petrov on the left and Wright-Phillips on the right, but one which most fans would welcome. For a time against Bolton, Mancini had Tevez on the left and Johnson on the right, with Adebayor as a lone striker. This would be another interesting formation; using a lone striker with Petrov/Tevez on the left and Wright-Phillips on the right.

In the last round Tevez was given the afternoon off, and he could be rested here if we look to bolster our midfield. Adebayor should play as he looks to continue the improvement in his form.

Roberto Mancini:

“I heard the fans singing Shaun’s name, and I am happy for him. He is a good player, but it is important that he keeps improving – not only Shaun but all the players, the whole team.

“Now I know all the players here very well, I know their qualities in my mind. I have to decide before a game if it is better for the team to play 4-4-2 or 4-3-3, whether to play Stevie or Shaun or somebody else.”

Mancini has sprung a surprise in the previous rounds of the Cup so don’t be shocked to see Taylor, Boyata, Sylvinho or Ibrahim given a game. Onuoha, Ireland and Wright-Phillips ought to be keen to stake a claim for future first team action.

Extensive changes would be a high risk strategy against a full strength Stoke side who overran a mix’n’match Arsenal team. It’s to be hoped that Mancini once again gets the balance right, and keeps enough in store to win three points next Tuesday.

Blue Days line-up: Given, Zabaleta, Bridge, Onuoha, Lescott, de Jong, Vieira, Petrov, Wright-Phillips, Tevez, Adebayor.

Prediction: 3-1 to City.

Verdict: Manchester City 2 Bolton Wanderers 0
FA Cup player ratings: Manchester City v Stoke City

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