Lou Macari: Fans face guessing game as Tony Pulis juggles renewed resources
EVERYONE will be trying to second guess Stoke's starting line-up when Premier League champions Manchester City roll into town this weekend.
But one thing we can be sure of – I sincerely hope – is that Stoke will lose none of their ability to get stuck in.
Tony Pulis may have bought a higher class of player in Charlie Adam and Steven Nzonzi since they last played at the Britannia.
But it would be a mistake to accommodate such players by compromising the kind of desire, commitment and aggression which has served Stoke so well.
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I'm sure Tony thinks the same way because he knows, as well as anyone, that you can't change a team's approach overnight.
No one should ever be expecting Stoke to suddenly come out thinking they are Barcelona.
The last team to do that have since gone and lost their next three games... Swindon Town after winning at Stoke in the Capital One Cup.
One thing that strikes me this weekend is how the crowd and the other lads in the dressing room deal with the omission of those players having to make way for the new faces.
With three or four new players in there all of a sudden, that can put a few noses out of joint as the whole dynamic of the dressing room, not just the first 11, can change quite dramatically.
It's a potential problem for any manager to handle and one Tony will be keeping a close eye on.
There are still those in the game who look down their noses at the kind of attributes Stoke have thrived on during their four years in the Premier League.
But they are the kind of attributes Manchester City themselves have needed to acquire to help turn them into Premier League champions for the first time.
I think we all remember how flaky they could be round the edges not so long ago – and that's why they suffered at places like Stoke City.
But now when you look through the spine of their team – Joe Hart in goal, Vincent Kompany at centre-half, Yaya Toure in midfield and Sergio Aguero up front – you have four players that form the basis of any title-winning team.
They all have ability, of course, but they also have strength of mind and body as well.
I love Aguero. Unlike so many foreign players washing up on these shores, here's a guy who will stay on his feet at almost any cost because he wants to score a goal, not win a penalty or free-kick.
There are similarities with Carlos Tevez, of course, but with Tevez you obviously get a whole lot more.
Those problems appear to be behind him now, however, and you have to admire the way Roberto Mancini won that battle with his wayward striker.
Mancini let him rot abroad, used that against him, had him fined however many millions it was, then let him come back to City to try to make amends when the time was right.
Tevez has learned that Mancini, no one else, is his boss.
And to be fair to Tevez, he did come back, he did get himself fit and he did play his part in City winning the title.
Saturday's fixture is obviously a big one for Man City as they try to retain what they won in May, but it's a big one for Stoke as well.
Certainly as big as any league game between the two Cities in recent times.
That's because after Saturday, three of Stoke's next four games come away to Chelsea, Liverpool and Man United.