LONDON, England December 21 – Every Premier League match Manchester City play for the next few months is sure to be billed as a test of the table-toppers’ title credentials and that will be the case when they face Stoke on Wednesday.
Tony Pulis’s side, renowned for their physical approach, recently ended title-chasing Tottenham’s 11 match unbeaten league run.
City too suffered a wobble, going down 2-1 to Chelsea, but bounced back last weekend with a 1-0 win over Arsenal in a high-class encounter.
That suggested the team assembled so expensively by City manager Roberto Mancini and the club’s wealthy Abu Dhabi owners had the stomach, as well as the skill for a title fight.
But their resolve is sure to be tested by Stoke, who provided Italian manager Mancini with his first opponents after he succeeded Mark Hughes at Eastlands two years ago.
City won that match and also beat Stoke in last season’s FA Cup final.
However, the Potters are now on a run of four straight league wins and a wary Mancini said: “It will be hard against Stoke. They are a strong team, who defend very well. It will not be an easy game.”
Reigning champions Manchester United, currently two points behind City, will look to maintain the pressure on their local rivals when they travel to Fulham.
United may have suffered a shock Champions League exit at the hands of unheralded Basel but back in the Premier League it has been business as usual for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men with subsequent wins over Wolves and QPR.
“It was a disappointment (exiting the Champions League),” said Ferguson, in charge at Old Trafford for the past 25 years.
“We have to do something about it and I think the players have done that.”
Tottenham, seven points behind City, face Chelsea in an intriguing London derby on Thursday.
Chelsea could be 12 points adrift of top spot by the time they kick-off at White Hart Lane but striker Daniel Sturridge has said anyone who thinks they are out of title contention is “stupid”.
“There are still five months to go and people would be stupid to assume we’re out of the title race,” he said after scoring in a frustrating 1-1 draw away to Wigan on Saturday.
Chelsea captain John Terry is set to be fit for Wednesday’s match despite a training ground scare on Monday where the England centre back “pinched” his Achilles tendon.
Spurs though will be without winger Aaron Lennon because of a hamstring injury suffered in last weekend’s 1-0 win over Sunderland.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has conceded the Gunners, away to Aston Villa on Wednesday, have all but abandoned hope of winning the title following a defeat by City that left them 12 points off the summit.
“It will be difficult to close the gap on City now, but we will try,” said Wenger. “This was a game we couldn’t afford to lose.”
Liverpool, fresh from a 2-0 win over Villa, will be without striker Luis Suarez when they face relegation candidates Wigan on Wednesday. Suarez was hit with an eight-game ban on Tuesday after a Football Association disciplinary hearing found he had racially abused Manchester United’s Patrice Evra.
Newcastle, held to a goalless draw by Swansea last time out, will look to revive their bid for a top four spot at home to West Brom on Wednesday.
“Our best team can compete with any team in this Premier League,” said Magpies boss Alan Pardew.
“Whether we have got a strong enough squad to keep us consistently in the top seven all year, we will have to wait and see.”
In other Wednesday matches QPR are at home to Sunderland while Swansea, another promoted side, travel to Everton.