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Premier League finally resumes after the international break and Manchester City take on high-flying Stoke City at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday. Pep Guardiola is eager to maintain his team’s position at the top of the table but Stoke City have so far proven themselves to be giant-killers this season, winning against Arsenal and holding Manchester United to a 2-2 draw.
Mark Hughes will be hoping that his team can spring an unpleasant surprise on the league leaders but given the home team’s form, it will take a miracle to get the better of them.
Butland has been in fine form this season and looked like a touch of class during England’s final World Cup qualifier group game against Lithuania. In fact, several pundits have already asked Gareth Southgate to officially make him the first choice goalie for Russia 2018. Buoyed by the confidence shown in him, it is certain that Butland will not only start this game but also make an impressive performance against the mighty Citizens.
Centre-backs: Kevin Wimmer, Austria; Geoff Cameron, United States and Kurt Zouma, France
The back-three has leaked in a lot of goals this season, 11 to be precise. Hughes will be hoping that new signing Wimmer helps in calming things down while Cameron and Zouma will be eager to put in more convincing displays for the Potters. The good thing is that the backline looked resolute in their previous game against Southampton, which they won 2-1, and that should give them a much-needed boost of confidence ahead of the game. With Sergio Aguero back in training and Gabriel Jesus in red-hot form, they certainly have the task cut out for them.
Right wing-back: Mame Biram Diouf, Senegal
Hughes has been trying to mould Diouf in the shape of Victor Moses and so far it seems to be working. The Senegalese player has been working his socks off on the right wing and put in an impressive shift in the draw against United. He was one of the goal scorers in the triumph over the Saints and will look to make a point against Guardiola’s City.
Centre midfield: Charlie Adam, Scotland and Darren Fletcher, Scotland
The midfield duo of Allen and Fletcher has clicked well for Stoke this season and manager Mark Hughes will be hoping to have them both for this game against City. However, it is a doubt if it would be possible as Allen suffered a concussion during the international break and it is not 100% certain if he would feature or not. Fletcher, on the other hand, was left disappointed as Scotland missed out on qualifying for the World Cup once again and may retire from his international duties to focus solely on his club career. Charlie Adam could replace Allen in the playing XI.
Left wing-back: Erik Pieters, Holland
Pieters will be coming from a Dutch team that has now failed to qualify for both the Euro 2016 and the World Cup 2018. Thus far, he has flattered to deceive in his position but if he wants to remain relevant in the international scene, he must perform consistently ahead of what could be a major shuffle in the ranks of the Netherlands national football team. He will be up against the brilliant Kevin de Bruyne and that will be quite a challenge for the experienced wide-man.
Attacking midfield: Xherdan Shaqiri, Switzerland and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Cameroon
Shaqiri seems to have finally settled into life at Stoke CIty and has scored 1 goal and set up 2 more in his 6 premier league appearances so far. He will be eager to shrug off the disappointment of not qualifying for the World Cup directly and take the City defence to task. Choupo-Moting, on the other hand, netted a brace against United and will be looking to be the thorn in the side for another Manchester-based team this week.
Striker: Jese Rodriguez, Spain
Despite linking up well with Shaqiri and Moting, Jese is yet to really announce himself on the shores of England. This could be the perfect stage for him though and he will look to add to the 1 goal that he has scored so far by making those smart runs behind the backs of John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi.