Stoke City vs. Manchester United view from the oppo

Manchester United's Wayne Rooney, right, and Stoke City's Geoff Cameron in the Premier League
Wayne Rooney and Geoff Cameron clash in the 3-2 Manchester United victory earlier in the season

Manchester United travel to Stoke City this afternoon looking to build on the 2-0 win over Cardiff City mid week. United have a pretty good record at the Britannia Stadium, having never lost there in the Premier League era. You would have to go back to Boxing Day 1984 to record a Stoke City win the league, although this was at Stoke’s Victoria Ground.

Mark Hughes is under pressure to pick up results, with the home side not winning a league match since beating Aston Villa 2-1 just before Christmas and falling into the relegation dog fight. Stoke City are without Steven Nzonzi, who was sent off in the 1-0 defeat against Sunderland.

David Moyes welcomed back Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney to the first team squad the other night, and with the addition of Juan Mata from Chelsea, United will be looking for a repeat result of the 3-2 victory earlier in the season at Old Trafford. United are without Nemanja Vidic, who is still suspended from his lunge on Eden Hazard in the 3-1 defeat against Chelsea, and Rio Ferdinand who is still injured. Michael Carrick will face a late fitness test, whilst Nani is out for a month.

We caught up with Tom Barker, who blogs over at Stoke Vital Football. We caught up on Juan Mata, relegation dog fight and whether Sparky will still be there come next season. You can follow the lads on Twitter @vitalstoke.

1) How would you sum up Stoke City’s season so far?

Results-wise, relatively poor. We’ve had a bad season so far, through a culmination of bad luck and poor decisions. The football on the other hand though has been a beautiful sight, we have been passing it around for fun and I haven’t seen that from Stoke since back in the League 1 days.

2) Is Mark Hughes the right man for the job and will he be there next season?

I’m still having trouble believing that out of all of the managers we could have signed, Hughes was the best choice. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll support the man every moment he is at Stoke, but I don’t think he’s the right man. At least under Pulis, we were getting results! What worries me most is Hughes’ inability to play any formation other than a 4-5-1. We need to get away from that as it is not working.

3) Where do you think you’ll finish this season? Worried about relegation?

I’m terrified about relegation. It’s gone from “it’s not going to happen”, to “it might happen you know?”, to “yeah, we are really in it here”. That said, the league this season is so tight that anybody could go. Anywhere above 15th for the season and I will be happy, so we can regroup and re-plan over the summer.

4) Who has been your best and worst performer this season?

Best performer for me has been either Geoff Cameron or our loanee Oussama Assaidi. Cameron has been superb, really come into his own and cemented his place under Hughes. As for Assaidi, what a talent this lad is. He had a few games to get used to the league at the start of the season, but once he gained a bit of confidence, well…just watch the goals he’s scored again and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

Worst performer I think would have to be Nzonzi, and I say that with a heavy heart knowing that countless Stokies will give me grief for this. He’s a great player in his own right, but he hasn’t got a good footballing brain. Look at how we played against Sunderland when he foolishly got sent off, we were outstanding, and passing the ball around with a good tempo! The best description I can give for Nzonzi is that he is the “Berbatov of the Midfield.”

5) What do you think of the signing of Juan Mata?

In a word, Wow. Certainly the sort of player that you needed. Amazing how a team’s player of the season for 2 years running doesn’t play really for a third season. If (and at the moment, I do say if…) you get to the Champions League, it will be largely credit to Mata. Worth every penny that you have spent in my eyes.

6) What have you made of United under David Moyes? Unlucky, not good enough or both?

You know, I feel a bit for Moyes. I think even Sir Alex himself couldn’t have done better this season with the squad. He is certainly good enough, he has the experience and the chosen one has serious potential to be a cult hero in Manchester. I just hope that the Glazers honour the United tradition and actually stick with a manager for a while, instead of sacking somebody for a bad 5/6 results.

7) What do you think of the signing of Peter Odemwingie? Are you pleased to see Jones leave at all?

Not sure what to make of this, on one hand, Odemwingie turned us down a few years ago and I can’t see why now he feels we are good enough for him? On the other hand, Odemwingie or Jones to score goals for us is a no brainer. I’m glad to see Jones go, especially with his attitude recently.

8) Stoke haven’t won in the league since Dec 21st, how confident are you for the match against United and have you any predictions?

Has it been that long? Good God. I’m fully expecting Stoke to lose, I will be honest. If Stoke even get a point, it will be like a win for us. Personally, I’d put my money on 3-1 to Man U, but i certainly can’t see us getting anything from this.

9) What’s the best Stoke moment against United that you can remember?

There’s a few to be honest. Most recently being in our promotion season, when United came to Stoke. I’ll never forget Wayne Rooney falling out with Abdoulaye Faye in the corner. Faye was massive, I mean huge, and Rooney flung an elbow at Faye obviously not realising that it was the giant behind him. Rooney turned around and that is easily the fastest I’ve ever seen him run. Hilarious.

Another great moment, and I’m going back a bit now, was when we were a lowly League 1 team and we had a preseason friendly against United. Stoke won 3-1, and Diego Forlan scored a peach for United, but Chris Greenacre scored the winner after hitting the crossbar, hitting Fabian Barthez on the head and going in. Amazing memories.

10) Do you have any youngsters coming through that we should look out for?

This American lad we have signed has extreme potential. Juan Agudelo will be playing for us next year and he will light up the league, and then some. A special mention as well for Marc Muniesa, a left back who until he got injured was actually starting for Barcelona. Has everything really, pace, flair, and a cracking tackle. Watch out for him too!

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