Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
Saturday, 26 December 2015 1245 hours UTC
Manchester United take to the road again on Boxing Day as they travel to the Britannia Stadium to take on Stoke City. THT previews the game that may be one of the two games at LvG’s disposal to hold down his place at Manchester United.
Team News, Tactics and Predicted Lineup
Mark Hughes will kick off Boxing Day proceedings in the Premier League in an early afternoon kick-off when he hosts his former club again at the Britannia. The 1-2 loss to Crystal Palace has dropped his team out of the top 10 in the league table. That said, Stoke City had brought down Manchester City at the Britannia less than a month ago and would hope to inflict a similar fate on their neighbours, a club they have been relatively successful against at home in the last few seasons (P5 W1 D2 L2). Hughesa wards will be taking on a United side that has not won in their last 6 games, and lost their last 3 games on the trot. This can mean a demoralized side that would roll over easily but as is wont with the big clubs, it could also mean a wounded beast that could fight back and Hughes would do well to be a bit wary.
Peter Crouch and Geoff Cameron are both doubtful starters for the Potters and they would also be without Peter Odemwingie, Marc Muniesa and Shay Given. Stephen Ireland has returned to training but it remains to be seen whether he would be fit for the big game on Saturday.
Stoke would also have one eye on the away game at Everton two days later. although Hughes would probably find it easier to bag three points at home against United than do so at Goodison Park against Everton.
Former Barcelona youth product, Bojan Krkic, Marko Arnautovic and Xherdan Shaqiri form the dangerous triangle for Stoke City as they have been in tremendous form and rhythm while playing together. Shaqiria s return to the starting lineup against Palace after having sat out the goalless draw against West Ham is ample proof of that. Ryan Shawcross, who scored in the same fixture last time inside three minutes would also want to emulate the same again, especially given Uniteda s propensity to concede early in the last few games. It would give Stoke the ideal base to build upon and an early goal could allow the home side to sit deep and defend against a United side that has looked clearly toothless in the final third. While Ashley Young did send in a few incisive crosses into the box in the second half of the game against Norwich, the crosses either overshot his teammates or they were unable to get at the end of them as the Norwich defenders were able to clear the danger easily and repeatedly. With a clear reluctance to take half chances or penetrate effectively into the box on the part of the United forward line, Stoke will need to exploit this chance if it falls to them, as it presents their best opportunity to take 3 full points from the game.
Predicted Lineup (4-2-3-1): Butland; Pieters, Wollscheid, Shawcross, Johnson; Whelan, van Ginkel; Arnautovic, Afellay, Shaqiri; Bojan
Therea s very little that can be written about Manchester United that has not already been written in the last couple of weeks. Accused of playing boring football when they were grinding out goalless draws, United have landed themselves into a bigger soup after switching to a more expansive style that has seen them crash to three defeats in their last three games in all competitions. Sitting on an unenviable spree of six games without a win, Louis van Gaal and his men have never needed a victory more. In such a mood, they travel to one of the more difficult venues to play at on the road. While United have had a fairly good success rate at the venue and against this opposition overall, their last 4 visits to the Britannia have not been very happy ones, having won only once. Stoke, on the other hand, have been strong at home this season and their most recent conquest were Uniteda s inarguably more powerful neighbours, Manchester City.
While their dignity may have taken a severe beating after the loss to Norwich City, thankfully for everyone involved with the club, the players escaped physically unscathed. This means that LvG has the same complement of players to choose from as for that game. Having sustained an extended run in the top 4, United have now dropped to 5th in the league table behind Spurs on goal difference and are currently 9 points adrift of league leaders, Leicester City.
After a good dominating performance against AFC Bournemouth before his substitution, Fellaini was rewarded with another start against Norwich and it was clear from the get go that Uniteda s strategy was to knock the ball up field for him and then pray for the best. That did not work however in the face of some resolute Norwich defending. His midfield partner Carrick was also fairly pedestrian especially off the ball. He went soft into tackles and was largely a passenger when United did not have the ball. It is evident that their combination cannot be started for another game and it is most likely that Fellaini will make way for Schneiderlin.
The other major point of failure for United was up front. Depay combined well with Blind on the left and Young playing on right back brought in Martial into space as well as played the ball in himself. However, the support necessary from the attacking centre was missing. Juan Mata, playing in his preferred No. 10 role, was largely absent for the game and was more often than not seen chasing Norwich players for the ball than running with it himself. Rooney, who made his 500th appearance for the club, was also an absentee as he led the line as the focal point of attack. Something needs to be done and fast to resolve this issue as United need to start converting chances into goals. It is a pity that of the 11 shots they attempted, United had only 2 on target.
Martial has by far been the player who has looked most likely to score for United this season. Yet, inexplicably the manager insists on playing him out wide rather than through the center where he can run off the shoulder of the last defender and do maximum damage. Uniteda s supporters can only hope that he will be played in that position on Saturday.
Predicted Lineup (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Blind, Smalling, Jones, Young; Carrick, Schneiderlin; Depay, Rooney, Mata; Martial
Key Match Points
- Stoke City have won just one of their 14 Premier League matches against Manchester United (W1 D2 L11), but have lost just one of the last four at home (W1 D2 L1).
- The Potters have never kept a clean sheet against United in the Premier League.
- United have won 18 of their last 19 fixtures played on Boxing Day (W18 L1).
- Stoke have kept a clean sheet in seven of their last 10 league matches, but have conceded exactly two goals in the other three matches in this period.
- Manchester United have failed to win any of their last six matches in all competitions (L3 D3). The last time that they went on a run this long within a single season was in their treble-winning campaign of 1998/99 (December 1998).
Manchester United 1 Norwich City 1
Among the many rumours floating around is one that states that Louis van Gaala s fate at Old Trafford is dependent on the next two games a against Stoke City and Chelsea — and that he must win at least one of them to keep his place. Whether there is any truth in these rumours or not is purely a matter of conjecture for most of us, but it is undeniable that United need to get back to winning ways to keep their place in the top 4 and Champions League football at Old Trafford. The players have been vocal in their support for the manager and their intention to do all it takes to give the fans a win. However the combination of a poor run of form and the torrid away conditions at the Britannia make us expect a 1-1 draw at best between the two sides.
Players to watch out for
Bojan (Stoke City)
The ex Barcelona youth product has netted 4 times for the Potters already and is in top form especially when combining up front with Shaqiri. The home game on Saturday might provides the perfect opportunity for Bojan to strike gold again especially against an illustrious opponent currently in the throes of a bad run of form.
Blast from the Past
A 2008 classic where United ran rampant at a hapless Stoke City. Ronaldo scored his 100th goal for United and then Carrick, Berbatov and Welbeck joined in the goal scoring fun, before Ronaldo completed his brace with another trademark free kick to seal Stoke’s fate 5-0.