Martin Demichelis (left) getting his marching orders from referee Jonas Eriksson after bringing down Lionel Messi in the Man City-Barcelona Champions League match. – EPA Photo
MANCHESTER City’s bid for a Champions League quarter-final spot lies in tatters after Barcelona won convincingly at the Etihad on Tuesday. However, it should be noted, with some justification that much of it had to do with the referee Jonas Eriksson.
The Swedish official made a hash of letting a foul on Jesus Navas go unpunished just moments before he signalled for a “penalty” when Martin Demichelis brought Lionel Messi down outside the box. Television replays clearly show that the two Argentinians tangled outside the area before the momentum had them fall into it.
Hopefully, when Stoke show up at the Etihad on Saturday for a Premier League fixture that could take the Citizens to the top of the standings, the referee in charge will be a lot more rational and a great deal more receptive to officiating with fairness.
On occasions this season, City have been left short-changed by a few poor refereeing decisions, or lack of them, similar to the foul on Navas that went unpunished and preceded Messi’s “penalty”.
One also gets the feeling that Stoke will be made to pay for the transgressions of Eriksson.
City, prior to the Chelsea and Norwich games in the Premier League, were scoring freely and they got going again with the 2-0 victory over Chelsea in the FA Cup last Saturday.
Now, with that last 16 first leg Champions League tie out of the way, there will be a keen desire to return to normal at the Etihad, and those who follow the sport know full well that it means goals galore.
So, Stoke, who held the Citizens to a goalless draw at the Britannia Stadium in September, could be in for a rough ride.
Manuel Pellegrini let his feelings be known about how he felt about Eriksson’s handling of the Barcelona game and is likely to field his strongest possible side on Saturday with a view of getting back to winning ways.
That would mean the inclusion of striker Alvaro Negredo, French midfielder Samir Nasri and the irrepressible Fernandinho of Brazil. This trio only recently returned from injury and there is no hiding the fact that they make a huge impact on just how well City perform when they are playing.
The contributions of the fleet-footed David Silva and invaluable Yaya Toure should also have some bearing on how the home team negotiate the Stoke threat.
The absence of prolific goal-scorer Sergio Aguero is obvious, but it is something City have dealt with reasonably well up to now. And against an outfit of Stoke’s calibre, Pellegrini’s men should come away with a comfortable win.
It might not be as huge as those handed out to Manchester United (4-1), Tottenham Hotspur (6-0) or Arsenal (6-3) earlier this season, given the energies drained in the Barcelona game, but they should still have enough left in the tank to see off ex-Red Devil Mark Hughes and his travelling contingent. Who knows? It might well be three, four or more.
Shaun Orange believes City will win with something to spare and bring a semblance of normality to the Etihad.