Tony Pulis is relishing the prospect of hosting Valencia this evening in the Europa League last 32. Pulis has certainly brought some memorable moments to Stoke City in his time there, last year's two trips to Wembley being the obvious ones, but a visit to the Britannia Stadium from one of Spain's finest sides will be a special evening.
"I'm excited," Pulis said yesterday. "It's one of the great games this football club has had in its history. Next year it's 150 years this club has been going and we haven't had too many occasions when you can say you're playing a top, top European team."
Stoke and Valencia are both football cities with intense, intimidating atmospheres, and Pulis hopes that the Britannia will be at least as fierce as the Mestalla will be for the return leg. "It's not the game here," he said, "there's a lot of supporters who can't wait to go out for the game in Spain as well and experience the atmosphere out there, which is supposed to be absolutely fantastic. It's just fantastic for the city."
Despite a difficult group, including Besiktas and Dynamo Kiev, Stoke are still unbeaten at home in this season's competition. It is a record Pulis knows they will have to preserve this evening: "The games we've had at our place on the Thursday nights, the atmosphere has been fantastic, and what we've done so far, you can double that on Thursday night, because they will know we're up against it, and they're at their best when we're the underdogs."
Valencia are third in La Liga, eight points behind second-placed Barcelona, despite selling David Villa, David Silva and Juan Mata in recent years. "They're a fantastic team," said Pulis, who saw them beat Sporting Gijon 4-0 on Sunday. "[Unai Emery] is a young coach and he's got the team very well organised both off the ball and in possession, and they impress you. He's had to sell some of his best players and he's put together a very exciting team, they've got some terrific players."
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