By Mark Young
Manchester United’s international stars return from duty with their national sides for a home game against Stoke City on Saturday afternoon as they look to put pressure on the teams above them.
Before the international hiatus United travelled to Newcastle in what looked like a tough looking away fixture as last season’s 3-0 defeat proved. The Red Devils started on the front foot as Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa all had starting berths. It was Jonny Evans and Patrice Evra who scored in the first half to put United two up and then a top corner Cleverley strike rounded off a perfect afternoon in the North East.
United have a good record against Stoke home and away. A home encounter against The Potters is a good game to come back to after the international break and before a Champions League tie and a double header at Stamford Bridge against the European Champions. With Manchester City playing away to West Brom and Chelsea away to Tottenham, it could really be a lot worse.
Team Selection Thoughts
The goalkeeping position will continue to give Sir Alex Ferguson headaches but he opted for David de Gea at St James’ Park ahead of Anders Lindegaard. Ben Amos started this fixture last season but if Ferguson believes that de Gea is his number one then he should be starting these games. A run in the team is what the Spaniard would need and a physical challenge against Stoke will be good for the young Spaniard. Lindegaard was in goal for the defeat of Spurs and may make a return in the Champions League in midweek but de Gea must keep the shirt for this fixture. He kept a clean sheet at Newcastle so it is somewhat earned. He is in possession of the shirt.
A fantastic headache for Ferguson to have is who to start in attack. Van Persie, Rooney, Hernandez and Welbeck all had fruitful international breaks scoring goals. Eight goals between them is an excellent return and an embarrassment of riches is certainly what this has to be labelled. Does he pick one, two, three or all four of them? The best thing about this supposed ‘headache’ is that if it doesn’t work with the original line up then there are some brilliant options as back up. Hernandez has had the furthest to travel so it is unlikely he will start but he does like a goal against Stoke. Ferguson may go with van Persie, Rooney and Welbeck again in attack. Antonio Valencia came on against Newcastle and is a welcome boost to the United attack. Shinji Kagawa has been to Japan and back and may be considered. Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick should start again but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Scholes or Giggs play in this fixture. Ashley Young is fit and could make a comeback after a very understated absence and must use this season to push on.
To the defence, a boost for United is the nearing return of Chris Smalling who could is just a little bit short of making his comeback against Stoke. Evans, who was excellent against Portugal and Ferdinand are likely to start together again with Rafael at right back and Evra on the left. Phil Jones is a few days away from fitness that is another huge boost. Nemanja Vidic is still sometime away from fitness so it is definitely a case of strength in numbers which means no more Michael Carrick at centre back if it can be helped!
Here, at Stretford End Arising we spoke to members of 1863: The Stoke City Messageboard and asked their thoughts on the upcoming game and more:
Sadly we have become accustomed to writing off any fixture at Old Trafford as we seem to simply roll over on your patch, so we’re hoping that we at least keep it respectable. This season we’ve adapted our formation to accommodate the enigma that is Charlie Adam at the expense of our previous wingers, so we’re now playing a narrower formation which can be called a 4-2-3-1 if you’re feeling continental, a 4-3-3 if you’re feeling optimistic, or a 4-5-1 which is how it realistically is for us most of the time. In terms of exploiting weaknesses in United’s team there aren’t exactly many to exploit, but I do think that you’re lacking some dynamism in the middle of the park, whereas our engine room has been a real bright spark so far with N’Zonzi in particular proving to be absolutely perfect for us so I’d hope that this will be an area of the pitch where we really try to get at you. If we can scrap our way to a draw and actually create a few chances along the way I’ll be extremely delighted.
Really impressed up to now considering how difficult the fixtures have been for us. The new additions have all settled in nicely despite being considerably cheaper than the acquisitions of previous years and we look far more comfortable in possession within our new formation than we did in our previous rigid 4-4-1-1 thanks to the extra body in the middle. The defence is also better than ever with the addition of our American heart-throb Geoff Cameron at right-back, Marc Wilson ever improving at left-back and the backbone of our team that is Begovic, Shawcross and Huth proving to be almost impenetrable at times. I honestly wouldn’t swap those three for any other combination of goalkeeper and centre-halves outside of the very top teams in the league right now. Up top the new combination of Crouch, Walters and Kightly has also produced some good stuff so we’ve really got no complaints so far!
Stoke’s Brand Of Football
At times the criticism has been way over the top with the Southern based media all jumping on the Wenger-driven bandwagon, but then at other times it has been completely justified because we really did play some dire stuff over the last few years! It achieved what we needed, which was survival and stability so we couldn’t care less if other people didn’t like it. Thankfully though we do seem to have taken a huge step in the right direction this year in terms of controlling matches a bit more, with Adam always looking for the ball, Geoff Cameron being extremely comfortable in possession at the back and Steven N’Zonzi, despite being a prototypical “destroyer” also having really tidy feet and a good range of passing. Adam and N’Zonzi have also brought out the best in Glenn Whelan after it appeared as though his days were numbered for us, and he’s really been spraying passes all over the park with great confidence this season. If we can evolve in this way whilst maintaining our work ethic and team spirit then we could easily be challenging for a top half finish this year.
So far there’s nothing really to have an opinion on! We’ve seen a couple of ineffective late substitute appearances and no more so we can’t judge him at the minute. Any optimism is based purely on hope because we all know what his injury record has been like, but at least he did show in his appearances at United that he’s still got that killer instinct in front of goal so hopefully he’ll come up with a handful of crucial goals over the course of the season. Coming off the bench to open his account for us this weekend with an injury time winner after a scrappy goalless 90 minutes would just be too perfect to be true!
Three key battles
Rio Ferdinand vs. Peter Crouch
Ferdinand will have a tough battle with former Liverpool striker Crouch. Crouch is on form and the United backline have found life difficult in most games so far this season but if Ferdinand and Evans marshal just as well as they did at St James’ Park last week then Ferdinand should be victorious.
Robin van Persie vs. Ryan Shawcross
The former United defender takes on the new United front man and he will definitely have a tough afternoon. The Stoke man has excelled for a number of seasons with consistent performances and was recently rewarded for his fine form when he was called up by Roy Hodgson. Van Persie scored the ‘cherry on the top’ goal in Holland’s 4-1 away win in Romania on Tuesday and will fancy a goal or two against Stoke.
Patrice Evra vs. Michael Kightly
Stoke’s summer signing from Wolves has added creativity down the right flank. After injury worries a plenty it is good to see Kightly playing regularly in the Premier League again. He will come up against Patrice Evra who had one of his best games for the past two years against Newcastle, but if his form prior to that game creeps back up then Kightly could win that battle.
It will be a good old fashioned ‘slobber knocker’ to use the words of a WWE commentator as Stoke will prove physically dominant meaning United will have to step up in terms of power in the middle of the park and at the back. An early goal will the aim for United as Stoke have had decent results against all the big teams so far but United have not lost to Stoke in the Premier League and a win by a couple of goals, eventually, is on the cards.
Manchester United vs. Stoke City match day thread HERE.
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