There were 13 goals in the matches featuring Manchester City and Stoke on Saturday, but a similar goal fest seems unlikely when they meet at the Etihad on New Year’s Day (3pm GMT, Tuesday).
City narrowly emerged victorious from a pulsating match away at Norwich, an unfortunate own goal from Norwich goalkeeper Mark Bunn proving to be the difference between the sides in a match that ended 4-3 to the reigning Premier League champions.
The Citizens went two up within five minutes thanks to two strong finishes by Edin Dzeko, making his first start since the beginning of December and scoring his first goals since mid-November.
With Mario Balotelli unlikely to match the 13 goals he scored last season (he has just one to date), City need Dzeko to find form in the second half of the season to offer a viable alternative to Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero up front.
Despite building up an early advantage, City were not always in control of proceedings. A combination of determined play from their hosts and the man disadvantage brought about by the first half dismissal of Samir Nasri made it an uncomfortable afternoon for Roberto Mancini’s men.
City held on for the result, though, one that allowed them to remain seven points behind local rivals United at the top of the table and end 2012 on a winning note following the disappointment of defeat away to Sunderland four days earlier.
The Citizens have 42 points from 12 wins, six draws and 2 defeats. They are, however, struggling to match the performances that led them to the title last season, scoring less and conceding more on an average per match basis.
Saturday’s match offered glimpses of the quick, incisive play that saw them slice through opposition defences with ease during the title winning campaign and Mancini will hope that with no European competition to distract his charges, a concerted push towards defending their Premier League title can be made in the second half of the season.
Stoke manager Tony Pulis has no such lofty ambitions and will be content with his side’s campaign to date, one that sees them 8th in the table with 29 points from six wins, 11 draws and three defeats.
The Potters started the season poorly, with just one win in their first ten matches, but recovered thereafter. They remained unbeaten through the next ten, winning five and drawing five, to move into the top ten, well ahead of the 14th place they finished last season.
Pulis’ men showed excellent fighting spirit to come back from 3-1 down at half time to secure a 3-3 draw at home to Southampton on Saturday. A thunderous late minute equaliser from Cameron Jerome was reward for a committed second half performance.
It was a highly uncharacteristic match for a Stoke side who had conceded just 14 goals in their previous 19 matches, including just four at home, and scored 18 over the same period, the third-lowest goals total in the division.
Matches involving the Potters still have the lowest goals per match average of any team in the Premier League (1.90). The feeling will be that Saturday was an anomaly unlikely to be repeated, especially in light of the defensive reinforcements that will arrive in time for the trip to Manchester.
Geoff Cameron and Ryan Shawcross were both suspended for the Southampton match and were sorely missed by a defence that bore few of the hallmarks of the expertly organised back four that had kept previous attacks at bay. With that pair of six-foot, two inch central defenders back in action on New Year’s Day, Stoke should be a much tougher proposition.
Offensively, there is little subtle about Stoke’s approach. They are a direct, physical side who have scored more than half their goals this season from set-piece situations. They have played the third-highest percentage of long balls and crosses as a percentage of total passes (23.81%) in the division.
Man City v Stoke Betting Tips
Despite conceding three goals apiece on Saturday, both these sides have defences that are among the best in the Premier League and it is difficult to see their New Year’s Day encounter yielding a similar amount of goals.
Stoke always make it a tough, physical contest, but City also have strong players such as Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and – if he starts – Dzeko, who are more than capable of matching their opponents in this area.
The two sides drew 1-1 when they met at the Britannia Stadium earlier this season. On this occasion we feel City have enough offensive talent to tip the balance in their favour in what is likely to be a low-scoring affair.