In the clash of two very disparate Cities, there are a certain amount of similarities. Both feature powerful teams capable of grinding out necessary results thanks to a sturdy defensive platform. Both crashed down into the third tier of domestic football as recently as 1998, after playing each other in the final game of the season. And both last won a trophy – any trophy – in the 1970s. It was the League Cup in both cases, but Manchester City and Stoke City now duke it out in the FA Cup final.
Of course, the gulf in finances safely excludes any illusions of equality or brotherhood. Stoke City has patched together a team which, under Tony Pulis, can scrap away from relegation, with a club transfer record of £8m. Manchester City qualified for the Champions League midweek, is owned by a billionaire Sheikh, and spent more than that £8m on Wayne Bridge, who was shunted out on loan to West Ham United. Mario Balotelli, who cost three times that amount, likely won’t start the match.
Yet, despite the nine-digit figures spent putting together a squad, Man City’s attack has relied heavily on Carlos Tevez. The stout Argentine has scored or assisted nearly half (48%) of his side’s Premier League goals, and scored a league-leading 35% of them, despite a recent dip in form and troubles with injury.
Stoke defenders will keep a special eye on Tevez, even if his continued recovery means he features from the bench. Meanwhile, Roberto Mancini will have spent time trying to teach his players how to defend against Stoke’s set pieces. Rory Delap’s throws have proven particularly troublesome for the Citizens’ backline in the past, including last year’s FA Cup fifth round encounter. Furthermore, half (44% excluding penalties) of Stoke’s goals in the league have come from set pieces. Silly fouls and casual clearances out of bounds could determine which side ends a nearly four decade drought for a trophy.
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