Thursday, 22 September 2011

United vs Stoke Big Match Preview

Manchester United are back in league action on Saturday when they make the short trip to the Britannia Stadium to face Stoke City. The Reds will be looking to continue their 100% league record having achieved the best ever start to a season under Sir Alex Ferguson with 21 goals scored and four conceded.

The Reds squad will be buoyed by a comfortable midweek victory over Leeds United in the Carling Cup where numerous squad players were given the game they needed to increase their match fitness. Tuesday's game also saw debuts for Fryers, Pogba and Cole who all performed admirably in a hostile atmosphere at Elland Road. Fryers in particular settled into a makeshift back four with ease alongside the experienced Michael Carrick as United cruised through the majority of the match.

Stoke were also in Carling Cup action on Tuesday as they hosted Spurs in a match that went to penalties with the home side prevailing 7-6. Whether this hinders their preparation in terms of Saturday's game remains to be seen but with a number of first team players involved, it cannot be positive that they played the full 120 minutes.

Javier Hernández looks set to miss the game despite returning to training this week after Ashley Cole's poor tackle on him last week. Danny Welbeck made a brief cameo at Elland Road after his hamstring injury and if he suffers no ill effects he can expect to be pushing for a starting berth. The likes of Vidic and Cleverley are expected to be missing for a couple more weeks.

Stat Zone by Rahul Singh

  1. Rooney is the first player to Score 9 goals in the first 5 PL games of the season.
  2. De Gea has the best saves to shots ratio, keeping out 88% of all shots on target faced. (via Opta)
  3. Stoke have only lost 1 of their last 11 PL games at home.
  4. United have won all six PL games against Stoke.
  5. Chicharito scored 3 goals in the two appearances last season against Stoke.

The Opposition
Tony Pulis had a busy summer as Stoke manager with the added pressure of Europa League football to consider this season. For this reason, he has strengthened his squad with some astute acquisitions with proven Premier League quality at the heart of it. Palacios, Crouch and Woodgate have all arrived from Spurs, Upson from West Ham and Jerome from Birmingham will supplement the existing squad who got to Wembley last season for the FA Cup final as well as finishing comfortably in the league table.

The likes of Huth, Shawcross, Etherington, Pennant and Jones form the backbone of the side that has done so well to cement its position in the Premier League over the last couple of seasons. Although, their set piece delivery can be a potent weapon, they have sufficient quality to cause teams problems all over the pitch.

Currently they sit 5th with a record of two wins and two draws from the opening five games. Last time out they suffered a heavy 4-0 defeat at Sunderland that owed much to a draining Thursday fixture against Dynamo Kiev in the Europa League. Scoring goals seems to be a problem at the current time with just three so far but I would expect this to change rapidly as Crouch settles in and gets used to the play of his colleagues as well as  combining with the likes of Jones, Jerome and Walters up front.

Please note - The above team was selected ahead of the manager's press conference on Friday morning

With Chris Smalling expected to be absent following his calf injury, I would expect Rio Ferdinand to take his place and slot into the same back five as at Bolton. Phil Jones will move across to right back. If Smalling had been fit, the manager may have been tempted to play Jonny Evans at left back and thus select an all centre back defence to counter the long ball barrage expected at set pieces. Evra is no stranger to this style of football now although there is little doubt he will be targeted along with De Gea in goal.

After Anderson's indifferent performance against Chelsea last weekend and bearing in mind that Saturday could be a bit of a battle, I have chosen Fletcher to partner Carrick in central midfield. While I would have no problem with the Brazilian playing, I feel it is the type of game that could pass him by so I would hold him in reserve for our next game. The form of Nani and Young means that they should take their places in the wide positions with the likes of Park, Valencia and Giggs jostling for a spot on the bench.

The one remaining conundrum is the identity of Rooney's partner up front. With Hernández sidelined, it is a fight between Welbeck, Owen, Berbatov or an extra midfielder. My choice is the languid Bulgarian mainly due to his seniority in terms of pecking order to Owen and that Welbeck has only just returned to action after a hamstring injury and it would be a risk to subject him to another game again so soon. The extra midfielder (Anderson) is possible if the manager feels that he needs to react to the increasing space that we are conceding the opposition in the final third but this option would appear unlikely given the swashbuckling start to the season that has been made. Michael Owen's midweek brace were a timely reminder of his class in terms of finishing but I feel he is best served as an impact substitute coming off the bench when a goal is required.

Scoreline Prediction
Games at the Britannia against Stoke have tended to be tight affairs and I can see this being little different given all the facts laid out above. There is little doubt that the home team will bombard the box when possible and look to unsettle De Gea in the United goal. I feel, however, that our defence can cope and although there will undoubtedly be a few scary moments, I am backing United to prevail 2-0 with goals from Berbatov and Young.

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