EPL leader Manchester City ready for grueling Stoke clash
LONDON - Agence France-Presse
David Silva. AP photoEvery Premier League match Manchester City plays for the next few months is sure to be billed as a test of the table-toppers’ title credentials and that will be the case when they face Stoke tonight.
Tony Pulis’s side, renowned for their physical approach, recently ended title-chasing Tottenham’s 11 match unbeaten league run.
City too suffered a wobble, going down 2-1 to Chelsea, but bounced back last weekend with a 1-0 win over Arsenal in a high-class encounter.
That suggested the team assembled so expensively by City manager Roberto Mancini and the club’s wealthy Abu Dhabi owners had the stomach, as well as the skill for a title fight.
But the team’s resolve is sure to be tested by Stoke, who provided Italian manager Mancini with his first opponents after he succeeded Mark Hughes at Eastlands two years ago.
City won that match and also beat Stoke in last season’s FA Cup final.
However, the Potters are now on a run of four straight league wins and a wary Mancini said: “It will be hard against Stoke. They are a strong team, who defend very well. It will not be an easy game.”
Reigning champion Manchester United, currently two points behind City, will look to maintain the pressure on its local rival when it travels to Fulham.
United may have suffered a shock Champions League exit at the hands of unheralded Basel but back in the Premier League it has been business as usual for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men with subsequent wins over Wolves and QPR.
“It was a disappointment (exiting the Champions League),” said Ferguson, in charge at Old Trafford for the past 25 years.
“We have to do something about it and I think the players have done that.” Tottenham, seven points behind City, faces Chelsea in an intriguing London derby tomorrow.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has conceded the Gunners, away to Aston Villa tonight, have all but abandoned hope of winning the title following a defeat by City that left the team 12 points off the summit.
“It will be difficult to close the gap on City now, but we will try,” said Wenger. “This was a game we couldn’t afford to lose.”
Liverpool, fresh from a 2-0 win over Villa, will hope the hearing into allegations striker Luis Suarez racially abused Manchester United’s Patrice Evra in October, is settled by the time they kickoff away to relegation candidates Wigan tonight.
Newcastle, held to a goalless draw by Swansea last time out, will look to revive its bid for a top four spot at home to West Brom tonight.
“Our best team can compete with any team in this Premier League,” said Magpies boss Alan Pardew. “Whether we have got a strong enough squad to keep us consistently in the top seven all year, we will have to wait and see.”
In other matches tonight, Queens Park Rangers are at home to Sunderland while Swansea, another promoted side, travels to Everton.