Sport : Football

PULIS: SIDE WILL STILL BE STRONG

22nd February 2012, 08:52pm

Tony Pulis: 'Very strong team' will play

Tony Pulis: 'Very strong team' will play

Stoke manager Tony Pulis defended his squad selection and insisted he has not given up hope of reaching the last 16 of the Europa League ahead of Thursday night's second-leg clash with Valencia at the Mestalla.

Last week's 1-0 defeat at the Britannia Stadium left the Potters with a mountain to climb against a team steeped in European tradition.

And the estimated 4,000 fans who have travelled to Spain will surely feel their hopes of victory have not been improved by Pulis' decision to leave the likes of Ryan Shawcross, Matthew Etherington, Jon Walters and Peter Crouch at home.

The Welshman blamed a combination of injury and fatigue rather than a preference for Sunday's Barclays Premier League clash against Swansea, where his side will look to arrest a run of four straight league defeats.

Pulis said: "We've left a few behind but the team I'll pick is what I think is a very strong team. Every player that will start will be a full international, there are three captains of their countries and we'll be giving it a go.

"We think Valencia are the best team we've played in Europe so far, no disrespect to (Dynamo) Kiev or Besiktas but we believe they're a level above them.

"We know it's going to be a difficult game against a side full of quality but we'll do our best and that's what we always do."

Pulis expects the atmosphere in the 55,000-capacity Mestalla to be raucous, and sent a message to the Stoke fans to concentrate on supporting their team and enjoying the experience.

"The ground is a fantastic old ground," added the Stoke boss. "The atmosphere will be brilliant. We just don't want there to be any trouble, just enjoy the game and enjoy the occasion.

"We haven't had this many times in our history. It was a fantastic night at the Britannia last week and the team I'll pick tomorrow I hope will do us proud."

Valencia boss Unai Emery will not be underestimating Stoke despite the absence of some of their big names, in particular Crouch, who caused problems for Los Che at the Britannia.

He said: "Crouch has certain characteristics, he is a very specific player and he is difficult to stop. Our preparation for the game is the same without him to contend with, but with the added factor that (Kenwyne) Jones is also a powerful striker. Their style is clearly defined."

Valencia are looking to bounce back after a 5-1 thumping by Barcelona in the Primera Liga at the weekend, and Emery warned his side they must match Stoke's attitude if they are to come through the last-32 tie.

"They are a difficult opponent, strong in every aspect and a team who we will have to peg back in order to impose our personality on the match," said Emery.

"They were aggressive in the first leg and played with a high intensity that I don't think we matched in terms of hard challenges."

Valencia will be without two key players for the clash, with talented midfielder Ever Banega out injured and Tino Costa suspended.

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