Manchester United’s New Year begins with a trip to the Britannia Stadium with the once dreaded ground perhaps not generating the same amount of fear in opponents as it once used to do. The two sides faced each other in the reverse fixture just a month ago, with United surviving a late onslaught to win 2-1. Stoke though have been on the upward curve since then and have claimed the scalps of Arsenal and Everton before recording a comfortable 2-0 win over West Brom on Sunday.
The visitors are enjoying their best spell under the new manager with six wins out of their last eight matches, and just one defeat in their last 14; although Louis van Gaal still believes that there is further room for improvement as far as performances are concerned. United blew out of steam in the second half in a goalless draw at White Hart Lane but they produced the best 45 minutes of the season in the first half according to the manager. They will be looking to take the three points on Thursday however, and further try to close the ten point gap at the top of the table with Chelsea.
Mark Hughes remains confident that his side have it in them to upset the odds as they have done so on a fair few occasions over the past one and a half season. They have beaten Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur already this season adding to their famous wins against Chelsea and Manchester United themselves last season and will be looking to extend their run to three wins in a row after winning consecutive games for the first time this season.
Mark Hughes will be without Victor Moses who is suffering a thigh injury and will be out for another month, while it might be a bit too early for Steve Sidwell who has made a swift recovery from the dreaded medial ligament injury. Phil Bardsley also remains sidelined with an ankle injury. Bojan picked up a back injury in the 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion and is a minor doubt.
Stoke’s only long term absentee remains Peter Odemwingie, who played only 110 league minutes before suffering a cruciate ligament injury in early September.
Ander Herrera was on the bench at White Hart Lane and is expected to feature against Stoke while Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw both returned from respective injuries as substitutes in Sunday’s 0-0 draw in North London and could start at the Britannia Stadium.
Antonio Valencia picked up a groin injury and won’t be risked against the Potters, nor will Marcos Rojo who is close to full fitness following a shoulder injury. Adnan Januzaj and Marouane Fellaini are both recovering from illness and it looks unlikely that they will feature along with Angel Di Maria and Daley Blind who are out with pelvic and knee injuries respectively.
Stoke City: 4-2-3-1: Begovic; Cameron, Shawcross, Muniesa, Pieters; N’Zonzi, Whelan; Arnautovic, Bojan, Diouf; Crouch
Manchester United: De Gea; Rafael, Jones, Smalling, Evans, Young; Carrick, Rooney, Mata; Van Persie, Wilson
Last five meetings
02 Dec 2014 Manchester United 2 – 1 Stoke City Premier League
01 Feb 2014 Stoke City 2 – 1 Manchester United Premier League
18 Dec 2013 Stoke City 0 – 2 Manchester United League Cup
26 Oct 2013 Manchester United 3 – 2 Stoke City Premier League
14 Apr 2013 Stoke City 0 – 2 Manchester United Premier League
- Stoke City have won just once in their last 13 matches against Manchester United in the Premier League.
- Stoke City have won four and lost four of their nine home games in the Premier League this season.
- Stoke City have average more shots per game (13.4) in the Premier League than Manchester United (12.9).
- Stoke City have won the most aerial duels in the league per game (25.5) in the Premier League while Manchester United have won the least (13.6).
- Manchester United have averaged the second highest possession in the Premier League (58.1%) behind Manchester City (59.3%) and the best pass completion rate (85.4%).
- Manchester United remain one of the five sides yet to score from a penalty in the Premier League this season.
- Manchester United have won just two of their nine away games in the Premier League this season, losing two and drawing five.
- Robin Van Persie has scored 10 goals in 10 appearances against Stoke City in all competitions.
- United are on a nine game unbeaten run in the Premier League having won seven out of their last nine games.
Stoke City: Peter Crouch
Mame Biram Diouf scored a brace on the weekend becoming Stoke’s highest scorer in the league so far. Peter Crouch though is joint second in that regard with four, and will be looking to add to his tally against Manchester United on Sunday. The lanky striker will be a threat in the air against a United defence that is slowly growing in confidence. He will also be useful to hold the ball up with the talented Bojan as they showed in the first half demolition of Arsenal in early December.
He has won the most aerial duels in the Premier League this season with 96 and averages 5.6 of those per game. If Stoke are able to utilise their wide players and pepper the visitor’s defenders with crosses, Crouch will be expected to come out on top. However, he needs to improve his shot accuracy which is just about 28%.
Manchester United: Wayne Rooney
Rooney is United’s joint top scorer in the Premier League along with Robin van Persie though the England captain has been masterful in his present role in midfield in the absence of recognised midfielders. He has recorded four assists this season with only Angel di Maria having more, and is enjoying in the dual role of providing and as well as finishing chances. He also relishes spraying passes out wide to the advancing full-backs and then making runs to receive pull backs in and around the penalty area.
He averages 2.6 chances per game and boasts a pass success rate of 85.8% and has created 21 chances for his teammates this season and will once again be a huge threat against Stoke on New Year’s Day.
Both Stoke City and Manchester United will go into this game full of confidence and will be looking for nothing less than three points. It promises to be an open attacking game, similar to many of United’s games this season and despite having probably the best attack in the league, they have been over-reliant on David de Gea to mask their defensive frailties. If Stoke are on their game, they can more than just trouble United at the back and a draw looks a high possibility, something both sides will be satisfied with at the end of the day.