If United were looking for an easy game to round off the busy Christmas calendar then- at least in theory- they don’t come much easier than a home game against Stoke.
Tony Pulis’s men have lost all of their five Premier League games against United and have scored none and conceded nine in their last two visits to Old Trafford.
As if all that wasn’t enough when you take into account the fact that United’s only away win out of their first eight League games on the road came against Stoke, then this is surely something of a banker.
One thing this season has taught us more than anything is there are no ‘bankers’ anymore. Plenty of w*nkers as usual but not many ‘bankers‘. After all, West Brom at home was a ‘banker’ and let’s not even mention some of the shock results our rivals have endured. Okay then let’s mention them, Chelsea’s recent home draw to Villa, City’s home defeat to Everton, Arsenal’s losses to West Brom and Newcastle have all shown that you cannot take anything for granted this season.
We’ve also got to be totally honest and admit as in the recent trip to the Hawthorns, sometimes this season The Reds have rode their luck a little and grinded out results after some below-par performances.
With only six goals conceded at Old Trafford, Stoke are going to find it difficult to get past such a parsimonious -thesaurus notepaper for Christmas- defence. Add to that the fact that Rooney has finally ended his open play duck- although he is doubtful- Berbatov is on form again and Chicharito bagged a brace against the Potters at the Britannia then you can see United’s goals coming from somewhere.
If United are going to move away from the chasing pack then these are the sort of games we need to be winning, although if we are to be victorious then there are a few Stoke players we need to be wary of.
Ones to watch -head to head
Kenwyne Jones- the former United trialist has done well since he swapped the stripes of Sunderland for those of Stoke, although if we’re totally honest he hasn’t been a revelation. Five league goals in 19 games is not a great return for a team lying in 8th place’s main striker but it isn’t terrible. The point about Jones is he’s always capable of causing problems due to his height and strength and his recent headed goal against Everton was superb. Unless Rio and Vidic have a bad day -or one of them is rested- you’d expect them to be able to handle a player that falls into the Emile Heskey category.
Matthew Etherington – The former West Ham and Spurs left winger has been an ever present in the Stoke line-up this season and it’s not difficult to see why. Etherington is a very useful wide man, with good crossing ability and can be a handful for any team to cope with. There’s recently been calls for the 29 year-old to be handed an England chance and seeing as Fabio Capello seems to be handing out caps like unwanted Christmas presents, you wouldn’t be surprised if Etherington got an England call-up.
As long as Rafael’s back in the side though, United should be able to contain the lively winger but he will need to be watched.
Ryan Shawcross- If United are to breach the Stoke defence then they’re going to have to get past former Old Trafford trainee Shawcross. The young defender hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons last season with a tackle that hospitalised Aaron Ramsey. Such was Sir Alex Ferguson’s high regard for Shawcross that the United boss leapt to his defence when many in the media were calling for him to be taken out to the Emirates and lynched- or at least suspended from football for a couple of decades.
There’s no denying Shawcross is a hard-tackling tough defender but he doesn’t quite fall into the Lee Bowyer, Joey Barton school of vicious little…..
When he’s not crippling Welshman he’s a very good defender and won’t give any of the United front man an easy evening, regardless of who’s playing.
Jermaine Pennant- The only Premier League player to take to the field wearing a probation ‘tag’ Pennant’s had his fair share of controversy during the course of his career.
Another Stoke winger who on his day can cause problems, Pennant’s suffered from inconsistency throughout his career. His time at Anfield was a case in point, despite being a fringe player throughout most of his time under everyone’s favourite Paella server, Pennant was thrust into the starting line-up for the Champion’s League final in 2007.
For 90 minutes the former Arsenal Birmingham and Leeds’ man gave a good summary of his career- flashes of brilliance but overall disappointing.
Pennant may do what many other former Liverpool players do against United and have the game of his life, so United will need to keep an eye on him, although if Evra starts, I think it’s Pennant who’ll be in for the difficult evening. Although with the Frenchman doubtful it may be left to Fabio who could find it hard against a player that while never consistent- on his day is dangerous.
Overall, everything points towards a comfortable United victory, Stoke have lost five out of eight away from home, have failed to ever win back to back away EPL games and won their last away at Blackburn.
Yet we all know United are always capable of making life difficult for themselves so if an early goal is not forthcoming expect Stoke to dig in and it to become a scrappy affair.
If one of United’s danger men can get on the score sheet early doors then hopefully the floodgates will open and we can turn Stoke well and truly over. Mind you, I though that about West Brom……
In all honesty though this shouldn’t be too difficult for The Reds, much may depend on who’s rested for United but whoever starts there can be no excuses for failing to beat Stoke. It may come down to one of our midfielders taking the game by the scruff of the neck but with Carrick and Anderson both playing in all the games over Christmas, who starts and who’s rested is something of a guessing game.
If Scholes’ is fit and ready for action then this is exactly the sort of game you’d fancy the Ginger Prince to dominate and with Nani still doubtful, Scholes could be the key to a comfortable victory.