Date: 30th January 2012 at 8:27pm
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Hard: Stoke take no prisoners, but United will be looking to cause most damage on Tuesday night

It’s never nice to lose to Liverpool. It’s the worst defeat in the world, and one that’s very hard to take – by fans, players and the manager.  But on the other hand, when it happens it’s never nice for our next opponents either.  They’re normally the ones who pay the price for the anger and the frustration of Fergie and his team. Stoke City are the unfortunate ones this time, who visit Old Trafford on Tuesday night in match 23 of the Premier League season.

Appeasing the fans, and staying hot on the heels of Manchester City is the priority again with this one.  Stoke won’t make things easy, they never do, but United will be fighting for this one and will be hunting down all three points.

Team news:

It’s always a guessing game as to who will be available for the reds at the moment.  Rio Ferdinand is likely to return to the fray, but Wayne Rooney is again doubtful with his ankle injury.  People have been getting excited about Tom Cleverley returning to full fitness for this one, but word is he’s close but not close enough to come back in to the side just yet.

Nani is likely to miss out with a foot injury, but there are slim hopes that Phil Jones may be in contention.

An obvious talking point will be the goalkeeper selection.  As we know, Stoke are a big unit, and like to throw the ball in to the box at every opportunity.  David de Gea doesn’t seem comfortable in these situations yet, and as a result could make way for Anders Lindergaard once again.  It may be that Sir Alex now chooses his games for de Gea to start in as opposed to making himautomatic choice; to bleed him until he is ready for the number one jersey full time.  Some people, many of the spoilt brigade, have been quick to write him off, but type Peter Schmeichel in to Google and read up on what he was doing as a 21 year old.

For our opponents, Matthew Etherington picked up a groin injury in the FA Cup win over Derby, but Jermaine Pennant may start after coming as a substitute in the same game, and inspired his side to victory.

Mamady Sidibe is a long-term absentee with a knee problem, but Stoke visit Old Trafford with a  strong squad to choose from.

Let’s get physical, physical…

Stoke are no-nonsense. They are awash with players who wear their hearts on their sleeve, and whilst they might not be at the top of the flair table, they’re certainly challengers when it comes to being the most committed bunch in the Premier League.

Sir Alex said ahead of the meeting with Stoke: “When we used to play Wimbledon, at the beginning when they first came into our division, nobody looked forward to playing against them. But then I started and my team started to enjoy it because it was a challenge, a physical challenge in the way they played and a physical challenge in terms of trying to take control of the possession and play your football.”

“Stoke are a different team altogether from Wimbledon, obviously, but they still have the same quality of never giving in, they keep going, so it’s a good challenge for us.”

To match them, United will need to pick a side which will hold their own against Stoke, and also show they’re not intimidated by them either.  I feel that we’ll see Valencia and Scholes start in midfield, together with Carrick and possibly Phil Jones.

Advantage reds?

While United entertain Stoke, top of the table City are away at Everton.  A victory is a must for the reds, and I believe that Everton are good for a point against anybody when they’re at Goodison Park.  After we swept past Arsenal in the last league game and City brushed past Spurs by the skin of their teeth, Tuesday night could be the night where we go level on points in Manchester, and the tide begins to turn as we enter the last 15 games.

Wherever you’re watching it, enjoy the game.

Follow me on Twitter: @stevecrab

Read Sir Alex Ferguson’s comments on the Stoke City game in full here