THE SPOTLIGHT is back on the Barclays Premier League this weekend after all the euphoria of Andy Murray’s US Open triumph and the Paralympics . . . and what better way to mark its return that a visit from the Champions.
Our meeting with the reigning Premier League champions is one of the most attractive fixtures of today’s programme as the action gets back underway following the two-week international break for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.
It does, of course, stir up great memories of that meeting between the two sides six months ago here at the Britannia Stadium when Peter Crouch produced one of the great moments of the 2011-12 season with a spectacular volley to put us in front, only for Roberto Mancini’s men to hit back with an equaliser from Yaya Toure.
INTRODUCING THE CHAMPIONS!
THE ‘Welcome to Manchester’ sign was needed a number of times on transfer deadline day at the end of last month . . . as the reigning Barclays Premier League champions signalled their intention to build upon the success achieved over the past two years.
Nobody was busier in the countdown to the deadline than Roberto Mancini as he added five more new faces to that of Jack Rodwell in bolstering his squad, although there were also a number of high-profile departures as well to recoup some of that outlay.
Mancini swooped in the final hour of the transfer window to acquire Benfica midfielder Javi Garcia in what was a like-for-like move to replace the outgoing Nigel De Jong, having earlier sprung one or two surprises amidst all the drama leading up to the deadline.
Despite the presence of Micah Richards and Pablo Zabaletta, City’s manager gave himself a further option in the right back role by signing Brazilian star Maicon for £3 million from Inter Milan, while he also snapped up former England goalkeeper Richard Wright on a free transfer to give him an experienced third choice behind Joe Hart and Costel Pantilimon.
There was no such surprise when Scott Sinclair finally sealed his £6.2 million switch from Swansea City, a move which had been on the cards for some time, and he was seen as a straight replacement for the Sunderland-bound England winger Adam Johnson.
In a further ‘one in, one out’ move by Mancini, his acquisition of the teenage Serbian international defender Matija Nastasic from Fiorentina in a £12 million deal allowed the disappointing Stefan Savic to move in the opposite direction to the Italian club.
Although an overall transfer outlay of around £50 million was relatively small when compared to some of City’s spending in recent seasons, it certainly allayed any concerns for Mancini as he endeavours to bring the Club further success in the future.
The new lease of life being enjoyed by a leaner and fitter Carlos Tevez meant that the frontline was the one area of the squad that was strengthened by all the transfer activity, but the Italian has many options in all other departments of his star-studded squad.
It will certainly be required if City are going to mount a strong defence of their title and bid for glory on the European front where they have been handed the toughest of challenges in a group that also features Spanish giants Real Madrid, Ajax and Borussia Dortmund.
That Champions League campaign kicks off with a visit to the Bernabeu Stadium on Tuesday evening to face Jose Mourinho’s side who missed out on the opportunity to reach last season’s Final when they were beaten by Bayern Munich in the semi-final.
It was indeed Bayern who were one of the teams to deny City the chance of progressing through the Group Stage last season when they finished third behind the German side and Napoli despite accumulating ten points from their six matches.
While they will be aiming to go further in this season’s competition to take the Club to even greater heights, they will want to hold onto a title that had proved so elusive for so long and they will be confident about achieving that aim this season with the considerable strength in depth which they now have following all the new additions to the squad.
Full name: Manchester City Football Club
Stadium: Etihad Stadium
Owner: Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Chairman: Khaldoon Al Mubarek
Manager: Roberto Mancini
2011/12: Premier League (1st),
THE ITALIAN MASTER
STOKE CITY have featured in some of the key moments which have led to Roberto Mancini establishing Manchester City as a major force in English football.
The charismatic Italian celebrated his first victory as City boss in a Boxing Day meeting with the Potters in December 2009, just days after succeeding Mark Hughes, while his first trophy meant that our hopes of FA Cup glory ended in bitter disappointment last year.
Mancini has, of course, scaled even greater heights since then by guiding the richest club in the world to the prize they wanted most of all, the Barclays Premier League title, which was secured in the most dramatic of circumstances on the final day of last season.
That ended a 44-year wait for the club to be crowned champions and it justified the faith that was shown in his ability as they turned to someone whose brief time in management had already delivered a considerable amount of success back home in Italy.
A glittering spell in charge of Inter Milan saw him claim three consecutive Serie A titles and two Italian Cups while winning almost 62% of his 226 matches in charge.
Mancini enjoyed considerable success as a player in a career spanning 20 years, winning 36 senior caps for Italy while also earning a number of domestic honours in more than 700 appearances for three clubs, Bologna, Sampdoria and Lazio.
The final days of his playing career saw him turn out briefly for Leicester City during a loan spell in the East Midlands before he gained his initial managerial experience with Fiorentina and Lazio which led to him taking over the reins at Inter Milan.
TONY PULIS could hand up to four new players their Britannia Stadium debuts this weekend . . . following yet another dramatic transfer deadline day.
The City boss swooped to sign Charlie Adam, Steven N’Zonzi and Maurice Edu before the window slammed shut two weeks ago, before completing a high profile deal to bring Michael Owen to the Potteries last week.
Adam featured against Wigan last time out, whilst Edu was named on the bench, however, Saturday’s encounter could be the first time that the majority of the supporters will be able to see them in action.
It’s unlikely that Pulis will thrust all four straight into the firing line, but he may be inclined to feature one or two of them as he bids to prolong a five game unbeaten run on home turf against the Champions.
Pulis should also be able to call upon Matthew Etherington and Andy Wilkinson after both players shrugged off their injury setbacks, however, Jamie Ness is definitely ruled out with the groin injury he sustained against Swindon Town.
Manchester City could be without striker Mario Balotelli, who is currently sidelined with a leg injury, but last season’s top scorer Sergio Aguero could return.
WHO, WHAT, WHERE?
A LOOK at the rest of the Barclays Premier League action this weekend!
All matches kick-off at 15:00 unless otherwise stated.
Norwich v West Ham
Arsenal v Southampton
Aston Villa v Swansea
Fulham v West Brom
Manchester United v Wigan
QPR v Chelsea
Stoke City v Manchester City
Sunderland v Liverpool (17:30 ESPN)
Reading v Tottenham (16:00 Sky Sports)
Everton v Newcastle (20:00 Sky Sports)
A FAMILIAR STORY?
THE Potters will be looking to carry on a run that has seen them remain undefeated at home to Manchester City since they won promotion back to the Premier League in 2008.
Despite the immeasurable change that has been initiated at the Etihad Stadium in that time, they have always found the Potters a difficult nut to crack at the Britannia Stadium.
The last three top-flight meetings here have finished 1-1, while Stoke memorably won 3-1 in an FA Cup tie back in February 2010. Of course, the champions exacted revenge a year later by claiming the trophy at Wembley by beating Tony Pulis’ side 1-0.
Overall, Man City edge the head-to-head table, with 43 wins compared to Stoke’s 35, while there have been 22 draws between the two sides. Their first ever meeting came on December 2nd 1899 - Stoke won 1-0. Home fans will be delighted with the same today.
OUTSIDERS TO WIN?
FANCY a flutter on this weekends action . . . then why not visit bet365 for the latest odds?
The Potters are priced at 4/1 to claim all three points against the Blues, whilst the draw can be backed at 13/5. The visitors are priced at 8/11 to pick up their ninth win in ten games.
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