Tony Pulis’s Stoke side are the first visitors to Old Trafford in 2011. With two wins in their last three games, Stoke are currently 8th in the league whilst United are still top – level on points with City. United could be without 9 members of their first team squad, by contrast Stoke have a virtually fully fit squad and will look to hunt down Bolton and Sunderland who are above them in the league.
It’s been a strange season so far for Stoke as it has for any team in the mid-table-melee. A few wins or losses can see a team propelled or dropped to a position that probably distorts their season so far. At present, Stoke are in 8th but the team sitting four places below them in 12th – Blackburn, are only 2 points behind them. Still, many people fancied Stoke to struggle this season so as has been the case for two years now, credit must go to Tony Pulis for keeping his side above safety for now and in a good position.
In two and a half years of Premier League football it’s fair to say that it’s quite easy to know what to expect from Stoke – physicality, long balls and long throws. Maybe I’m doing them a disservice, they have players who like to get the ball down and run with it – Matty Etherington is a fine example of one of them, someone who’s certainly realised his full potential at Stoke. Even if my generalisation of how Stoke play seems a bit harsh I believe it to be accurate – it’s certainly no embarrassment, it plays on the best attributes of a lot of their players.
Stoke’s position in the table is a reflection on some solid home form. 17 points from a possible 33 at home is hardly European form but supplemented with decent away form it’s on the right path for Premiership survival which ultimately remains the goal for Stoke. On the road, Stoke have 10 points from a possible 27, that’s ok, importantly it’s better than a lot of the other teams around them have done. Stoke come to Old Trafford sitting 10th in form league with 8 points from a possible 18 in their last six games (incidentally, United are top with 16 points from a possible 18). Stoke’s away form sees them with 7 points from a last possible 18 on the road but isn’t necessarily a good indicator of how they may fare given that in the past two months they’ve only played four games away form home. I can see Stoke coming to try and keep it tight, play for a draw and when possible attack United from set pieces.
Stoke will only have Sidibe missing for this trip to Old Trafford. They come off the back of a good 2-0 win over Everton on Saturday. They may choose to freshen up the team a bit and bring in Whelan as a 5th midfielder for one of the strikers or with Tuncay sitting as a deep striker or almost a 5th midfielder.
Stoke have finally completed a permanent deal for Pennant and along with Jones and Etherington I expect him to be the biggest threat to United. I only hope for the sake of the game that neither team is too tired after a busy fixture period. It would of course be wrong to not mention Ryan Shawcross. The former Man United player has done little to dent his reputation since joining Stoke (unless you’re an Arsenal fan). He is still held in high regard by Ferguson who did want to keep him at the club. No doubt Ryan will want to put in a good performance at the stadium he could so nearly have been playing at.
I don’t expect any significant squad rotation from Tony Pulis. Whilst the squad may be tired their next game at the weekend is an FA Cup match against promotion-hopefuls Cardiff City who are going through an awful spell of form. After that game (in which I reckon Stoke could get away with some rotation) the fixtures go back to weekly games.
Enough on Stoke…onto United and my predicted line up:
So, that may not quite be the team expected but let me run you through my thought process here…
I expect Edwin to return in goal. His absence at West Brom was a bit confusing. Fergie offered to the media the suggestion that he’d been rested, but the manutd.com and MUTV team on Twitter all said he had flu. Either way, he should be back. I am intrigued as to whether Lindegaard will be on the bench. It depends on a few things – firstly Tuesday is the first day he can be registered to play in the Premier League due to the bank holiday so it depends whether his registration happens in time. Secondly, he could only be included in the squad at the expense of someone else given that the squad is full (there seems to be every chance that Hargreaves will be unregistered though). I think Rafael will be back after a deserved mini-break and I can’t see Rio and Vidic being rested. As far as I know O’Shea and Brown are still unavailable whilst Neville is unlikely to play again soon. Evra it seems is a doubt after getting a black and very bloated eye against West Brom courtesy of Vidic. I think it would do no harm to save Evra for the Liverpool FA Cup game at the weekend and play Fabio instead.
