In football, stereotypes and tired clíches are thrown around constantly and thoughtlessly. Occassaionlly, though, they’re quite accurate and that old chestnut about ‘Italian style management’, directed at Roberto Mancini, can’t have been any clearer and truer than on Sunday afternoon for the visit of Liverpool- it was in fact the archetypal Italian performance- solidity, composure and assurance in defence, a short, simple, passing game played through the middle, but a certain lack of prowess up front. For all of Emmanuel Adebayor’s endeavour, a lack of support from midfield and little or no incisive delivery from widemen Shaun Wright-Phillips and Adam Johnson meant his ability was never fully utilised.
Mancini, however, does seems willing to adapt his playing style with a visit to the Britannia in mind. Speaking to mcfc.co.uk, the City chief believes playing Stoke at their own game is crucial to his side’s success.
“Against Stoke, the ball will always be in the air. So we will prepare for a different game and not play our football.
“We must work on the high ball, on corners and free kicks, long balls and long passes. If we want to win this game, we must play like them.”
Stoke, meanwhile, played in somewhat different circumstances on Saturday evening- they visited penniless Portsmouth at Fratton Park in which the big money superstars were few and far between. The Potters’ maligned ‘blood, sweat and tears’ attitude saw them through, however- a last gasp goal from Salif Diao secured the three points to move them into a rather comfortable 11th position in the Premier League. With a distance of only three points between themselves and the top half of the table now, and 90 minutes seperating them from a Quarter-Final visit to Chelsea, this is undoubtedly a great time to be a Stoke City supporter.
The Story So Far-
A somewhat routine home win over York at the Britannia earned the Potters a mouth-watering home tie with Arsenal- their footballing polar opposites. Many speculated that Arsenal’s mental strength would be strongly tested by Stoke, believing that for all their skill and technical ability, they lacked the character to battle for a result, and so it proved. The sensational Ricardo Fuller sent the home fans into raptures after only two minutes- Arsenal replied through Denilson but Fuller emerged to score the second and Dean Whiteland gave the scoreline a late gloss- 3-1 and a trip to Eastlands the reward.
Having been put under severe pressure in the early stages, the Blues opened the scoring last Saturday through Shaun Wright-Phillips’ fortuitous opener. The game quietened from then on and Stoke clawed their back through Ricardo Fuller in the second half.
Roberto Mancini’s third game in charge of City was a trip to Championship side Middlesbrough- a ground where, on more than one occassion, the Blues have been humiliated in recent years. The Italian named a weakened side though, giving the likes of Dedryck Boyata, Vladimir Weiss, Benjani and Sylvinho opportunities to impress. It was a tense, hard fought affair which City won through a rare moment of finesse from Benjani.
Next up was a visit to Glanford Park to meet struggling Scunthorpe United. The TV companies fled to North Lincolnshire, desperate for a famous, romantic FA Cup upset, and at times it looked possible. City started brightly with Martin Petrov firing home after only 3 minutes, but the home side fought their way back into the tie and equalised through Paul Hayes. Nedum Onuoha finished neatly from six yards right before the half-time whistle and when Sylvinho scored one of the goals of the season- a sensational strike from 30 yards out, Scunthorpe might have felt the dream was over. A Boyata own goal soon after reignited confidence among the Glanford Park faithful, though, before the now departed Robinho slotted home to send City into the 5th Round tie with Stoke.
Ryan Shawcross vs. Emmanuel Adebayor- Stoke’s young centre half has been hugely impressive since joining from Manchester United in 2007, slotting comfortably into life as a Premier League regular. An aggressive, powerful defender, he is, however, prone to the occassional mistake, as we saw in the first tie at Eastlands. If Adebayor carries through the hunger he showed against Liverpool, and complements that with the attacking brilliance we know he can produce, Shawcross will be in for a busy night. An intriguing encounter.
Vincent Kompany vs. Ricardo Fuller- A defender and an attacker, both of whom are in sensational form, so one will have a slightly tarnished reputation come 10PM. Kompany was at his classy, composed best against Liverpool and his partnership with Joleon Lescott looked highly promising. Fuller, though, must be one of the trickiest strikers to defend against in England at the moment. Exceptionally strong, quick and aggressive, the Jamaican has often been Stoke’s shining light over the last couple of years. Both Kompany and Lescott will be acutely aware of how dangerous he can be- whether or not they manage to keep him quiet is another matter.
So, as we head towards March, I’ll leave you as I started out- with a tired clíche. It’s the ‘business end’ of the season now and both sides will not want their dreams of glory shattered just yet. The battle for a Champions League place, the steps toward consolidation- both of them irrelevant for two hours. This is the FA Cup. Never underestimate its importance.
Colin the King of ManCityFans.Net