Man City expect to spoil Hughes' Etihad return
There are fewer and fewer familiar faces around the Etihad Stadium every time Stoke manager Mark Hughes returns. Of course, the current Potters' boss was formerly an employee of Manchester City, overseeing the club during the time it was taken over by Sheikh Mansour in 2008. To this day, it's likely he still feels aggrieved to have lost his job a year later, though the decision to relieve him of his duties is probably one of the main reasons the blues have achieved what they achieved in the years 2011 to present.
It was one of those moments when the club will have regretted not the decision itself, but the manner in which it was carried out. Hughes should never have known he was to be sacked before he prepared his team to face Sunderland, though some would argue he must have known it was coming even if he'd never been told, following a run of seven consecutive draws.
There'll be no sense of bitterness from the fans on Saturday afternoon. The hostilities will go as far as they would for any Manchester United legend; his one-and-a-half seasons spent in the home dugout in the blue half of the city will do nothing to swing it either way. In fact, with what happened afterwards, I think most of the home fans won't bat an eyelid.
It was always clear he was not the man to bring success to Eastlands. Sven-Goran Eriksson was deemed to have failed, yet Hughes took his team and finished a place lower -- 10th -- in 2008-09. He won two away games in his first year in charge and oversaw possibly the worst performance fans have seen when the Blues lost away at West Brom to spend Christmas 2008 in the relegation zone, despite being dubbed the richest club in the world.
Hughes didn't get it all wrong, mind -- he did make some astute signings, such as the man who will lead out his opposition on Saturday: Vincent Kompany. That said, the manager did play him out of position.
When Hughes returned to the Etihad with Fulham in 2011, the game began with a very bizarre handshake between him and then-City captain Carlos Tevez. The Argentine sought out his former gaffer especially to greet him. There'll be no such oddity from Kompany; a handshake may take place, but it'll most likely be in the tunnel.
A 1-1 draw that day marks the only time Hughes has taken points off City since leaving, too. His three other visits -- two with QPR and one with Stoke -- have all ended in defeat. One, of course, was that famous May 2012 game that contained what's since been branded one of the best-ever Premier League moments: Sergio Aguero's title-winning goal in the final minute.
Even overall, Hughes' away record at the Etihad isn't particularly good. He drew the first couple of visits with Blackburn, before taking a 3-0 victory away from Stuart Pearce's Blues in January 2007. Having said that, most sides took points away from Eastlands that season; how that City team stayed up under Pearce still remains one of life's biggest mysteries.
The title-winning game of 2012 sums up the meetings with Hughes sides. One of the biggest criticisms he faced as City manager was that his defence was all too often AWOL, yet in every return visit his back four has been marshalled to within an inch of its life and it's been a ridiculously tight match.
You can probably expect more of the same on Saturday.
However, when it comes to home games with Stoke, the champions are on something of a winning streak. In fact, the Potters have never left the Etihad stadium victorious. In the Premier League, they've never even scored there -- falling in six defeats to nil, most of them by three goals. Their best result at Eastlands was a 1-1 FA Cup draw in 2010, shortly after Roberto Mancini had taken charge.
To find the last Stoke victory away to City, you have to go back to October 1997.
Given the firepower the champions will have on display on Saturday, it's more than likely that the Potters' winless run will be extended further. Stevan Jovetic, who scored twice versus Liverpool, is looking like a man reborn, following a good and, most importantly, injury-free preseason. Sergio Aguero has had about five touches of the ball in play so far this campaign and has already scored twice.
Meanwhile, David Silva and Samir Nasri have looked on the top of their game already, despite the general feeling that they've not really got out of third gear yet. The same can easily be said of Yaya Toure.
With a set of difficult fixtures surrounding this match for the Blues -- it follows the Monday-evening game with Liverpool and precedes a trip to Arsenal, an away Champions League tie with Bayern Munich and the visit of Chelsea -- there is the likelihood Manuel Pellegrini will shuffle his pack.
Normally, this would be good news for the opposing manager as previous City teams have looked weak when a few key players were removed. However, a key priority for this summer's transfer window was to add strength in depth; targets were identified early and brought in well before the deadline to give them time to settle.
With a fixture list that looks like it's from some sort of European superleague coming up in the next few weeks, Pellegrini will be thankful for that strength in depth. It should prove critical if he's to progress this season, and it needs to start with three points against the Potters on Saturday.
David Mooney is a writer and a radio journalist based in Manchester. He is also news editor on 104.9 Imagine FM. Twitter: @DavidMooney