I think the international weekend was perfect timing, contrary to the belief it could have dampened the high of winning two massive home games. I’m sure the players selected went about their national team duties with much bigger smiles on their faces than the break in September whilst those left back at home continued to swat up on an information-heavy footballing philosophy. Preparation is key and we visit Stoke City who are a completely different prospect to the Stoke who have only scored once against us in the last four meetings.
It is certainly going to be a fascinating game at the Britannia. For them, life under Mark Hughes started off with a bit of a bang winning two of their first three games, however those remain their only two league victories as defeats against Norwich City and Fulham were to follow. As we are all probably sick of hearing, this is no easy ground to get points from usually however so far only Crystal Palace have failed to do so this season. That said, draws with Manchester City (bah, only a draw?!) and high flying Southampton are amongst those home games.
Basically, there is nothing that we should feel overly intimidated about going into this football match. Stoke can expect to have less possession than us, which is not unfamiliar as in their last three games they have failed to hit the 40% mark in terms of possession. Interestingly, this period marked their best goal return with six of their ten goals being scored – five shared between tough away games against Swansea City and Manchester United. Given that this game could well follow a similar pattern in terms of possession, it may cast aside their form at home in front of goal – failing to score in three of the five up to now.
Perhaps it’s that horrible optimism rearing its ugly head, but I am not so sure we will be conceding too readily on Saturday. Gus Poyet-possession football is defensive above attack which is different to the last three possession heavy sides the Potters have come up against. This should mean we are less susceptible to the counter attack which has proved so fruitful for Hughes’ side. Ignoring the goals scored, these last three games have led to plenty conceded too – seven in fact. Whether we have the fire power to score the goals like Swansea, Manchester City and Southampton is a little less encouraging.
I would be hugely surprised if we were to see any changes from the epic win against City. Mainly because of the performance, but partly because it is arguably our best eleven at the moment. Poyet might be tempted to introduce Jozy Altidore back into the starting line-up, but this is not the game for him – he would be bullied out of this match by Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross similarly to how he was bullied out of the Liverpool home game. Steven Fletcher as a lone striker could continue to reap dividends, as he will show much more guile up top to compliment a three man midfield which should impose themselves on this game.
Mannone; Celustka, Bardsley, O’Shea, Brown, Colback, Ki, Larsson, Johnson, Giaccherini, Fletcher.
Patience is a virtue and I think we will need it in this game. Get use to low scoring results and watching us tippy-tap the ball around in an at times pretty dull fashion. That sounds like a gripe, but it will bring great rewards this season and I expect us to snatch a second clean sheet on the spin, getting our first away win of the season with a 1-0 win.