Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
14 April, 13:05 GMT
Possibly the biggest game of the weekend takes place at Britannia where both United and Stoke are aiming to gain maximum points and fulfill their season-long ambitions. Sir Alex’s United are in a state of coma ever since their cruel exit from Europe at hands of Madrid and the defeat against City at Old Trafford might just shake them into action. Stoke on the other hand are in free fall and bar Sunderland are possibly the worst team in the league on current form. Needless to say, this game has a lot riding on it for both the clubs.
Stoke have lost all confidence and are playing with negligible cohesion at the moment. Tony Pulis has lost the dressing room and their usually vociferous fans have also turned pessimistic, ergo the Britannia Stadium isn’t anymore the fortress it once used to be. Nevertheless, Stoke have always given the big clubs a run for their money especially at home and with relegation fears looming large one can expect one last big effort both from the players and the fans, especially as Man United are in town.
The Reds too are in a minor crisis and the lead is down to 12 points which should still be comfortable if Fergie’s troop cleans up their act. Last couple of games has seen insipid performances and the general outlook of the players has left a lot to be desired. Ferguson will hope for a much-improved showing from some of his under-performing stars as the scars of last season’s debacle in the title run in can come back to haunt United.
Team News & Tactics
Stoke City chairman Peter Coates is urging Potters fans to turn the clock back to revive the “Bearpit Britannia” Stadium of the club’s debut season in the Premier League. He acknowledges supporter unrest at the club’s nosedive towards the bottom three after a run of one win in 13 games. Stoke City FC have dropped to 15th place on 34 points (-11 GD) – coming off a poor home defeat to relegation threatened Aston Villa, they now have only 1 win in our last 13 premier league games and have only managed 5 points from a possible 36 points in 2013 . It appears that Potter’s poor away form has now breached the walls of the Fortress Britania – their home record is now only 13th best in the league taking 52.08% of available point.
On the injury front, Mark Wilson picked up a hamstring injury against Villa and Stoke will be praying that the player recovers in time to face United. Meanwhile, Pulis would be hoping that Glenn Whelan is back as soon as possible as the midfielder was badly missed against Villa. Furthermore and perhaps most importantly Mathew Ethrington might recover in time and give a huge boost to the beleaguered Stoke squad.
As far as Stoke’s play is concerned everyone knows the Potter’s style but now that the freshness is gone from their game, teams have worked Pulis’s team out. Stoke City have been rather poor in front of goal and it’s hard to see them improving as their striking department seems well below par. Stoke will be most dangerous as usual from the set pieces and the strikers will try out-muscling the center backs from hopeful long diagonals into the box.
Probable Starting Lineup(4-5-1): Begovic (GK); Shotton, Huth, Shawcross, Cameroon; Ethrington, Whelan, Nzonzi, Whitehead, Walters; Jones
Red Devils must be feeling the pressure once again after the derby debacle as the gap has been reduced to twelve points. Nevertheless, United have largely been imperious, at least, in the league and look to be heading towards an unprecedented twentieth league crown. On the injury front Jonny Evans is in contention to start the game having trained all week while Vidic and Smalling are also close to returning to full fitness. However, Ashley Young is likely to be out for two weeks with an ankle injury while Paul Scholes is the only other major injury absentee as the Red Devil’s squad looks in a healthy state.
United will be hoping to have the striker duo of Rooney and RVP back in goal-scoring form especially the Dutchman who has lost his mojo in recent months. Alternatively, Ferguson could give a rare start to Javier Hernandez as the Mexican enjoys playing and scoring against the Potters. On the wings, Luis Nani might get a nod in along with either of Valencia or Kagawa on the other side. In central midfield, Michael Carrick is a certainty and Phil Jones might get the nod as well considering the physical nature of the opposition.
United will be banking on their wingers to find some form and provide much-improved service to the likes of Rooney, RVP and Chicharito. Furthermore, the role of full-backs is doubly important in the duel against Stoke, not only will they help stretch the Potter’s rearguard but also guard against the aerial bombardment from diagonal balls. Hence Evra and Rafael must bring their A-game to the Britannia. United will get more of the ball for sure and hog the majority of the possession as the hosts will look to get men behind the ball and defend for their lives.
Probable Starting Lineup(4-4-1-1): De Gea (GK); Rafael, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Jones, Nani; Rooney; van Persie
- Stoke have picked up just one point in nine Premier League matches against Manchester United.
- The Pottters are the worst performing Premier League team in 2013 with just 5 points.
- Manchester United have benefited from most (5) own goals this season.
- United have drawn one and lost one of their seventeen league matches with both Rooney and RvP in the starting line-up.
Player To Watch Out For
Robin Van Persie (Manchester United)
The Dutchman has lost form and perhaps some confidence as well and looks to be missing that extra bit of sharpness. Nevertheless, United would be hoping that RVP finds his goal scoring boots sooner rather than later. All eyes will be on the former Arsenal man as he tries to recover from his minor slump.
Stoke City 1 – 2 Manchester United
Stoke will battle hard and fight tooth and nail but the gulf in quality between the two sides will eventually shine through. Manchester United will get their much needed win while Stoke are likely to be left looking dangerously over the shoulders towards the bottom three.