STOKE v MAN CITY – No pottering about Snr Pellegrini!

Manchester City’s ‘Ministry of Defence’ is creaking under the stresses and strains caused by an ailing department of health and the continuing absence of leader Vincent Kompany.

The team which has boasted the least goals conceded for the last three seasons, is facing a shortage of manpower across the backline as they square up to the annual rigours of the Battle of Britannia.

It’s vital that Manuel Pellegrini’s company of men don’t crack in the Potteries, as they go about their mission to garner maximum points for the first time since 1999.

City will be missing their Captain Fantastic as well as flying wing backs Gael Clichy and the perennially injured, but hugely unfortunate, Micah Richards in defence, as well as playmaker David Silva on the frontline.

Missing in action - Joleon Lescott needs to step up to the plate whereas Micah Richards needs to get off the treatment table

Missing in action – Joleon Lescott needs to step up to the plate whereas Micah Richards needs to get off the treatment table

Stoke has traditionally been ‘Operation Stalemate’ in the Premier League, with each of City’s last four visits ending in 1-1 draws, but the sky blues desperately want to get their away form on track after the shock defeat by Cardiff.

A last ditch FA Cup victory, courtesy of Pablo Zabaleta’s late strike in January, saw City victorious in front of a subdued home crowd, but you have to tumble back in time and down the divisions, since Gerard Wiekens’ winning goal in the third tier of English league football.

Of course, there’s the added spice of an ex-City manager scorned and an erratic midfielder, who misguidedly ‘mourned’ the passing of his very much alive Granny, to contend with this time out.

Revenge mission - ex City boss Mark Hughes has still take maximum points off his former employers

Revenge mission – ex City boss Mark Hughes has still to take maximum points off his former employers

An eternally embittered Mark Hughes has still to put one over his ex-employers, while the enigmatic Stephen Ireland – City’s Player of the Season 2009 – will be busy trying to resurrect a career once so full of promise. A loan move from Aston Villa will see if he can recapture the form that so captivated the City faithful, but alas, appears to have been a one season wonder.

Pellegrini’s dilemma is who plays alongside Matija Nastasic in the heart of the defence. Does he opt for the capable, but presently erratic, Joleon Lescott, or, does he go for wholesale changes and drop Yaya back, or even draft in Jack Rodwell?

One thing is for sure – I hope and pray – Javi Garcia is not given the job. It’s unfair on the player and will spare the travelling supporters anxiety attacks. 

The jury is still out on Javi but, under Pellegrini, the man who sold him to Benfica while at Real Madrid, City must hope the best is yet to come. If not he could be on his way in January.

Another selection ‘no brainer’ has to see Alvaro Negredo leading the line from kick-off and Edin Dzeko left to contemplate ‘Supersub status’ as per 2012/13.

Unleash the Beast - Alvaro Negredo must surely start for City ahead of Edin Dzeko

Unleash the Beast – Alvaro Negredo must surely start for City ahead of Edin Dzeko

Negredo looks every inch a 20-goal PL hitman. He’s scored two – it should be three after a perfect finish was ruled offside against Newcastle – and brings aggression and movement, sadly lacking in Dzeko’s play.

Ironically, it was the far less prolific Jesus Navas who netted a late equaliser in Spain’s 2-2 draw with Chile in midweek. Both ex-Sevilla men are showing great promise so early in their City careers.

Silva standard - will Samir Nasri fill in for the injured Spanish playmaker?

Silva standard – will Samir Nasri fill in for the injured Spanish playmaker?

The loss of David Silva could herald a first competitive match for Stevan Jovetic – out injured and lacking match fitness for the PL. Pellegrini has a glut of riches for the vacant berth. He could go with with Samir Nasri (a midweek goalscorer for France in Belarus) or he could opt for the more physical presence of England stalwart James Milner, to combat Stoke’s traditionally ‘robust’ approach.

The arrival of Hughes as Tony Pulis’ successor at Stoke has signified a shift to a slightly more sophisticated style of play – but it won’t happen overnight.

