Stoke travel light for daunting test in the Mestalla
Thursday 23 February 2012
From Crawley to Valencia, Stoke City's campaign of contrasts will extend beyond tonight on its European front only if the Premier League's 13th-placed team achieve what only three English clubs have managed in Valencia's half-century among the continental elite – a victory in the Mestalla stadium.
The side chasing Real Madrid and Barcelona in La Liga lead by just Mehmet Topal's goal from the first leg of their Europa League round-of-32 tie at the Britannia Stadium. Yet fatigue and injury have caught up with Stoke in their 42nd match of the season, a long list of absentees making their chances of emulating Manchester United, Chelsea and Leeds appear remote.
Stoke fans are out in force in the Mediterranean port – they expect a 4,000-strong following – but only 15 players have travelled. Those left in the Potteries include Ryan Shawcross, Glenn Whelan, Marc Wilson, Dean Whitehead, Matt Etherington, Jon Walters and Peter Crouch. Tony Pulis, the manager, said: "We've left a few behind but I'll pick what I think is a very strong team. Every starting player will be a full international, there are three captains of their country and we'll be giving it a go."
If Stoke are to earn a round-of-16 tussle with PSV Eindhoven or Trabzonspor of Turkey, they will need to retain possession better than at home. Unai Emery's men would also have to show complacency that appears unlikely given the calm way they repelled a barrage of long throws and set-pieces last week. "We think Valencia are the best team we've played in Europe so far," said Pulis. "No disrespect to [Dynamo] Kiev or Besiktas but we believe they're a level above them."
Valencia boast a European pedigree that includes seven finals, compared with a gap of almost 40 years between Stoke's appearances in the Uefa Cup and its successor. However, with a large, raucous support revelling in a "local" trip after treks to Ukraine, Turkey and Israel, they will certainly not go quietly.
Valencia (probable 4-4-1-1): Vicente; Bruno, Ruiz, Dealbert, Jordi Alba; Feghouli, Albelda, Topal, Mathieu; Aduriz; Soldado.
Stoke (probable 4-4-1-1): Begovic; Shotton, Huth, Shawcross, Wilson; Pennant, Whelan, Palacios, Etherington; Walters; Crouch.
Referee M Strombergsson (Swe).
TV ESPN, 6pm.
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