Stoke City away. Even though Stoke won’t be threatening the top four Champions’ League places or, even, the top six, they certainly will be one of the toughest away trips that United face this year. Last year Stoke had one of the best home records in the Premiership and that was before their summer of spending which saw the likes of Woodgate and Crouch sign.
However, United are the only team in the Premiership to have not dropped a point to Stoke since their arrival in the top division in 2008. Whilst this is an admirable statistic the irony starts to ooze from the fact that whilst Stoke’s home record was as equally admirable last year, United’s away rewoicord was notoriously not. Only five wins were recorded on the road and one of those was at the Brittania. The statistics and odds all point at a United win, surely?
As a blinkered and as one-eyed fan as a pirate riding a racehorse supporting Pirates United I do fancy United to do a job. However, whilst most of my predictions this season (including the Chelsea and Arsenal games) have seen me gamble on two or more goal victories, I would be delighted with a one goal victory on Saturday.
The Brittania faithful will be desperate to see Pulis’ men hit United hard and stop them playing the free-flowing football that has seen them come out of the blocks like Usain Bolt after visiting Ben Johnson’s chemist. Their first target is going to be the ever improving de Gea. Expect to see plenty of shots at him, long throws and high balls which Crouch can attack and threaten.
Apparently Rio Ferdinand is fit so he could come back into the back four alongside either Jones or Evans. Smalling is 50-50 so we could see the brilliantly reckless Fabio slot in at right back. Expect to see Evra don the captain’s armband in Vidic’s absence.
The midfield is starting to take shape and we can’t really look past Young and Nani out wide and Anderson in the middle. What was becoming Cleverley’s place is up for grabs and it’ll depend on if Ferguson prefers Fletcher’s tenacity and spirit for battle or Carrick’s cool head and awareness of the simple pass. Personally I think he’ll go for Carrick.
Up front, Rooney would almost certainly have been a starter and his partner would have come from one of three – Owen (unlikely), Welbeck (less likely), Hernandez (most likely). However, rumours this morning suggest that he has a slight groin strain which could put him out for a little while. This author does feel for Michael Owen as, no matter how many goals he scores, I don’t feel he’ll ever get a good run of games. The future is Hernandez, Welbeck and Macheda and after Macheda’s last outing at Elland Road I think it’ll be a while before we see him in the first team again. However, with Rooney out, Ferguson may reward Owen with a run out this evening. Thinking about that game at Elland Rod, I worry for the future of Berbatov. I’m one of his biggest fans and thought he had a half decent game on Tuesday but his lethargy and arrogance wasn’t suited to a man desperate to get back into the first team. Berba, in my eyes, had to show more urgency to warrat Ferguson playing him over the enthusiastic triplet of Owen, Hernandez and Welbeck.
In all, United will do well to win at Stoke and I do have a cheeky pound on them to win 5-1. The length of the odds for such a result and my luck suggest that they’ll do well to get a draw or a narrow victory. Many teams this year will come away with much worse.