Pep Guardiola and Manchester City wary of nemesis Mark Hughes
For a long time, Manchester City fans could be confident that their team would take a comfortable victory whenever Stoke visited the Etihad. Since the Potters returned to the top flight in 2008, City have had a very good home record against them. Recently, though, it's started to go downhill.
When Mark Hughes took a shock 1-0 victory away from Eastlands with Stoke in August 2014, back when City were reigning champions and had been excellent on their own turf the season before, it was the first time the visitors had scored at the Etihad in the Premier League. It was their seventh attempt.
However, in the two games since, City have managed one win -- a very comfortable 4-0 success in Manuel Pellegrini's final season -- and one frustrating 0-0 draw.
Pep Guardiola would do well to focus on Saturday's meeting without allowing his mind to drift to the Champions League clash with Napoli on Tuesday, or he could put his unbeaten record at risk if he rotates his squad too much. It will depend on what damage has been done over the international break, through injury or travelling time and distance, that will decide on how many changes the manager will make from the 1-0 win at Chelsea.
With that Stoke victory in 2014, Hughes became only the second former City manager to take three points from the Etihad. Before him, the only other was Steve Coppell, and even that came against a very poor Stuart Pearce-era City team, as he won 2-0 with Reading in 2007.
Hughes seems to take more delight in the challenge of taking points from the Etihad than any other of City's ex-players or managers. Perhaps it's because he's the only one on the list whose relationship with the fans became sour, as he struggled with guiding the club towards the top four during his tenure in 2009.
Perhaps it's simply that supporters struggled to warm to him because of his links with rivals Manchester United. Perhaps it was the manner in which he was dismissed and Roberto Mancini hired.
Whatever his motivation, the Welshman has managed to make three of his four visits to the Etihad with his latest club remarkably difficult. He's turned what used to be a sure-fire home win into a tough match. Aside from that comfortable 4-0 win in 2016, City had to grind out a 1-0 success in 2013-14 before losing and drawing the other two meetings.
Guardiola may be riding high having tactically outsmarted Antonio Conte in his last match and having guided City into three successive fixtures of five or more goals in the weeks before that -- the first time that had happened in the top flight since 1958-59. Yet overconfidence could prove to be a weakness, especially if he opts to save some of his players for the Champions League three days later.
Having been deemed surplus to requirements at City, Hughes had a year at Fulham, where he managed to earn a point from the Etihad with a 1-1 draw in 2011 on another frustrating day.
He then returned twice with QPR in 2012, once almost pulling off a smash-and-grab that would have made the Oceans Eleven heist look like a stick up at a local post office. The Welshman was minutes away from denying City their first Premier League title, as he'd guided his team -- perhaps more by luck than judgement -- into a 2-1 lead going into stoppage time on the final day of 2011-12.
City's 3-2 win was sealed by goals from Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero at the death. It would have been a delicious slice of revenge on his replacement at Eastlands for Hughes to hold out on an afternoon where the home side should have been comfortable victors.
The old football adage is that returning players or managers cause upsets. History also says that, more often than not, City have had to work hard to edge past Hughes teams and that the ex-boss is more than capable of causing an upset.
If Guardiola wants his players fresh for the visit of Napoli on Tuesday, it might be wise to start strongly and take the key men off when the job is done. It would be a real come-down for the fans if something went wrong against Stoke after such a high of winning at Stamford Bridge before the international break.
David Mooney is ESPN FC's Manchester City blogger. Twitter: @DavidMooney