Vieira welcomes physical challenge
Patrick Vieira believes Stoke City are the new Bolton Wanderers. The Manchester City new boy is in the middle of a trilogy against Tony Pulis's side. Having drawn the FA Cup opener on Saturday, City now head to the Britannia Stadium for tomorrow's Premier League encounter knowing they face another stern examination of their physical abilities.
It is a welcome of sorts back to England for Vieira, who, for the past four-and-a-half seasons, has been used to the more cultured approach in Italy. However, as he remembers plenty of gruelling outings at the Reebok Stadium, he knows exactly what he let himself in for when he left Inter Milan last month. And actually, he quite enjoys it.
"There are no teams like that in Italy but I had a few tough moments against Bolton, so I knew what it was going to be like," said the 33-year-old. "The physical aspect of England is different but don't forget I was at Arsenal for nine years.
"A lot of my game is based on the physical aspect. I enjoy it. In Italy it was different. That is why I am so pleased to come back."
Vieira knows it will be no different tomorrow. If anything, given the raucous atmosphere that the Britannia Stadium generally provides, an even more intense occasion can be expected. But there is none of the sniffiness about the Frenchman that his former manager Arsene Wenger used to reserve for his encounters with Bolton.
Vieira admires the manner in which Tony Pulis gets the best out of his players. "All credit to them," he said. "Stoke don't make it easy for any team. They battle for the full 90 minutes every time they play and it is really difficult to defend their set-pieces.
"In fact, if you are talking purely about that aspect of the game I would say they have a good chance to reach the Champions League final. And when you look at the goal they scored on Saturday, what can you do apart from congratulate them."
Roberto Mancini will try to find a way, having criticised his defenders for their starting positions as Rory Delap hurled one of his famous throws to the edge of the six-yard area, where Ricardo Fuller came charging through a crowd of bodies to head an equaliser that condemned City to an FA Cup replay as they try to book a quarter-final tie with Chelsea.
Vieira has his own ideas, too, which mainly involve City playing to their own strengths rather than their opponents'. "Stoke like to play long ball so when we get it we need to keep it on the floor and move it really quickly," he said.
"That is the best way to beat this team. You have to play one-twos. If we try to play long balls like they do it will be tough and difficult for us."
Mancini poised to make changes
Just a draw in one of their two games in hand will be enough to edge City into the top four. Mancini is bound to make changes, which include Vieira's return to central midfield.
Adam Johnson also appears a certain starter after he was cup-tied for Saturday's game. The winger's man-of-the-match performance against Bolton last week would probably have guaranteed him selection anyway but with Martin Petrov and Shaun Wright-Phillips both doubtful, the former Middlesbrough man seems destined to occupy a left-sided berth.
Mancini did raise some hope that Craig Bellamy might be available but as he previously ruled the Welshman out with a knee injury, not too much optimism can be generated. So, if both Bellamy and another of Saturday's walking wounded, midfielder Stephen Ireland, are absent, injury-prone Roque Santa Cruz might be handed his first start since lasting just four minutes of his previous one, at Everton last month.