Roberto Mancini says he is not bothered if Manchester City are top of the Premier League table at Christmas — so long as they are there after the final game of the season on May 13.
Only eight teams who have been top of the Premier League at Christmas have gone on to win the title, with the rest falling back in the second half of the season.
When it was pointed out to him that City could now be top at Christmas for the first time since 1929, Mancini said: "We want to stay at the top for a long time, not only Christmas.”
It would be a major surprise were City to be knocked off pole position on Wednesday.
Stoke have won their last four league games but City, who have a two-point advantage over nearest challengers and reigning champions Manchester United, as well as a superior goal difference, have not lost a league game at home for more than a year.
“We need time to recover because it will be hard against Stoke,” added City manager Mancini. “They are a strong team, who defend very well. It will not be an easy game.”
Kolo Toure echoed Mancini's warning about Stoke but believes City are now showing their rivals they have the character and resolve to win the league.
“We want to fight for the championship and we are showing our credentials,” said the defender, who marked his second league start since serving a six-month drugs ban by helping City beat his former club Arsenal 1-0 on Sunday.
“I am happy. I feel very fine in terms of form,” said Toure. “I was desperate to play for Man City. We had a difficult game against an in-form Arsenal team, but we scored one goal and kept a clean sheet.”
Meanwhile, Mancini has praised unsung hero Pablo Zabaleta for the Argentina international's outstanding contribution in the victory over Arsenal. “Pablo is a very clever player,” said Mancini. “He knew before the game it would be difficult. I told him if he played well against Theo Walcott we would probably win the game.”
Jonathan Woodgate is set to start in the Stoke defence against City despite being substituted inside 20 minutes in the 2-1 win away to Wolves on Saturday.
Chelsea-Arsenal match doubtful
Arsenal and Chelsea could be forced to postpone their Dec. 26 Premier League fixtures because of a strike planned by London Underground train drivers which threatens to bring the capital to a halt.
Arsenal are due to play Wolverhampton Wanderers at the Emirates on the Boxing Day bank holiday while Chelsea are scheduled to meet neighbours Fulham at Stamford Bridge in the capital's other Premier League match. The strike could also affect lower division games with the Championship (second division) matches.