Stoke City welcome free scoring Manchester United to the Britannia Stadium in Saturday’s tea time kick off hoping to nick a point off the Red Devils, a feat they haven’t managed since their return to England’s elite 3 season ago.
Stoke City go into Saturday’s encounter on the back of a hard fought penalty shoot-out win in the Carling Cup against Tottenham and Tony Pulis will be fervently hoping that despite fielding an almost full strength team in midweek, his players will have recovered sufficiently to face the speed and power of United’s front line. Manchester United, on the other hand, fielded a second string squad in their Carling Cup game defeat of Leeds and it’s safe to say that Wayne Rooney should return to lead United’s attack.
Manchester United have been boosted by the news that Rio Ferdinand, Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez and Danny Welbeck have all returned to training and should be fit to face Stoke come Saturday evening. Ferguson faces a dilemma in the striking department however, with both Welbeck and Hernandez in superb form while Michael Owen has certainly done his chances no harm with a brilliantly taken brace against Leeds.
Manchester United have won all 6 of their previous encounters with the Staffordshire outfit but Stoke have a very strong home record against the so-called ‘Big four’ and they were only outdone by Manchester United last season thanks to a brilliant poacher’s performance by Javier Hernandez.
However, Stoke will have to work on their eye for goal as they have the fewest shots on target this season in the Premier League with just ten registered in five games while United are joint-top with an incredible forty-three mustered out of which they have scored twenty one. Ryan Shawcross and Jonathan Woodgate have their work cut out as they prepare to stop a side who seem to find a way through any defense no matter how they set up.
Players to Watch:
Stoke City: Matthew Etherington.
He has had an indifferent start to the season but he can be relied upon to provide the creative spark Stoke so desperately lack when he’s not in the team. THe onus is on him and Jermaine Pennant to prise open the visitor’s defense and provide service to Peter Crouch and Kenwyne Jones.
Manchester United: Rio Ferdinand.
All of the talk this season has been about United’s two young defensive stalwarts at the back – Chris Smalling and Phil Jones. With Ferdinand returning from injury, he has a lot to prove as he comes up against the physicality of Stoke and looks to cement his place in the center of United’s defense.
Prediction: Stoke halted the progress of Liverpool a couple of weeks ago and can be relied upon to give United a real test but Sir Alex Ferguson’s men should pick up a narrow win tomorrow.