Midfield caused me a few problems. Nani should have recovered in time for this game so I’ve selected him on the right and Giggs on the left. Giggs wasn’t in the 18 at West Brom but with no reported injury I think he’ll return. In the centre though I had trouble deciding who to leave out. Fletcher is out of form but I felt this would be a good game for him to come in from the start to try and regain some confidence. I think Carrick has become quite key lately and I can’t see him being dropped. I’m a big fan of Anderson but thought he was ineffective against West Brom and I can see him being rested after a run of games in the first XI. Gibson is a doubt with a groin injury and although Scholes has been training again (despite Ferguson giving him time off) I think this game will be far too soon for him.
Up front I’ve taken Rooney out of the team. It was unclear after West Brom just how bad his injury was and I’d much rather he was named on the bench and was pumped up for Liverpool than risk aggravating an injury with selection in a game that really should be won with or without him. Chicharito is the player I’d like to see brought in, I feel bad for him – he’s done little wrong but has been reduced to the bench lately. I’m sure Berbatov will start. Of course the alternative might be Michael Owen but I’m already having visions of him scoring against Liverpool so maybe he won’t play against Stoke! Kiko Macheda seems to have gone on loan to Sampdoria so he’ll be unavailable – his agent said that only “formalities” needed to be sorted out before the move could be made official by United.
United can’t really afford to rotate too much as the league is the priority but the Liverpool FA Cup game on Sunday will be taken very seriously. The fixtures show no sign of letting up for United. Due to the Blackpool rearrangement, the end of January and start of February looks set to be a busy period.
Recent form shows United sitting top of the form league with five wins from the last six games. United’s home form is pretty ominous for Stoke – played 10, won 9, drawn 1. Stoke will of course be trying to remove the “unbeaten” tag from United – 19 league games and counting (not that I’m personally too fussed about it). Stoke did win their last away game and should they leave Old Trafford with maximum points it will be the first time they’ve ever won back-to-back away Premier League games.
This fixture doesn’t bare much for Stoke fans to be happy about. In the 2 previous Premier League visits to Old Trafford they’ve lost 5-0 and 4-0. In 5 Premier League games against United, Stoke have managed just one goal. Their last league win at Old Trafford game nearly 35 years ago – in all league meetings Stoke have won 5 of 37 fixtures played away against United. Most recently, United beat Stoke 4-0 on the final day of last season. The meeting the season before saw Danny Welbeck come off the bench to score a stunning goal on his Premier League debut (see video below).
Stoke will look to try and score first against United – when they’ve scored first this season they are unbeaten, winning 6 and drawing 1. However recent history suggests they’ll be lucky to score at all, Man Utd have won 10 of the last 13 league meetings between the sides without Stoke scoring. There is an individual landmark to be had on each team – Jon Walters could make his 250th career club start whilst Michael Carrick could make his 300th Premier League appearance. Any appearance by Ryan Giggs will take him onto 599 league appearances for Untied, one shy of yet another milestone.
Despite any potential tinkering to the United team I think this one will be a home win. Stoke don’t travel too well and United seem very strong at home. I therefore predict a 3-0 win for United just as I (wrongly) predicted for the Sunderland game.
You can share with us your thoughts ahead of the match and your favourite moments from games at home to Stoke on our forum.
As promised earlier, here is that stunning Danny Welbeck strike from the 5-0 win against Stoke on the 15th November 2008:
Before I sign off, here is the Stretford-End.com betting info ahead of the game against Stoke:
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Man United Vs Wigan Atheletic Betting Odds (correct at time of publishing)
Man Utd to win 2/7
Correct score markets:
1-0 is 11/2
2-0 is 5/1
2-1 is 7/1
3-0 is 7/1
or if your’e brave…
7-1 is 175/1
If you think Berbatov may bag another hat-trick the odds are 9/1
Finally, if you think stoke will lead at half-time but fail to win, the odds are 11/1