Manchester United’s victory over Derby County, despite being an impressive one, will not take the spotlight away from Louis van Gaal’s seemingly hopeless situation at Old Trafford, and the amount of pressure on him. One mere win will not be able to take away the Dutch tactician’s past atrocities and the fact that he apparently turned a squad built on counter-attacking into a bunch of boys who only play defensive, “boring” football. However, right now, it is most important that Manchester United build on the result against Stoke.
Despite an impressive season so far, Stoke will step into the match on the back of a difficult period, after ousted from the Capital One Cup on penalties to Liverpool, as well as losing narrowly against Crystal Palace to be eliminated from the FA Cup.
United supporters will still have the memories of their beloved team’s nightmarish display against Stoke on Boxing Day, which saw the Red Devils well beaten by Mark Hughes’ boys 2-0. Another result like that one will certainly bring more questions over van Gaal’s future, as majority of the fans’ frustrations will inevitably be forced the Dutchman’s way. United boss has also confessed that he is not sure what will be the reception he will get and his players will face tonight from the Old Trafford faithful; particularly if the result doesn’t go the way the fans hope for. He revealed; “I am not stupid. I am an intelligent man and I cannot predict the atmosphere.” However, the Dutch manager was keen to stress that; “It’s not so important that they (the fans) yell at me, it’s more that they are supporting the players.”
The Manchester United vs Stoke City match will be played on Tuesday 2nd February at the Old Trafford. The Kick-off is scheduled at 20:00 GMT (1:30 IST Wednesday).
Man United had expected to have Bastian Schweinsteiger back from a knee injury, but it is now believed that the German midfielder will miss out yet again along with Matteo Darmian, Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones. Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young still remain long-term absentees as van Gaal finds it difficult to put a defence together. However, Michael Carrick is expected to return to the starting eleven after seeing off a knee problem. Memphis Depay is also pushing hard for a starting place after struggling for football in previous weeks, and the United boss could decide to replace Jesse Lingard in the starting line-up. Elsewhere, either Ander Herrera or Juan Mata will be picked once again for the number 10 position.
Meanwhile for Stoke City, former United defender Ryan Shawcross is still sidelined with a back problem, whereas fellow defender Marc Wilson is out for three months with knee ligament damage. Charlie Adam, Marko Arnautovic and Geoff Cameron are also remain doubts, although Arnautovic has been given the best chance to play, while both Jonathan Walters and Glen Johnson are expected to be fit for selection.
De Gea; Varela, Smalling, Blind, Borthwick-Jackson; Carrick, Schneiderlin; Depay, Mata, Martial; Rooney.
Rutland; Johnson, Wollscheid, Muniesa, Pieters; Whelan, Ireland; Arnautovic, Bojan, Shaqiri; Joselu.
Anthony Martial vs Philippe Wollscheid
Martial was certainly a constant threat at Pride Park against Derby and also laid on the goals for Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata, earning praise from his manager, who called the French attacker’s performance “fabulous”. This time he will be up against a rock solid Wollscheid who displayed a man-of-the-match performance in the Capital One match against Liverpool. He effortlessly cleared any threat on the ground and in the air and also produced an impressive range of passing, with the best accuracy for long balls. Wollscheid will certainly make goal-scoring extremely hard for Manchester United.
Schneiderlin vs Xherdan Shaqiri
The veteran French midfielder has been really impressive for Manchester United till now this season. Despite not able to control the midfield in every match, he gives a much needed layer of protection. He has also displayed some important interceptions and his pass percentage remains very high which adjusts perfectly for a squad like United playing a possession game. Meanwhile Xherdan Shaqiri has also produces his creativity and skill for Stoke this season. He was certainly instrumental in their win over Manchester City as he linked up nicely with Marko Arnautovic. If United hoping to win the match, Schneiderlin must shut down Shaqiri and make sure he is not given much time and space on the ball.
•Stoke City have managed to keep a clean sheet in seven of their last 10 Premier League games while conceding exactly two goals in the other three games in this period.
• Manchester United didn’t win any of their last six matches in all competitions, the last time that they went on a run this long within a single season was in their treble-winning campaign of 1998-99 (Dec 1998).
• The Red Devils have averaged just 1.29 goals per game in the league this season, their lowest average since 1989-90 (1.21).
• Stoke City have won just one of their 14 Premier League matches against Manchester United but have lost just one of the last four at home .
• The Potters have never kept a clean sheet against United in the Premier League.
• As a manager, Mark Hughes was unbeaten in his first three Premier League games against Manchester United but has won just one of his 14 meetings with them since.
Manchester United: 8/10
Stoke City: 9/2
United will win this Old Trafford fixture. It’s been a bad week at Stoke as they were ousted from Capital One Cup and FA Cup and it might continue for them at Old Trafford. Now they face United thinking their season is virtually over, despite playing some great stuff this year and having a great season.
Manchester United 1-0 Stoke City