Martin Smith: Michael Owen can be our Rover of the Rovers to break Manchester City hearts again
TWO of the most eagerly anticipated home fixtures of the season for Stoke City supporters are those against Arsenal and Manchester City.
They are usually memorable matches that seem to bring out something special in both our players and fans.
Well, this season's fixture list gave us Arsenal in our first home game and Manchester City in our second, so once again the atmosphere at the Britannia Stadium will be ratcheted up to full volume for another blood and thunder contest.
Since we were promoted to the Premier League we have entertained Manchester City five times, and they have yet to leave ST4 with more than a draw.
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These are the games in which our team seem to produce their very, very best, and we'll all be hoping that's the case again this Saturday.
Memories of last season's wonder goal by Peter Crouch and the simply wonderful micky-taking "Poznan" celebration which followed it are still fresh in our minds.
And we know our team will once again be pumped up to deal with the very real threat which will be posed by the visit of the reigning Premier League champions.
But that's only half the story, of course. This weekend's match is also keenly anticipated by Stoke fans wondering what team and tactics Tony Pulis will deploy.
Will we be treated to another ultra-cautious (and entirely understandable) approach, like the one we saw against Arsenal three weeks ago, or will our manager decide to unleash any or all of his new signings?
Fans will obviously be keen for their first home sighting of Charlie Adam in a Stoke City shirt, while we can only guess what part, if any, will be played by Michael Owen and Steven Nzonzi.
The signing of Owen in particular raises a whole lot of questions about the direction in which the Potters intend to go this season.
When it was first reported – by The Sentinel – that Stoke were interested in bringing Owen to the Brit, I said then I didn't see how we could accommodate him in our specific way of playing, and I still feel the same way now.
It may not be a pressing concern at the moment, as Owen probably has some catching up to do in terms of fitness, but sooner or later it's a situation we're going to have to address.
But I just cannot see how Owen is going to fit into our system unless we make some changes, and assistant boss Dave Kemp has already declared it will be evolution, not revolution, at the Brit this term.
Of course, it might be that our manager and coaching staff see Peter Crouch and Owen as a partnership, with the former knocking down high balls and laying off passes to allow his diminutive partner to use his predatory instincts to the full.
However, that would require the scrapping of the role currently filled by Jon Walters, and it's difficult to see that happening as we've relied so heavily on that way of playing for most of the time TP has been our manager.
At times we have dabbled with different variations of a 4-3-3 set-up, and maybe TP will look at that as the best way forward for his new-look Stoke.
But he seems to love his 4-4-1-1 formation so much that, as one fellow Stokie put it, there's more chance of him swapping his matchday baseball cap for a trilby than of him doing away with a system which has served him so well for so long.
Whatever he decides to do will certainly generate a lot of discussion among fans eager to see what comes of all of the midfield players we've been busily accumulating over the past couple of months.
Whatever team and formation TP deploys, City are bound to provide a very stern test of our credentials this weekend, but we should be wary of talking ourselves out of contention.
Seven points from their opening three league games suggest City have hit the ground running again this season, but if you've seen their matches then you'll know the results don't tell the entire story.
They have looked vulnerable at times and have already had to dig themselves out of a couple of early-season holes.
They are the only team Liverpool have scored against or taken a league point from so far, and they were far from convincing against both Southampton and QPR at home.
If we get it right on the day and are prepared to show the necessary ambition, then there's no reason why we can't provide another day of high drama at the Brit. We've done it before and we can do it again.
And we fans have our part to play, too.
After everybody got their frustrations off their chests at Wigan, we'll hopefully see a more unified support this weekend. People said what they wanted to say at the DW Stadium, but that's over now.
The visit of Manchester City in 2009 provided one of the most incredible shows of support I've ever witnessed, and this latest visit gives us the opportunity to resurrect the very best of the Brit's bearpit atmosphere and to make this a day to remember too.
So do you want a prediction? Well I'll go for Stoke to win 2-1, Owen coming off the bench to score a dramatic late winner to break City hearts once again.
Sometimes Roy of the Rovers story-lines do happen.