Roberto Mancini wants his Manchester City side to become like their opponents Stoke City for one evening tonight as they seek a passage into the last eight of the FA Cup. In their season and a half in the Premier League, Stoke have won many points, but little appreciation from purists, for their honest and direct play, with goals aplenty coming from long balls over the top and long throws into the penalty area.
Mancini is more than familiar with Stoke as this will be the fourth time he has faced them since taking over, and his third encounter in the past 12 days, with the Italian yet to encounter defeat. But he says that, to clinch victory in tonight's fifth-round replay and secure a trip to Chelsea in the quarter-finals, he feels it will be necessary for his side to out-muscle and out-manoeuvre Stoke. "If we want to win the game we must play like them," said Mancini. "The ball will always be in the air. We have to prepare for a different game, not football, and work on the high ball, corners, free kicks and long passes."
Route one and a physical approach might be far removed from the flowing football City served up in the Mark Hughes era, but it is a style that Mancini does not mind if it gets results - and that ultimately matters. The goalless draw against Liverpool on Sunday was testament to this. It was a tactical battle that often proved mind-numbing viewing, yet had its merits from those who favour defence. It is an art that Mancini observed closely during his 19 years in Italian football. "If you want to win, you don't concede a goal first," he said.
But City supporters are expecting more from someone who often managed to find a way past supposedly impenetrable backlines in Serie A during his time as a striker with Bologna, Lazio and, most notably, Sampdoria, for whom he played more than 500 games. Mancini's pragmatic approach might be expected, and excused, against a Liverpool or Chelsea, but not Stoke. With Adam Johnson Cup-tied, Craig Bellamy could offer a lively presence on the left should his knee not be troublesome again.
Roque Santa Cruz may also be a much-needed partner up front for Emmanuel Adebayor and provide the height to supplement City's response to Stoke's set-piece danger. City need a performance to match their ambition. With the Premier League title realistically out of reach, the club's run without a major trophy will stretch to 35 years if they are beaten. With a trip to Chelsea next in the league, it will round off a crucial week for City. Nigel de Jong, their Dutch midfielder, does not hold back on the pitch and is suitably frank off it.
"We have to survive this week and get the maximum points and maximum results," he said. But Tony Pulis, the Stoke manager, has positive thoughts in mind too, with his side just three victories away from a Wembley Cup final appearance. His side's last - and only - major prize was in 1972 when they beat Chelsea in the League Cup final. It was also the year they went their furthest in the FA Cup, reaching the semi-finals.
But Pulis is not one to worry about records or reputations. He said: "We have given them a good game in our two meetings recently and it would be great to reach the quarter finals." @Email:email@example.com