Stoke Preview: United Must Plant The Potters

Manchester United get ready for their second bitter Barclays Premier League match in just three days as the Reds play host to Stoke City at Old Trafford.

United began 2011 by keeping their nerve – or maybe riding their luck a little bit – as the left The Hawthorns will all three points following their intense 2-1 victory win over West Bromwich Albion, but Sir Alex Ferguson knows that he will need to make sure that his players are completely refocused for the match with a very physical Potters side.

Although United is still top of the Premier League standings, the Reds should expect another feisty match with Stoke after seeing Tony Pulis’ men pull out a very impressive 2-0 home win over Everton this past weekend.

With their very notable victory over the Toffees, Stoke has moved up to 8th place in the league, but the Potters has been seen as a very middle of the road club since their promotion to the top flight in 2008/09.

Admirably though, Stoke has started to steady their ship during the most hectic part of the season, as they have only twice in their last nine matches – collecting 17 points.

The Potters is 10th in goals scored with 25, and tied for seventh with 24 goals scored for a goal differential of +1, so they are worthy of their league position at the moment.

Pulis has done well keeping his club above the relegation zone with some impressive wins over the teams that are close to them in the table, however, Stoke has struggled against the bigger clubs – Arsenal, Chelsea and United.

Stoke has the worst away record in the Premier League against the top-half of the table with three losses in as many games – and they have seriously sputtered at Old Trafford since joining the Premier League.

In all of their five matches, United has outscored Stoke 14-1, but the Reds has outscored Stoke 9-0 at Old Trafford,

However, the Reds knows just how tough that match was for the Toffees, because they barely escaped the Britannia Stadium with a 2-1 victory back in October.

Javier Hernandez, who scored the decisive goal against West Brom on Saturday, scored both goals in their only other away victory of the season against Stoke.

The first goal of the game came midway through the first-half, and it was of the most inventive headers one will ever see from Chicharito.

The goal was worked from a corner, Nani floated a ball to the back post, which was met back by Nemanja Vidic and sent it back across the face of goal, and, with his back to the goal, Hernandez did well to contorted himself in the air and headed the ball in with the back of his head.

United was completely bossing the play, but failed to make any concrete chances, and their defensive frailties looked to have cost them another two points when Tuncay Sanli’s lovely left-footed strike landed into the top corner of their net with just nine minutes to play.

However, Stoke seemed unfazed by United’s historic ability to stage a late comeback, and they were clearly content with just a point from the match, however the visitor’s showed their never say die attitude.

Dimitar Berbatov seemed to hit another lackadaisical cross into the Stoke area, but that was helped on by Paul Scholes into the path of Patrice Evra, and he acrobatically pinged the ball across the six-yard box, which Hernandez diverted the ball into the Potters’ net.

Stoke was shockingly left stunned, and the Reds did well to hang on for what can only be described as three prized away points, because United has only won twice all season long away from the Theatre of Dreams.

There are major questions ahead of the match with the fitness of Wayne Rooney after the challenge of Chris Brunt at the end of their last game.

Reports that are swirling are claiming that Rooney is facing two weeks on the sidelines, but the supporters should wait until the confirmation, or denial, from Sir Alex during his pre-match press conference.

Even if Rooney misses the match against Stoke, Ferguson has the option of playing the young, enthusiastic Mexican, but that will all be dictated by whether Gaffer goes with a 4-4-2, or the 4-5-1 formation, because the latter would leave Chicharito on the bench again.

Manchester United has been rock solid at Old Trafford, and the Reds will need to continue with that form if the they want to remain top of the Barclays Premier League after this match with Stoke City.

Out: A. Valencia (leg), O. Hargreaves (hamstring), P. Scholes (groin), J. O’Shea (calf); Doubtful: W. Rooney (ankle); Questionable: Nani (hip)

E. van der Sar; Rafael, R. Ferdinand, N. Vidic, P. Evra; Nani, M. Carrick, D. Fletcher, R. Giggs; J. Hernandez, D. Berbatov

Manchester United 2 Stoke City 0

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