Mike Pejic: Stoke wingers hold key to opening up Manchester City
I’M OLD enough to remember playing against Man City when they were league champions the last time.
Back in the late 60s, left-backs like myself were cutting their teeth on a winger called Mike Summerbee.
Now he taught me all about the game, if you know what I mean.
Today’s Man City arrive with Summerbees, Colin Bells and Francis Lees all over the pitch thanks to all those millions in their back pocket.
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It’s a formidable task for Stoke, but let’s not forget that Man City have yet to win a Premier League game at the Britannia.
And I can spot a weakness in their line-up straight away.
They have already conceded five goals in their first three league games, that includes three at home after only conceding 12 there all last season.
I don’t think that recent record is any coincidence after selling Nigel de Jong in the summer.
He was a real Rottweiler, a defensive midfielder who loved to break up the play and rough people up.
They don’t have that any more and, for me, that makes them vulnerable to the counter-attack if Stoke can punish them on the break.
I’d like to see Stoke play genuine wingers on both flanks today because I also think there is joy to be had against the visiting full-backs.
Players like Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy love to get forward and are mightily dangerous, but they do leave space behind for you to attack.
Two wingers pinging quality ball in for Peter Crouch could also expose Joe Hart’s one weakness... dealing with good balls in the air.
Manchester like to play it from the back by getting Vincent Kompany to join in the play, so it’s imperative Stoke disrupt their momentum by blocking him off and letting Joleon Lescott have it if needs be.
Tony Pulis will want to close down any space in midfield as well, so Jon Walters will be even more important than usual in that withdrawn striker role of his.
I’m not so sure we will see Steven Nzonzi today, but I’d expect to see fellow newcomer Charlie Adam.
There are those questioning his ability to play in a midfield two, but he has done it for Liverpool and Scotland, while Walters gives Stoke’s midfield that bit of support when they are on the defensive.
Everybody is wondering what will happen with Michael Owen this afternoon.
Well he certainly won’t start, but I can see him sitting on the bench.
Long-term, I see Owen as an impact player anyway because his mind and body is sharp enough to take advantage of opposition players tiring physically and mentally in the last 20 minutes of matches.
Mind you, the top teams tend to finish games the stronger.
Just look at the fact that Man City scored 19 league goals in the last 10 minutes of matches last season – including those two to win the title on the final afternoon.
Those figures show how strong they are mentally and physically, but also demonstrates the fact they have one or two useful subs to pick from.
I don’t see Roberto Mancini resting many, if any, ahead of their Champions League tie against Real Madrid next week.
That’s because the Premier League is still so important to the club – and because he knows as well as any manager just how difficult Stoke are on their own pitch.
Listen to Mike Pejic in action during Signal 1’s live coverage of Stoke v Man City this afternoon.