Stoke City have struggled on home soil this season and will do well to avoid dropping further points when they host league-leaders Manchester City at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday (12:45 GMT, live on BT Sport).
Mark Hughes’ side are solidly placed in mid-table but will need to improve on their haul of seven points from their first six home matches of the campaign if they are to have any chance of bettering their consecutive ninth-place finishes of the last two seasons.
Goals have been a real problem for Stoke during the early months of the campaign. Their current total of 11 is the lowest in the Premier League and while one might reasonably have expected them to score a few more given the positions from which their shots have been taken, even if they had they would still be under-performing in relation to last season.
It is a somewhat strange position for the Potters to be in given that three of their major summer signings were forward-minded players. Yet Xherdan Shaqiri (pictured), the most expensive, has contributed no goals and just one assist in 11 appearances, while Joselu and Ibrahim Afellay between them are yet to directly contribute to a goal in league play. It is the four forwards who were already at the club who have scored all their modest haul to date.
Stoke’s issues in front of goal have put increased emphasis on their defence, who have generally dealt well with the responsibility. Four of the club’s five victories this season have come alongside a clean sheet and they have the joint fourth best defensive record in the division. Goalkeeper Jack Butland has enhanced his reputation with some strong performances since stepping in for the departed Asmir Begovic this summer.
Goals have certainly not been a problem for Stoke’s visitors. Despite early season injuries to David Silva and Sergio Aguero, Man City are the Premier League’s top scorers with 30 goals. New signings Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling have added extra quality and incisiveness to the club’s forward options, with De Bruyne having already contributing four goals and six assists in nine league appearances.
The Citizens are very much capable of blowing opponents away with their attacking prowess. They have secured 11 victories by two or more goals in all competitions so far this season, including a consummately professional performance to defeat a difficult Southampton side 3-1 at the Etihad last weekend and a 4-1 thrashing of Championship side Hull on Tuesday that saw them follow Stoke into the final four of the Capital One Cup.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side currently top the Premier League table but it is, however, difficult to get a real handle on their season. They have largely produced excellent performances and results, regularly dominating the shot and shot-on-target counts during their matches. Yet there remains a little bit of a soft underbelly to them that occasionally sees things fall apart, as in their 4-1 defeats to Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool.
Pablo Zabaleta and Vincent Kompany were absent from both of those defeats and while both will again miss out this weekend, the impressive Nicolas Otamendi and his defensive colleagues should nevertheless be capable of keeping the Stoke attack at bay.
Man City were 4-1 winners in last season’s equivalent fixture, although Stoke are likely to look towards their 1-0 victory in the reverse fixture at the Etihad for inspiration. They will be relatively content to sit deep, soak up pressure and strike on the break. City have, though, failed to score in just three of their 22 matches in all competitions so far this season and can be fancied to breach the home defence at least once this weekend.
With Stoke struggling for goals themselves, we believe that one or two from City will be sufficient for them to maintain their place at the top of the Premier League table with victory on Saturday.