Spurred on by Hughes’ hatred for City and the manner in which he was unceremoniously sacked, Stoke won’t be taking any prisoners as they look to maintain a promising start to their campaign. If they were to take all three points it would mark not only the club’s best ever PL start, but also that of Hughes’ managerial career.

Fresh from a trio of clean sheets for club and country, Joe Hart will once again be under close scrutiny and comparisons made with his opposite number, Stoke keeper, Asmir Begovic.

Laundryman - Joe Hart has kept  4 cleansheets in his last 5 appearances for club and country

Laundryman – Joe Hart has kept 4 cleansheets in his last 5 appearances for club and country

The disproportionately criticised Hart, would have been shipped out of City – allegedly – if Roberto Mancini and his assistant, David Platt, had stayed at the club. Bosnian international Begovic was rumoured to have been earmarked by Mancini as Joe’s replacement.

Apart from home advantage, Stoke’s players should be the fresher with the majority of their squad ‘spared’ international duties. City had a dozen players representing a host of nations, whereas just Geoff Cameron and Wilson Palacios were called up and played for the USA and Honduras respectively.

Despite underwhelming performances – that’s putting it mildly – against Cardiff and Hull, City sit a respectable third in the table with a +5 goal advantage – the best in the division.  That said, it’s not often that a Stoke win would take them above City, but that would happen come 17.00hrs Saturday.

Winning ugly is not, and hardly ever, will be a problem for Pellegrini as he acclimatises to a domestic league unlike any other in Europe or South America, but it’s not his way.

It’s a habit that has long served the Manure types to great effect.

The Chilean won’t want to surrender two points let alone three. He will also be mindful of a Champions League campaign that gets underway 72 hours – give or take – after the final whistle at the Britannia.

Too many draws and the unexpected proverbial ‘bad day at the office’ cost Mancini’s City, dearly last season.

Leader of the pack - Yaya Toure needs to drive his team to a first PL win at Stoke

Leader of the pack – Yaya Toure needs to drive his team to a first PL win at Stoke

His successor is wise enough to know the PL title is won at the likes of Stoke, Southampton and Swansea and not exclusively at Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and White Hart Lane.

Stand-in skipper Yaya Toure needs to marshall his troops and demand every last ounce of effort in pursuit of maximum points. City undoubtedly have the talent, they just need to apply themselves to the job in hand.




 By David Walker



  1. September 13, 2013  11:24 pm by Susan Bookbinder Reply

    I love the way you write David, you are passionate but realistic and so very on the ball all the time. You are all we need x

    • September 14, 2013  12:14 am by David Walker Reply

      Thanks Suzy - wonderful feedback but you did make me smile. My Dad used to say to me: "You're ok, you've got me - all I've got is you!" It brought it all back :-)

      He also used to say :"You're like my kept out of sight!"

      He was a very wise man my Dad with a very dry wit...well at least I hope he was joking!

      • September 16, 2013  12:47 am by Susan Bookbinder Reply

        You're too modest, need to be more realistic - this is GREAT WRITING again and again. You're the consistency we need!

  2. September 13, 2013  11:45 pm by Grant Mills Reply

    Really need a win to settle the uncertainty. Would like to see Jovetic behind Negredo as Aguero has looked far from his best. Might be wise to bring Milner and Rodwell in too. Come on City

    • September 14, 2013  12:15 am by David Walker Reply

      What can I say Grant #TrustOurMP

  3. September 14, 2013  12:15 am by Simon Dear Reply

    Would start with Yaya & Nastasic at the back with Rodwell introduced in the middle of the park to beef things up with Milner & Fernandinho .
    Jovetic then in behind Negredo & Aguero with Nasri & Navas on the bench ready to introduce the spark if needed. We have to win the battle first then the match . A draw would not be a disaster but its about time we started finding it easier against team like Stoke ( no dis respect but mid table at best ) Other certain rivals never seem to struggle picking up 3 points .

