The FourFourTwo Preview: Stoke vs Man United
Presenting Van-Roo-Mata, the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
This is the first time Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Robin van Persie are all available to start for Manchester United. Many asked where Mata will fit into the side (and were told “For God’s sake, anywhere”); Stoke will be first to find out.
- S'land 1-0 Stoke (Prem)
- Chelsea 1–0 Stoke (FAC)
- Palace 1–0 Stoke (Prem)
- Stoke 3–5 Liverpool (Prem)
- Stoke 2–1 Leicester (FAC)
MAN UNITED FORM
- Man Utd 2–0 Cardiff (Prem)
- Man Utd 2–1p S'land (LC)
- Chelsea 3–1 Man Utd (Prem)
- Man Utd 2–0 Swansea (Prem)
- S'land 2–1 Man Utd (LC)
A 4-2-3-1 formation still looks most likely, with personnel the bigger dilemma. Rooney won’t be moved from his neuf-et-demi position behind Van Persie, leaving Mata occupying a flank (though he’ll hardly be getting chalk on his boots).
Like a shopping trolley, the Spaniard tends to drift to the left, so he’ll take the right-hand side – meaning David Moyes will have to drop BFF Antonio Valencia – with the opposite wing the venue of a battle royale between Danny Welbeck, Adnan Januzaj and Ashley Young (alright, and theoretically Nani as well). You’d expect Young to start at the Britannia after scoring one and creating the other in the win over Cardiff.
Moyes’ real problem is in central midfield. Pairing Phil Jones and Ryan Giggs – a defender and a 40-year-old – in the middle midweek was the very definition of a temporary solution. Paging Mr Fellaini.
Mark Hughes would commit unspeakable acts for such a horrible ‘problem’ as trying to accommodate Mata. Stoke have taken only one point from their last six league games, and have lost their last three matches in all competitions 1-0.
The Potters made Man United work hard in their previous league meeting, leading twice before losing 3-2 (racking up six yellow cards in the process). While pragmatism will be the order of the day, they won’t – and shouldn’t – fear the visitors. And why would you worry, when Peter Odemwingie is in line for his home debut and ready to score his second league goal in a year?
Nemanja Vidic and Steven N'Zonzi can sit down together over a cup of Darjeeling as they serve their suspensions.
Stoke are without Andy Wilkinson (one crocked foot), Matthew Etherington (two left feet) and Robert Huth (face like a foot). Etherington and Huth are nearing returns, however, having not featured since November.
For the visitors, Nani is hamstrung by his hamstring and Michael Carrick’s rankled ankle means another week of United’s midfield resembling a haunted fairground. That said, Marouane Fellaini could make his first appearance of 2014 after an operation on his sore wrist (settle down at the back).
Knee-knacked Rio Ferdinand is a doubt, though he’ll probably update us on Twitter about the extent of the problem while flicking through the Dulux chart to find the exact hue of his children’s stool.
Player to watch: Juan Mata (Man United)
As luck would have it, Man United’s second game since Mata’s arrival is exactly the kind in which they need his precise skill set. Moyes’ side have put in more crosses this season than a Tic-Tac-Toe champion, and against a team such as Stoke – and don’t be fooled, Hughes’ men still play more in the air than on the turf – that can result in disappointment. United may need less flight and more guile if they’re to win here, and that’s exactly what Mata provides. Just ask Chelsea, who couldn’t unlock West Ham’s 19th-century defence in his absence.
Against Cardiff Mata played surprisingly deep, and it was occasionally uncomfortable to see that he was expected to send the ball directly into the box, instead of team-mates coming short for a pass. With Rooney back in the side, slick interplay may prove more profitable.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Man Utd 3–2 Stoke (Prem, Oct 13)
- Man Utd 2–0 Stoke (Prem, Apr 13)
- Stoke 2–4 Man Utd (Prem, Oct 12)
- Man Utd 2–0 Stoke (Prem, Jan 12)
- Stoke 1–1 Man Utd (Prem, Sep 11)
Leslie Mark Hughes is one of a Man United alumni often accused of rolling over against their old teams (see also Steve Bruce, Bryan Robson and – let’s be unnecessarily brutal – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer).
Since doing the double over them with Blackburn in 2005/06, when David ‘Oh yeah, him’ Bentley scored a hat-trick in a 4-3 win after a 2-1 triumph in the autumn, Hughes hasn’t beaten the Red Devils once as a manager, drawing two and losing 10. Maybe that’ll change now that it’s Moyes and not Sparky’s old boss in charge: Stoke did put in a good performance earlier this season, after all.
But so far it’s played two, won two for Davie, who is eyeing a move into fifth with a win here.
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- Stoke have had draw/draw results in their last 6 home draws.
- Stoke have been level at half-time in their last 6 home matches against top-half teams.
- Man United have scored first in their last 5 away matches against Stoke.
- Stoke have seen both teams score in their last 4 home matches against top-half teams.
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Stoke make things difficult, but United prevail 2-1.