Manchester United are seeking to build on their 4-1 win over Leicester when they host Mark Hughes’ embattled Stoke side on Sunday. Jose Mourinho’s side still face more questions than answers; from central midfield combinations to the deployment of Wayne Rooney. Nevertheless, their comfortable win against the Foxes was most welcome following back-to-back defeats against Watford and Manchester City. United are only a point or two behind the pack chasing City despite their recent struggles, and a few wins would improve the outlook considerably. Inevitably, all eyes will be on Rooney and whether he is left on the bench again. He was left out of the Europa League game against Zorya Luhansk with a knock, which makes it difficult to decipher Mourinho’s thinking.
As for the Potters, just like last season they have had a sticky start collecting only two points from their first two games. Hughes’ side have conceded fifteen goals so far, and have the worst goal difference in the division. Conceding goals from set pieces has been a problem, contrary to the stereotype that has surrounded Stoke since they’ve been in the top flight. United scored three goals from corners last week against Leicester, so set pieces might be something to keep an eye on. Hughes is top of a few lists to ‘win’ the sack race, so Stoke need to tighten up desperately.
United have been inconsistent, but have won their last two with that win over the champions and a 1-0 win against Zorya in the Europa League. Neither of those performances were fully convincing however, and doubts remain as to how reliable they are. Having started the season with three straight wins, Mourinho’s team then lost three games in a week to City, Feyenoord and Watford. Stoke got a point at home to West Brom last week; on paper an ordinary result, but at least it stopped the bleeding. Prior to that game, Stoke had conceded eight goals in heavy defeats to Crystal Palace and Spurs.
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Injuries and Suspensions
Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw and Henrikh Mkhitaryan have missed minutes recently through injury, but are all in line for returns. Martial came off the bench against Zorya on Thursday night, as did Rooney. Phil Jones is a long-term absentee. For Stoke, first-choice goalkeeper Jack Butland and stalwart Jon Walters miss out.
It isn’t easy to trust United at the moment. One thing you don’t expect of Mourinho’s sides is for things to look ‘off the cuff’, but that is how things look at Old Trafford at present. No discernible style has emerged yet, and United are relying on the quality of a few individuals to provide match winning ‘moments’. There seems no fixed point of reference in midfield, though Ander Herrera’s performance against Leicester was encouraging. Nevertheless, they couldn’t have picked a better fixture than Stoke at home to sign off before the international break. Hughes’ men are not as defensively solid as they once were and are low on confidence. Shay Given has looked distinctly Shilton-esque (the 1990 version sadly) while deputising for Butland. If United flood the box with Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, they should overwhelm a fragile Stoke backline.
Verdict: Home Win.
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