By Frank Garrasi
Manchester United will not make it into the top four if they can’t beat teams like Stoke City and gather momentum leading into the festive period.
With Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham and West Ham (yes, they are still fifth) picking up maximum points over the weekend, the United players will be looking over their shoulders at the chasing pack.
A win against a disciplined and structured Stoke City would provide the perfect platform for United leading into the games against Southampton and Liverpool; both must-wins.
Luckily, United will not have to deal with the dangerous and direct Victor Moses who is ruled out with a thigh injury, however there are other players of note that are capable of posing a threat to the United goal.
Mame Biram Diouf, a former United youngster, is one of these players. With a fantastic goal scoring record of 26 goals in 57 appearances for Hannover 96 in the Bundesliga, Diouf specifically needs to be marked tightly and shut out of the game by one of the United centre backs.
Former Barcelona starlet Bojan Krkic is gaining plaudits with his recent performances for Stoke City playing in behind the striker. Bojan’s dribbling, flair and vision are his best attributes and he is more than capable of causing chaos in and around the United box.
Jonathan Walters isn’t as decorated a player as the aforementioned Bojan and Diouf, however he is potentially just as dangerous. Walters’ work rate and energy have alone won Stoke City points (their game against Swansea an example of this) and the United defence will have to keep a lid on him in order to suppress any danger on their goal.
Ryan Shawcross, another former Manchester United youngster, has rarely put a foot wrong all season at the heart of the Stoke City defence. However, his role during the game will not be limited to preventing United’s chances on goal, as Shawcross carries an aerial threat and will need to be marked tightly during Stoke’s set pieces.
Another man who is extremely dangerous on set pieces is Peter Crouch, who may have a role to play coming off the bench for Stoke City. For someone who stands at over two metres tall, Crouch displays some neat footwork, and he can be the man to provide a different dimension to Stoke City’s game.
Charlie Adam, many may remember from last season, has a more than decent left foot. His long balls forward and distance shooting may provide a stern test for United’s back four (or three) as well as David de Gea.
While Stoke City’s style of play may have changed under former United favourite Mark Hughes, they still carry the obvious threat from set pieces given the height of some of their players.
And with no wins since their trip to White Hart Lane on the 10th of November, Stoke will be as eager as ever to silence the Old Trafford faithful and pick up three points.
Marouane Fellaini may prove to be an important player in this fixture given his size and physicality, whilst Wayne Rooney’s creativity and Ander Herrera’s energy may also be decisive factors.
If United can repeat their defensive display against Hull City for the match against Stoke and play with intensity in the final third then they would be unlucky to not claim maximum points against a decent opposition in Stoke City.