    • September 14, 2013  12:28 am by David Walker Reply

      Sound tactical thinking Simon and yes, it's about time we put - as you so diplomatically describe Stoke - 'mid-table teams' away, bag the points and move on. It's ultimately why we didn't retain the title last season e.g. Southampton, QPR, West Ham, Swansea etc.

  4. September 14, 2013  12:27 am by Frank Reply

    You speak yet again for all of us, David. What I have noticed in this new form of "attractive" football is a lack of aggression which I believe Negredo and Milner provide and thus they should be in the starting XI. While I have not seen him play, I would imagine Jovetic also offers that kind of muscle as well. I agree with Simon that perhaps Nasri and Navas should be on the bench simply to save them for Tuesday. It's going to be interesting to see how the squad rotates in the next few weeks and if they can stay coherent. We badly miss Kompany no matter what, but we can prevail!

    • September 14, 2013  12:29 am by David Walker Reply

      100% agreement Frank - thanks for reading and commenting.

  5. September 14, 2013  2:23 am by Kev Russell Reply

    Totally agree with all your points David & good to have you back after the internationals. Hughes will have Stoke flying out of the traps & we need to be better prepared than we were last season at these ''up & at em" type places. Mentally more than anything! A place for Milner should be on the cards after his warm up for England last week but my trust is in MP. I expect our last 2 games have given him lots to think about over this break. He's the man to lead us into a crucial week ahead & for many years to come. Another fantastic read David. #TopScriber

    • September 14, 2013  4:14 am by David Walker Reply

      As ever Kev - many thanks for supporting #RBNR & for taking time & effort to comment. Let's hope there are no hiccups, no more bloomin' injuries, maximum points & same again in CL with a win over our Czech mates.

  6. September 14, 2013  5:58 am by Jonathon Whitaker Reply

    Enjoyable read David -again. Agree with all your points. Fitting you should end your piece on Yaya. He is the key to our chances of success at the Britannia. I'd put him at centre back. He's not protecting his defence enough at present and he should be stepping up as a leader too.

    • September 14, 2013  8:53 am by David Walker Reply

      Forever the dilemma, Yaya always seems at his most effective marauding forward behind the strikers and ripping up the opposition defence. I thought Fernandinho had been acquired to sit in front of the back line to release Yaya further upfield. However, in these difficult defensive times I wouldn't disagree that he could play a deeper role, but rather like a summer sale - for a limited time only. It's not arrogance but if we can't beat Stoke we can't quibble if we don't win the PL come season end. Thanks for commenting JW.

  7. September 14, 2013  8:42 am by craig cassells Reply

    Good read as always, I'd have young rodwell at the back with nasty. Hopefully the captains armband goes to a player with a fighting mentalliy ie Zabba not some lump of wood. Negrado has to start today with jovetic coming on to finish them off, today will be a big test as always and time for fernandinho to show what he can do.

    • September 14, 2013  8:57 am by David Walker Reply

      Difficult to disagree with your points CC. It's early days for all the new signings but maybe sometimes, we as fans, need to temper expectations a tad and allow players to adapt. I'm sure Fernandinho will come good - very good - just hope it's sooner rather than later. As for Negredo, he looks a natural for the Premier League and could yet prove a bargain at less than £25m.

  8. September 14, 2013  8:56 am by Graham Ward Reply

    A good read as always, David. I think we may have to wait a little while longer to see Jovetic start, he's on my bench today.
    I think the Lescott-Nasty partnership will be given another game, and I'd have Milner and Nasri in for Navas and Silva.
    I, too, would have Negredo starting up front for Dzeko.
    If we match the workrate and effort of Stoke, I think we have enough quality to get the result.

    • September 14, 2013  9:05 am by David Walker Reply

      Morning Graham, my response to your comment became somewhat detached as a direct reply, but it's to be found further downpage. Apologies for my lack of dexterity on the keyboard!

