MANCHESTER UNITED

V

STOKE CITY

Old Trafford, Manchester 

Saturday, October 20, 14:00 GMT

***

The international break is out of the way and it is back to the grind of the Premier League. Manchester United entertain Tony Pulis’ rugged Stoke side at Old Trafford in front of an expectant crowd. This duel is often a clash of contrasting styles and footballing philosophies with the Potters’ much talked about physical game up against United’s more fluent and definitely more aesthetically pleasing game play. But league football has never been about the fancy stuff, at the end of the day points on the board matter. Both sides would push themselves to the brink to achieve that ultimate goal, whatever be the means.

Manchester United, so far this season, have been rather unconvincing, nonetheless, there was absolutely nothing unimpressive about the win against the Magpies in their last league encounter. United manager Sir Alex and the fans would hope that the international break doesn’t disrupt the rhythm and the players come back fit and fresh. Certainly, the Red Devils have a huge squad to choose from and they should be able to cope better than most. Fergie would look to prepare his side for the tough physical battle that lies in store as route one football will be the order of the day for the visitors, but at the Theatre of Dreams Stoke might not have the ball long enough to cause United much grief.

Stoke City, on the other hand, have got into the habit of drawing games. Although, it is always better not to end games on the losing side, it’s those precious three points that can catapult sides into the top half and perhaps European places. Tony Pulis has tried to add a bit of flair and technique to his hitherto monotonously rough side, yet the Potters’ most potent weapon remain set pieces and dead ball situations. The form of Peter Crouch has been instrumental so far in guiding Stoke away from the dreaded relegation zone and the England international certainly looks very much at home playing for the Potters. Stoke are known to raise their games against the bigger sides, but United at Old Trafford seems a bridge too far.

Team News & Tactical Brief

Manchester United

Sir Alex injury worries finally seem to be easing and perhaps at the right time as well with the manager needing his whole squad at his disposal for the crucial period coming up. Both Chris Smalling and Ashley Young returned to training during the international break and although this game might come too soon for them, the duo should be ready for action by the next weekend. Phil Jones has also begun light training after his surgery and should be back in action by early November. Also, there are no fresh injury problems for the manager as all the players returned unscathed from their international duty. Therefore, the only long term absentee for the Red Devils is their captain Nemanja Vidic, who is not expected to return any time soon.

It will be interesting to see the tactics used by the wily old Scot for this game. The manager has successfully tried a diamond formation in the last two games, but one suspects that it will be more of a big game formation for Manchester United. Against seemingly lesser oppositions, especially at Old Trafford, Fergie is likely to revert to using his wingers and a two man midfield. Valencia might be rested for the game owing to his long trip back from South America which means Nani, who had two ordinary outings for Portugal, might return to the starting line-up on the right wing. Shinji Kagawa will be on the opposite flank but the Japanese will be looking to drift inside on every opportunity, much like his role in the second half against Tottenham a few weeks back. In central midfield, the combination of Scholes and Carrick could start once again, with the veteran well rested during the international break while Carrick’s presence will be crucial for the home side in set piece situations.

The defence will once again rest on the center back pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans. Both players have done a commendable job in the absence of Smalling, Jones and Vidic, however, they will face a stern test against the physical Stoke side, especially on set pieces. Rafael, who has been outstanding this season, will be the right back while Patrice Evra will take up his usual left back position, although it might not come as a surprise if the Frenchman is rested and Alexander Buttner is preferred to make his second league start. Anders Lindegaard, who seems to have become the league specialist for United, is likely to start in between the posts.

Up-front it will be the deadly combination of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney with both men taking turns to lead the line, while the other partner will drop deep to help in the build-up play. Although both men have started together in the last couple of games, Rooney was used at the tip of the diamond on both occasions. This time though, there are chances of both men starting as a strike partnership.

Probable Starting Line-up (4-4-2): Lindegaard; Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Nani, Carrick, Scholes, Kagawa; Rooney, van Persie

football formations

Stoke City

Tony Pulis does not have too much to worry about as far as the fitness of his players is concerned. The only player likely to be unavailable for selection on Saturday is Glenn Whelan who suffered a hamstring injury against Liverpool and had to be substituted just 20 minutes into the game. Other than that, only Michael Owen remains a doubt with a knock suffered in training and hence he might miss his return to Old Trafford. All the other players are fit and available for selection.

The manager has opted for the same starting eleven for the past three games, but this time he will be forced to buck the trend due to the injury to Glenn Whelan. Dean Whitehead is likely to take his place in the starting line-up as he along with Charlie Adam and Steven Nzonzi will form the midfield trio for the visiting team. While Nzonzi and Whitehead will be looking to sit deep and protect the back four, Charlie Adam will be playing the creator’s role for the Potters. The former Liverpool man will also be taking up the set piece responsibilities and hence will be one of the most potent weapons for Pulis at Old Trafford on Saturday.

Michael Kightly and Jonathon Walters will be the wingers for Stoke and both men will be expected deliver lot of crosses to test the United defence. The two men work well as a pair for the Potters as when one of them crosses the ball, the other one looks to get to the back post to make himself available for the delivery. Peter Crouch, who has been in fine form, will be leading the line and is expected to cause a lot of trouble to the United defenders, especially the diminutive full-backs who were both found wanting at Southampton earlier in the season.

In defence, it will be the same back four that has let in just one goal in the last three games. Robert Huth and former Manchester United man Ryan Shawcross will be the central defenders while Cameron and Wilson will be taking up the full back duties. Although, Cameron likes to get forward and participate in attacks, Old Trafford is not a place where he will get too many opportunities to get up the pitch. However, Shawcross and Huth will be loading the United penalty area on every set play.

Probable Starting Line-up (4-4-2): Begovic; Cameron, Shawcross, Huth, Wilson; Walters, Whitehead, Adam, Nzonzi, Kightly; Crouch

Key Facts

  • Manchester United have won eight and lost none of the nine league meeting between the two sides.
  • United have scored five goals from corners this season, more than any other team in the league.
  • Stoke has scored 67% of their goals from set-pieces this season.
  • The Potters have not won any of their last thirteen games away from home.

Player To Watch Out For

Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)

Manchester United

The gashed leg against Fulham now certainly looks to be a blessing in disguise as the striker has returned much fitter and sharper that was showcased in his man of the match performance against Newcastle United. Rooney also scored three goals in the two outings for England during the international break having not scored since the start of the season. As has been so often the case with the United talisman, once he starts scoring there is very little that can stop him including the dogged Stoke defence.

Prediction

Manchester United 3-1 Stoke City

The Stoke defence has been the second meanest in the league thus far conceding just five goals in seven games including just one in the last three outings. However, Old Trafford is a place where Manchester United seldom draw a blank. An early goal will set the tone for the afternoon for the home side which is likely to become comfortable as the game progresses. Stoke will pose problems of their own from set-pieces and might even get past the shaky United defence. However, those dangers will be few and far between for Fergie’s men who will march to an easy win.

Blast From The Past