Daunting challenge might require creativity from Mark Hughes, Stoke

It's a quick turnaround for Stoke who, fresh from their 2-0 victory against Middlesbrough on Saturday, head to Manchester City just four days later for a rearranged fixture against Pep Guardiola's men due to their continued involvement in the FA Cup.

The Potters travel in good spirits, but having not managed to beat a team in the top half of the table all season, will have their work cut out against a side challenging for the title. It's a daunting task for anyone to visit the Etihad Stadium, but there is a nervousness among the fan base that another heavy defeat could be on the horizon.

Mark Hughes and his players should be encouraged, though, as while their hosts are dazzling on the front foot, they are also known to leave plenty of space behind them, so there will be chances; they just need to be taken. With that in mind it could well be a case of attack being the best form of defence as the thought of spending the evening camped on the edge of the penalty area is not something anyone wants to entertain.

Much then will be decided by the manager's choice of who leads the line, with Peter Crouch goal-less in his past four appearances and arguably the worst possible option to play on the break away from home. That notion has borne out in recent times with the side conceding four goals in three of their past five games away from the home comforts of the bet365 Stadium, because of their own inability to pose a threat.

A defeat is still likely, but it would be nice if the team were set up to meaningfully play its part, and to do that it will need pace and power across the attack. That would appear to rule out the aforementioned Crouch, and fans will be hoping that lessons have been learned and the forward line chosen is mobile enough to make the best of the available chances.

The most likely opportunities to get forward will be down the flanks, and in Marko Arnautovic and Ramadan Sobhi, the Potters have two in-form wide men ready to impress once more. The former faces a late fitness test having suffered with illness since the weekend, but that news is offset somewhat by the availability of Xherdan Shaqiri who is fit for selection having missed the past five games.

Should Arnautovic prove his own fitness, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that all three could start, with the Austrian through the middle being flanked by Shaqiri on the right and Sobhi on the left. Sadly, for a manager who has spent the season being entirely risk-averse, it's not likely, and fans will instead cross their fingers that he will at least have the courage to drop his comfort blanket; Crouch.

The news is not so good further back in defence with Bruno Martins Indi unable to feature following an injury on Saturday. With Glen Johnson also doubtful, a make-shift defence looks likely. The only recognised and available centre-back would appear to be Marc Muniesa, who on Saturday was left out of the squad altogether, while at right-back Phil Bardsley is ready and able to deputise should Johnson not recover in time.

They'll be up against a frankly frightening front line boasting the talents of Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling; all of whom come into the game in fine form. The defence will need all the help it can get, and that means keeping the midfield duo of Glenn Whelan and Geoff Cameron, though, the latter is of course another option to replace Martins Indi.

In many respects it is somewhat of a bonus game for the manager who must use the opportunity to try something different ahead of more fixtures against top-half teams where his side are expected to find space on the counter-attack.

Earlier seasons under the Welshman have shown that he is more than capable of plotting the downfall of the league's leading lights, and the group with whom he achieved those results are largely still in the building.

As a player, Hughes was never one to shirk a challenge, and all eyes are now on him to arrest the side's abysmal form against the big boys by naming a starting XI able to deal their own killer blows, regardless of the result.