Premier League is back for good and on Saturday, league leaders Manchester United will travel to the Bet365 stadium to take on Mark Hughes’ Stoke City.
Stoke City have had a decent start to life in 2017/18 – beating Arsenal in their first home game of the season sandwiched between a narrow opening day defeat to Everton and a 1-1 stalemate at the Hawthorns.
The Potters enjoyed a rather eventful transfer window in the Summer, bringing in the likes of Darren Fletcher, Bruno Martins Indi on permanent deals while also managing to attract promising young talents in Jese and Kurt Zouma on loan from PSG and Chelsea respectively – to replace the outgoing spine of Marko Arnautovic, Jonathan Walters, Glenn Whelan et al. This is a big season for Mark Hughes to push Stoke City into the top half after finishing a mediocre 13th in May and much of their good work will be based on their historically good form at home.
Manchester United were in a similar position last season – three games in, three wins and it all looked rosy and nicely set-up for a strong title challenge. But following their first league defeat against Manchester City exactly a year before Saturday’s fixture, the momentum was snatched away and they were trying to catch smoke with bare hands since. United are scheduled to play 7 games in the next 22 days and momentum is one thing they cannot afford to lose at this point in time.
If anything, Mourinho will have already already realised the importance of taking an early lead on the standings by continuing their winning streak on Saturday, to give themselves the breathing space for the odd slip-up in the title race. The Red Devils have nevertheless impressed supporters and neutrals alike, scoring copious amounts of goals and conceding none so far in the opening three games – keeping their balance intact.
It will be interesting to see if they could impose themselves in a ground they have struggled in recent years, with their most recent win coming in 2013.
For Mark Hughes, former Man United midfielder Darren Fletcher is a doubt with a knee injury. The same goes for forward Mame Biram Diouf, who also has a knee problem. Summer signing Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting is expected to miss the game with a hamstring injury. Kurt Zouma’s ankle injury will need to be assessed but £18m signing Kevin Wimmer could make his debut against Manchester United on Saturday.
Jose Mourinho has no fresh injury concerns, with Ashley Young, Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo and returnee Zlatan Ibrahimovic all out.
Stoke City possible starting lineup:
Butland; Zouma, Shawcross, Martins Indi; Cameron, Fletcher, Allen, Pieters; Shaqiri, Jese, Berahino
Manchester United possible starting lineup:
De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Jones, Blind; Matic, Herrera, Pogba; Mkhitaryan, Rashford, Lukaku
- Stoke have seen under 2.5 goals in 6 of their last 7 home matches against Manchester United in all competitions.
- Manchester United have kept a clean sheet in 9 of their last 12 matches (Premier League).
Kurt Zouma – Stoke City
Stoke City have traditionally had physically strong sides, who almost always find a way to out-muscle opposition at home to claim maximum points. That feature had been missing in the last couple of seasons as Stoke suffered more defeats than they normally would have done five or six years ago.
But Mark Hughes is bringing the good bits of the old Stoke back to the Bet365 and if he’s got it right, in Zouma, the Potters have the perfect center-half to build their team around.
Young, promising Zouma has recovered from a horrible fall and looks driven to move further in his career and Stoke City will provide him with all the tools to do so.
Marcus Rashford – Manchester United
Marcus Rashford has enjoyed an impressive start to his season – coming off the bench against Swansea in the last Premier League encounter to score the all-important opening goal and following it up with the winning goal against Slovakia for his country in midweek, in the World Cup qualifiers.
His overall game has improved massively since he made his devastating debut in the Europa League and under Jose Mourinho, the 19-year old, who defies his age, is developing into an all-round forward, which can only stand him and United in good stead for whatever lies ahead in the future.
Manchester United’s strength in depth will prevail.
Stoke City 1-2 Manchester United