Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
01 February 2014, 1500 GMT
A re-invigorated Manchester United will travel to Stoke City come Saturday as they look to pick up their push for a spot in the top 4 of the EPL come May. The reigning Champions have been given a boost by the recent club record signing of midfielder Juan Mata from Stamford Bridge. Mata definitely lent a touch of authority and creativity to the midfield in his first outing in United colours against Cardiff City as he helped United to a comfortable 2-0 win over the bottom placed club. A revitalised United now travel to the Britannia Stadium to take on Stoke City in their own backyard. The Britannia Stadium has proved happy hunting grounds for United over the past seasons with the Devils returning with a full complement of points on 4 out of the last 5 occasions. The Potters’ current campaign is in tatters as they are embroiled in a relegation battle with half a dozen clubs. Their loss to 16th placed Sunderland only pulled them closer to the edge and Mark Hughes would be under tremendous pressure. His side have not won a game for more than a month now spanning a period of 6 games. Even the last draw came almost a month ago when the Potters almost defeated Everton before Leighton Baines equalised in stoppage time via a penalty to salvage a point for the visitors. United on the other hand have had a very erratic run of form this season but there has been good news for the club from multiple quarters. Spanish playmaker Juan Mata has joined the Old Trafford ranks as Moyes looks to strengthen in the middle of the park while Rooney and RvP have both returned to fitness and the playing 11. Belgian midfielder Marouanne Fellaini may also be ready to feature in the playing 11 although it does look like Carrick is still nursing an ankle injury that may keep him out of Saturday’s fixture.
Team News and Tactics
Stoke have won 59% of their headed duels, considerably more than any other club this season. This means that United would have their task cut out from goal kicks and set pieces and for this reason, it is imperative that their starting 11 are up to the task in the aerial department. With Vidic serving his 3 match suspension due to the red card against Chelsea, Evans and Smalling would surely start in the CB position in front of David de Gea between the sticks. The pair have been pretty solid consistently to earn a first choice starting berth for United. Rafael and Evra would most probably start on right and left respectively to provide the impetus to the attack in the wide areas. In midfield, against Stoke’s aerial ability, United need a player who can play the role of enforcer – prevent the cross from being played and if it is then cut it down with a mercenary attitude. This could mean a nod to Phil Jones ahead of Marouanne Fellaini. The English defender has shown his skills at breaking up an attacking move while maintaining possession when on the ball. He will sit in a deeper role to control the game while the rest of the midfield and forwards play ahead of him. In the central midfield position, Moyes would be eager to play brand new acquisition Mata. With Jones playing a deeper role, Moyes could actually play the midfield diamond with Mata at its head and Januzaj and Valencia out wide. Up front, Moyes may actually go for a show of strength and play both Rooney and RvP as a twin strike force. United would be expected to line up in a 4-1-2-1-2 diamond formation.
Expected starting line-up (4-1-2-1-2): David de Gea (GK); Rafael, Smalling, Evans, Evra; Jones; Valencia, Januzaj; Mata; Rooney, van Persie
Stoke had a decent outing against fellow laggards Sunderland and bar the one goal put in by Adam Johnson early in the game. Begovic made a couple of neat saves to keep the scoreline at just one goal and should make the starting 11 cut for Saturday. Unlike the Sunderland game where Stoke lined up in a more attacking 4-2-3-1 formation, they may go for a more conservative 4-4-1-1 formation against United. Marc Wilson and Ryan Shawcross were slow on the uptake especially in the initial periods of the game but settled down well as the game progressed even getting forward on occasion. They should retain their place in the CB positions. On the left, Erik Pieters was not very convincing and he will have to be on top of his game to keep Valencia and Rafael quite. In right back, Geoff Cameron is putting in a regular shift for the Potters and should get his starting spot though the challenge presented by Januzaj and Evra on that flank would be markedly stiffer than the one Borini provided in the Sunderland game. In midfield, Stoke City would be without N’Zonzi who was rightly sent off for a clumsy challenge on Altidore in the second half against Sunderland. Charlie Adam has been the only consistent performer in the Stoke midfield and will definitely be one of the first names on the team sheet alongside skipper Shawcross. Liverpool loanee Oussama Assaidi was too predictable while cutting in with the ball and against a more adept United side, Hughes is expected to prefer the more physical Stephen Ireland to partner Charlie Adam in central midfield. Marko Arnautovic and Jonathan Walters can expect to start the game on the wings with some liberty to cut in. Both men are over 6 feet tall and provide a good aerial threat for crosses and set pieces. They would also be easy to pick out in a crowd alongside the even taller Peter Crouch who is set to start as the primary striker. New signee Odemwingie should play the role of second striker or man in the hole.
Expected starting line-up (4-1-2-1-2): Begovic (GK); Cameron, Wilson, Shawcross, Pieters; Arnautovic, Adam, Ireland, Walters; Odemwingie, Crouch
- Manchester United have not lost the last 10 Premier League games against Stoke City, winning 9 of them.
- Manchester United are currently 7th in the League table and 13 points behind leaders Manchester City with 15 games to go. They are 6 points behind 4th placed Liverpool.
Player to watch out for
Juan Mata (Manchester United)
The ex-Chelsea midfielder has joined the Old Trafford outfit only a few days ago and yet showed a lot of creativity. He is yet not on the same wavelength as his team mates but players of his calibre adjust quickly. He is a marquee signing for David Moyes and after losing a lot of time on the sidelines at Chelsea, he would be keen to reiterate his form and capability in time for the World Cup team selections. Expect him to be the pivot for all attacking moves executed by United.
Manchester United 3-0 Stoke City
The reigning champions’ season may be in turmoil but they definitely possess the firepower to completely run over Stoke and condemn them to their 4th PL loss on the trot.