  9. September 14, 2013  9:00 am by Andy Devereux Reply

    Excellent stuff again David,like you i think Negredo starting is a 'no brainer' lets hope MP sees it that way.Lets hope for a Newcastle type performance and finally a 3 point return from the Brittania. #TrustOurMP

    • September 14, 2013  9:03 am by David Walker Reply

      If Negredo doesn't start I will, for the first time begin to question my own # creation.


      Cheers Andy CTWD

  10. September 14, 2013  9:01 am by David Walker Reply

    Yes, that's where we come undone when we come undone - our work ethic. It's indefensible really because, as our history has shown, City fans will always appreciate a player that tries and gives his all, even if he isn't the most talented. Nowadays we undoubtedly have the talent it's just the application that can sometimes go awry.

  11. September 14, 2013  11:47 am by carole Reply

    Super piece as always David! Quite pleased, in a strange way, that Silva's out because Nasri was outstanding when twice subbed on for France...he changed the games and deserves to make that playmaker role his own for a few weeks. Jovetic no way....lacks match fitness and Stoke isn't the place for a baptism!
    Would like to see Kolarov get a run too....again he was quite brilliant for Serbia, voted MOTM -not only scoring but creating too.
    I disagree with the majority that Negredo will start. Think it's pretty clear from Pellegrini's remarks in his press conference that Dzeko is still h is preferred choice and I think he'll stick with him. ...let's see!
    It's not inconceivable that he may start with both! He may rest Aguero who didn't return till Thursday - and there's Tuesday to consider. If he could have rested Zabba too I'm sure he would, but as you say, Micah perennially injured; Almost time to give up on him IMO and get another RB in January!

    We haven't played well so far., but I don't blame the players in the slightest. If confusion reigns in defence, it's perfectlyy understandable. Biggest problem has been the change from zonal to man-marking on set-pieces and it's as difficult to switch back from a system you're been used to for 4 years (and a highly successful one) as it was to adapt to it in the first place. So the manager has to accept responsibility for any failings IMO.It's not just that we have injuries at the back!
    The change to a high line, too, could be our biggest problem to day. Stoke will exploit that with long balls.
    All round, I think we have to accept that with a new manager coming in and making quite radical changes, our results at the start of the season were always going to be poor or mediocre. That 'beautiful, winning football' is a long way off I'm afraid.
    We are sorely lacking the energy Tevez gave us frankly. We have brought some decent players in, but none of his quality and no one like Mario either, who was often capable of a spark of magic. I think we will come to regret letting 2 players with World class quality go...

    I know it's you remit to be upbeat, I understand that. But I still believe the club made a huge mistake replacing RM and that it will cost us. But hey, I'd be happy to be proved wrong!

  12. September 15, 2013  1:15 pm by David Walker Reply

    Carole, thanks for such a comprehensive response - truly. However, my remit is to call it as I see it RBNR is my baby and I do as I wish within the constraints ot the libel laws. Can't agree on Nasri or Kolarov - both are infuriatingly inconsistent and Nasri has never lived up to his Arsenal form. Kolarov, I would say is left defensive midfielder because he is well dodgy as a last man defender. Tevez wanted to go...and we effectively saved £27m into the bargain. Mario may well realise his potential back in

    • September 15, 2013  1:19 pm by David Walker Reply

      ...Italy (sorry about that computer throwing a tantrum). As for RM I was vociferous in my support, but knowing now what I didn't know then he was not sustainable as manager. Pellegrini will do us proud.

      Thanks again for taking the time and effort to read and respond to RBNR.

  13. September 15, 2013  1:54 pm by Mole Rocks Reply

    I'm reading this after the horse has already bolted, but a beautifully crafted piece as always.

    Interesting line up and it was positive that Jovetic had an opportunity to get some game time.

    Will celebrate another clean sheet and hope that it's just a matter of time before we see the cohesion that comes with the players having more time with the manager and each other.

    It hasn't stopped me buying a ticket for the Everton game, which historically has been another tough game.

    A few pre game pints will be required me thinks!

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