The Premier League table will really take shape over the next few months, as the Christmas schedule comes to the fore. Both of these sides need a good month to consolidate where they want to be in the league. Stoke want to be secure in mid-table, pushing the top half as last season they showed how well they can finish the campaign. Meanwhile, Manchester United will be attempting to pull away from their fellow top four contenders. Their form has picked up lately, and they will be hoping to continue their surge to the top four. Many expect them to become a real force in the second half of the season, it will be interesting to see if they can live up to their potential as they have a lot of quality in their side.
Stoke have had an inconsistent start to the season, beating the likes of Tottenham away, which was a huge result, but they have been very poor at home. This is a shock as they are normally so difficult to beat at home, yet this year they are losing matches to Burnley, although they will suggest that was a freak result given the flow of the game. Mark Hughes has improved the style of football since taking over, bringing in talented attacking players like Marko Arnautovic and Bojan, but they have started to lose their organisation from a defensive standpoint. This needs to be looked at, as it was once the thing that teams going to Stoke feared.
Louis van Gaal is looking forward to his first Christmas period in England, and in the past some foreign managers have struggled to balance their squads while maintaining good results. It will be interesting to see how the Dutchman copes, he is an experienced manager, but the festive period in England is like no other. His squad could be stretched by the extra demands, especially defensively; he will need to hope injuries don’t flare up again. Manchester United are starting to eke out results without the performances to go with them, but if their level of performance goes up, they could be a quality team in the second half of the season and one would expect they will improve.
In last season’s match at the Britannia, Stoke triumphed with a 2-1 win after a Michael Carrick own goal and Charlie Adam getting on the scoresheet, Robin van Persie scored the consolation. In the reverse fixture at Old Trafford, Manchester United won 3-2 with Van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez scoring that day for the hosts. Peter Crouch and Marko Arnautovic got the goals for Stoke.
- Stoke have always been known for their defensive abilities, but they haven’t kept a clean sheet since the 29th September, which is over two months ago.
- After being criticised so much this season, Manchester United’s defence is starting to improve, having only conceded three times in their last five league matches.
Bojan is going to be a huge danger to the Manchester United back four this week. His skillful dribbling and ability to twist and turn past defenders make him difficult to defend against. Many had doubts about the youngster, who has seen his career falter, but his recent performances at Stoke have shown he still has a lot to offer and he could finally show his potential at Stoke City. The environment is one with low pressure, allowing him to focus on his football without the added expectation. As time goes on and he settles to English football, the expectation will grow and it will be interesting to see how he deals with being relied upon in the Stoke City side. Bojan will thrive in the big matches as it’s an opportunity for him to show he can peform on the big stage.
Robin van Persie hasn’t managed to return to the form he showed in his first season in Manchester, but there has positive signs for United fans as he scored against Hull at the weekend. It could lead to a goalscoring run for the Dutchman as one goal could see all his confidence return. Louis van Gaal will be hoping that is the case as an improving van Persie could be the catalyst for his side to secure a top four position. Manchester United haven’t really reaped the rewards of having Wayne Rooney and van Persie in form at the same time, and we could be about to see that for the first time which is a frightening prospect for the Premier League. He will be a danger on Tuesday as he can score all kinds of goals and with confidence behind him, he may be prepared to do just that.
Phil Bardsley is a doubt with an illness. Victor Moses, Steve Sidwell, Glen Whelan, Steve Sidwell, Robert Huth and Peter Odemwingie are going to miss out. Charlie Adam is likely to start in central midfield. Bojan and former Manchester United striker Mame Biram Diouf are likely to lead the attack.
Angel di Maria is going to miss out after picking up a hamstring injury. Johnny Evans and Wayne Rooney are both doubts. Rafael, Phil Jones and Jesse Lingard are close to returning to action. Daley Blind is a long way away from getting back to playing football.
I think Stoke will be a tough test for Manchester United. The atmosphere will be great for a midweek game and the injury concerns Manchester United have could play into Stoke’s hands. I expect it to be a close game, with both sides taking a point.
Manchester United 1 -1 Stoke