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Stoke City-Manchester City Preview
Manchester City went into the international break as the darlings of the Premier League after a comprehensive defeat of reigning champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
They look to come out of the sojourn in the same style Saturday when they host Stoke City at the Etihad Stadium.
City's 2-0 victory over the Blues was everything supporters and pundits envisioned when Pep Guardiola arrived at the blue side of Manchester last season. Sharp in tactics and flexible in formation with what appeared to be a 3-2-2-3, Manchester City forced Chelsea on their heels by pinning their wide backs deep in their half of the pitch and neutralising their vaunted counterattack.
That gave Manchester City (6-1-0) all sorts of space in the midfield to pick out spots to exploit Chelsea's defence, which was done eventually with a sublime strike from distance by Kevin De Bruyne in the 67th minute as he completed a 1-2 with Gabriel Jesus. While the final score was 1-0, the chasm in the quality between the teams - for this match at least - served notice that even in mid-October, the Premier League could be City's to lose as they grabbed the top spot in the table.
"Last year I think we had big games where I think we didn't do particularly badly, but we had no points to show for it," De Bruyne told the team's official website. "These are the most important games. It's just three points, but to win these ones, it's six points in the end.
"You can win all the big games and then lose all the small ones. You need to try and be consistent."
And the good times continued for most of City's players during the international break. Jesus had a brace as Brazil wrapped up South American qualifying by eliminating his teammate Claudio Bravo and archrivals Chile. De Bruyne saw spot duty for Belgium, who had qualified for the World Cup during the previous international break.
Lost in the commotion was Sergio Aguero, who sat out the win over Chelsea after suffering a rib injury in an automobile accident in Amsterdam. He was also a spectator as Argentina survived World Cup qualifying in South America by winning their final match over Ecuador to directly enter next year's 32-nation tournament in Russia.
Aguero was on the training pitch Wednesday, but his availability for this match has yet to be established. The man nicknamed "Kun" is one goal shy of matching Eric Brook's all-time record of 177 goals with Man City. While Brook achieved his milestone over 491 matches, Aguero has bagged his 176 goals in just 261 since signing from Atletico Madrid in 2011.
The last bit of intrigue comes with whether Fabian Delph can consistently be a force as a wide back. He played well against Chelsea, and with Benjamin Mendy out long term, the England international will need to be consistent both domestically and abroad as City chase their Champions League aspirations.
Stoke City (2-2-3) enter this contest 13th in the table and looking to win back-to-back league matches for the first time this season. The Potters went into the break 2-1 winners over Southampton as the seemingly ageless Peter Crouch scored from close range on 85 minutes.
The goal, though, probably won't convince boss Mark Hughes to put the lanky Crouch into his starting XI. What will concern Hughes, though, is Saido Berahino's early ineffectiveness. The £12 million transfer from West Brom has just two shots on goal in four matches and his poorly taken penalty late in the first half with Stoke leading 1-0 gave the Saints a lifeline they eventually took advantage of.
The Potters manager also has injury concerns to deal with as assistant Mark Bowen confirmed talisman and defender Ryan Shawcross will miss his fifth straight league match due to a back injury.
"It's important for him and for us to get him back on the field, but back on the field for a sustained challenge for the rest of the season, not to be in for a week or so and then back out again," Bowen told Stoke City's official website. "I had a brief chat with him and he said it's a case of not putting any deadlines on himself - the bottom line is he's got to make sure he's right."
There may be a second absence on the back line depending on whether American international Geoff Cameron is match-ready after sitting out both qualifiers as the United States ignominiously crashed out of World Cup qualifying. Cameron won't return to the team until Friday, and Stoke is also waiting on the availability of midfielder internationals Joe Allen and Bruno Martins Indi.
Stoke grinded out a scoreless draw in the corresponding fixture last season, limiting City to one shot on target. Aguero had a brace in the other contest, a 4-1 victory. The Potters' 1-0 victory in 2014 is their only one at Manchester City in 11 overall matches (1-2-8) in the Premier League era.
Updated October 12, 2017