THE MOST successful teams are those who bounce back strongly from any setbacks which they suffer along the way . . . something Manchester City have certainly done over the past six weeks in their quest for more honours this season.
An impressive run of seven wins in the last eight matches have removed any doubts about City's ability to achieve further success and therefore build upon their FA Cup and Barclays Premier League triumphs over the past two campaigns.
Roberto Mancini's side were dealt a double blow within the space of five days in early December when they crashed out of Europe and then saw their fierce rivals Manchester United snatch a last-minute victory at the Etihad Stadium.
United then opened up a seven point gap in the title race on Boxing Day as they hit back from going behind three times to beat Newcastle, while the reigning champions were coming unstuck at the hands of former winger Adam Johnson.
But in another dramatic late twist last weekend, one of many that are likely to take place between now and the end of the season, United were pegged back by an injury-time equaliser at Tottenham Hotspur to reduce the gap to five points.
Mancini's men had chalked up their fourth successive League win 24 hours earlier as they brushed aside Fulham quite comfortably to follow on from victories over Norwich City, ourselves and Arsenal since that 1-0 defeat at Sunderland.
On top of that, City eased into the fourth round of the FA Cup when they overcame Championship club Watford at the Etihad Stadium and since the exciting 4-3 win at Carrow Road, they have not conceded a goal in four matches.
A further boost to their bid for glory on two domestic fronts came when skipper Vincent Kompany had his red card at Arsenal rescinded after an Independent Regulatory Commission considered an appeal against Mike Dean's decision.
While it was a major disappointment to City that they performed so poorly in the Group Stage of the Champions League, that may well prove to be a blessing in disguise over the coming weeks as they focus on matters closer to home.
MANCHESTER CITY FACT-FILE
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), FA Cup (Third Round), League Cup (Semi-Final), Community Shield (runners-up), Champions League (Group Stage), Europa League (Round of 16).
Record transfer fee paid: £35m for Sergio Aguero to Atletico Madrid, August 2011.
Record transfer fee received: £21m for Shaun Wright-Phillips from Chelsea, July 2005.
Tony Pulis has confirmed that he will be naming his strongest possible starting eleven against Premier League Champions Manchester City .
The Potters were heartbreakingly beaten by Roberto Mancini's side in the Final of the competition in 2011, and will be seeking to avenge that defeat when the two sides lock horns for a third time this season at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday.
A Peter Crouch strike earned the side a point from the League encounter in the Potteries back in September, whilst the side's opening game of 2013 ended in disappointment at the Etihad Stadium as the hosts ran out comfortable 3-0 winners.
"I will name the strongest possible team available to me at the weekend - because this is a game we really want to win," Pulis said at the pre-match press conference on Thursday.
A second start for the Club for Michael Owen could happen - and Pulis did hint that he could be inclined to include the England ace in his side following his goal-scoring exploits in South Wales last weekend.
One change to the starting line-up that will almost certainly take place will be the inclusion of Denmark stopper Thomas Sorensen.
There was less positive news however, on the potential availability of full-backs Andy Wilkinson and Ryan Shotton, after the City boss confirmed that both remain doubts for the forthcoming clash.
Wilkinson is still nursing a problematic back injury, which ruled him out of the 3-1 defeat against Swansea City, whilst Pulis also acknowledged that Shotton still isn't at 100 percent, despite featuring for 45 minutes in the midweek friendly with Derby.
IN PROFILE - ROBERTO MANCINI
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.
FA CUP FOURTH ROUND FIXTURES
Millwall v Aston Villa (Friday, 19:45)
STOKE CITY v MANCHESTER CITY (12:45)
Bolton Wanderers v Everton
Brighton & Hove Albion v Arsenal
Derby County v Blackburn Rovers
Huddersfield Town v Leicester City
Hull City v Barnsley
Macclesfield Town v Wigan Athletic
Middlesbrough v Aldershot Town
Norwich City v Luton Town
Queens Park Rangers v Milton Keynes Dons
Reading v Sheffield United
Manchester United v Fulham (17:30)
Brentford v Chelsea (Sunday, 12pm)
Leeds United v Tottenham Hotspur (Sunday, 14:00)
Oldham Athletic v Liverpool (Sunday, 16:00)
All games kick-off at 15:00 on Saturday unless otherwise stated.
HEAD TO HEAD
League: 30 Stoke City wins; 37 Manchester City wins; 21 draws
FA Cup: 3 Stoke City wins; 4 Manchester City wins; 1 draw
League Cup: 2 Stoke City wins; 3 Manchester City wins; 1 draw
TOTAL: 35 Stoke City wins; 44 Manchester City wins; 23 draws
LAST FIVE ENCOUNTERS
Manchester City 3-0 Stoke City (Premier League) - 01/01/2013
Stoke City 1-1 Manchester City (Premier League) - 15/09/2012
Stoke City 1-1 Manchester City (Premier League) - 24/03/2012
Manchester City 3-0 Stoke City (Premier League) - 21/12/2011
Manchester City 3-0 Stoke City (Premier League) - 17/05/2011
Stoke City win 15/4; Manchester City win 8/11; draw 13/5
REFEREE - HOWARD WEBB
Howard Webb makes his third visit to the Britannia Stadium of the season this weekend.
He has brought luck the last two times, with the Potters winning 2-1 against Newcastle in November and 3-1 against Liverpool on Boxing Day.
His most recent game was West Ham's 1-1 draw with Queens Park Rangers last Saturday.
He has dished out 87 yellow cards and three reds this season.