United were rather fortunate to take all three points in the corresponding fixture last season. The Potters had a fantastic record at home, that they look like carrying through to this season, and it took a last minute goal from Carlos Tevez to ensure United emerged victorious that day. I’m expecting another hard fought encounter if I’m being honest, Stoke always battle hard and they won’t make things easy for Rooney and co.
Both Stoke and United played in the Carling Cup during the week night but Sir Alex rested some of his star players his counterpart at Stoke City, Tony Pulis, chose to field a strong starting eleven. In all honesty I doubt this will make a huge amount of difference to Stoke and both teams should be ready for this one. The Potters were desperately unlucky to concede in the last minute in their 1-1 draw with Bolton last weekend and have been in good form since the season kicked off.
United have no new injuries to worry about with just long-term absentees Edwin Van der Sar, Owen Hargreaves, Obertan and Rafael ruled out. Stoke are similarly blessed with a lack of injuries and will be missing just Amdy Faye and Mamady Sidibe, who have both hardly featured this season.
The key men for United will be their forwards. Even though Stoke are the home side you have to expect United to be the team pressing and Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen, should he make an appearance, will probably get a few chances each, at least. Rooney has been in fine scoring form and hopefully that will continue on Saturday, Berbatov could do with a goal to boost his confidence as much as anything else and the game against Stoke could be a good opportunity for him to find his shooting boots again. Owen has scored one, that winner against City – beauty, and set one up in his last two appearances and if he can continue to deliver the goods like that I’m sure Sir Alex will show him some more action.
I certainly wouldn’t go betting on Manchester United to lose this one but Stoke do have players who can cause problems. Rory Delap’s long throws are often talked about but in reality this is not where the majority of Stoke’s goals come from, as some have suggested, though they are a danger. They are a very good team from set-pieces and Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand will have to stay alert to deal with the high balls into the box. The Potters also have a couple of flair players like Ricardo Fuller and Tuncay Sanli, a recent acquisition from Middlesbrough, while Liam Lawrence is capable of shooting from range. On paper United are of course the superior side but we all know that in football that doesn’t always matter.
Stoke surprised everyone last season when they upset the upset the Premier League relegation betting odds and avoided the drop. This time though the other clubs, including United, know what to expect and will have figured out a better way to deal with their very physical and direct style of play. It should be a very hard fought game, if not the most attractive match you’ve ever seen, with a highly-charged atmosphere. It won’t be easy but I expect United to take all three points. After the win against City last weekend I’m expecting United to go into this one full of confidence and take all three points away from the Britannia Stadium back to Old Trafford.
Derby day in Manchester is always a special occasion but this year the stakes are higher than they have been in many years. For over a decade now United’s dominance of the Premier League has cast a shadow over City. The stakes have risen somewhat now Manchester’s other team have squillions to spend and have enjoyed a terrific start to the season. The fans at Eastlands have genuine belief they are on the cusp of greatness and for the first time will feel they can be a genuine threat to United in terms of challenging for honours and not just derby bragging rights.
A major blow for the visitors is the not entirely unexpected loss of striker Emmanuel Adebayor. The Togo international has been handed a three game ban for stamping on Arsenal’s Robin Van Persie last weekend so City will be without the man who has scored four goals in four games. Despite the fact that City acquired plenty of centre-forwards in the summer they are in the midst of an attacking crisis. Robinho, Benjani and of course Adebayor are all definite absentees.
Boss Mark Hughes’ problems don’t end there though, former United man Carlos Tevez and Roque Santa Cruz are also majors doubts for the fixture while midfield star Stephen Ireland is also unlikely to take part. The visitors problems up front are reflected in the bookmakers verdict on the outcome, the odds on heavy favourites but derbies can always go either way.
United themselves have no new injury worries and Sir Alex Ferguson has the benefit of an almost fully fit squad to chose from. Edwin Van der Sar, Owen Hargreaves and Obertan are all ruled out while Rafael may feature, though that is very unlikely. United’s midweek win over Besiktas should not have tired the players out too much and the squad is big enough to cope with European ties so I doubt fatigue will factor for United after their Champions League exploits.
City will certainly consider this their biggest test to date and will travel the short distance to Old Trafford full of confidence following their 4-2 victory over Arsenal last week. For me the scoreline in that tie flattered City somewhat and Arsenal controlled large periods of the game without finding the net. I’m sure most of the manutd24 readers out there will agree with me that we are yet to see United at their best this season but, like all real champions, they have picked up the points even when they’re not playing particularly well.
United’s key man on the day could well be Wayne Rooney. The England international has already bagged five goals this season and fingers crossed this could be the year when he manages to score on a consistent basis. Following Cristiano Ronaldo’s exit the pressure was really on Wayne to stand up to the plate and fill Ronaldo’s boots and so far he is doing an excellent job. Veteran midfielders Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs have also started the season very well and both may play some part at the weekend, even if it is a cameo from the bench. The pair should never be underestimated and I expect United to rely on their experience and intelligence through the course of the season, this could be a pivotal factor on Sunday.
Manchester derby day is always a special day on the football league calendar but this one should be the most highly charged in some time. For the first time in a long time both sets of fans have high expectations for the season ahead and that should add to an already intense atmosphere between the two sets of supporters. With City’s attacking problems you would expect United to be the stronger of the two sides and even though I think they’ll win I wouldn’t bet on it being easy for them.