Stoke City take on Manchester United at the Britannia Stadium tomorrow with both sides looking to come away with three points ahead of a crucial period in their respective seasons.
There is a real sense of optimism around Old Trafford at the minute thanks to the signing of Juan Mata which has proved to be an invaluable morale boost for the squad, supporters and the David Moyes.
United were relatively impressive against Cardiff last time out as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side were beaten 2-0 in a comfortable run-out, and the Reds will be looking to build on that result to close the gap on the teams in and around them.
Meanwhile, Stoke slumped to a disappointing 1-0 defeat at Sunderland in midweek which was their sixth league game without a victory and are currently just three points above the relegation zone.
The Potters appear to be in poor form going into a critical part of the season with teams around them picking up points quickly. The game against United may be seen by Mark Hughes as a game which can kick-start the remainder of their season into life.
Nani and Rio Ferdinand are unlikely to be available in time for the fixture and Nemanja Vidic will serve the final game of a three match suspension. Adnan Januzaj could come back into the side after a rest in midweek.
Stoke’s most recent defeat was a damaging 1-0 loss to Sunderland which saw Steven N’Zonzi dismissed meaning the powerful midfielder will sit out the match. Hughes’ side have missed key central defender Robert Huth, who forms a formidable partnership with Ryan Shawcross at the heart of defence, and the fixture will come too soon for the German to return.
Peter Odemwingie and John Gudietti have been brought in this transfer window to lessen the goalscoring burden on Peter Crouch’s shoulders and the former should continue on the right side of midfield as United come to town.
The two sides have met twice already this season, once in the Premier League where United won 3-2 after Stoke twice led and once in the League Cup, with goals from Ashley Young and Patrice Evra enough to secure safe passage to the semi final stage of the Capital One Cup.
While conditions this Saturday should be a little more equitable, the Britannia always represents a difficult test for the visitors. However, United do boast a good record at Stoke and haven’t been beaten in the Premier League era by the Potters, whose last victory against the Reds came in 1984.
Under Moyes, away from hasn’t been a particular concern with Chelsea’s victory at Stamford Bridge a first away league loss in eight games, a more than respectable record.
Robin van Persie has scored nine goals in his last eight games against Stoke including a goal in the reverse fixture this term and his return to fitness could be the catalyst required to power United into the top four.
Saturday’s 3:00 kick-off certainly represents a challenge but providing United can weather the proverbial storm, three points are attainable in a match both teams really need to win.
Prediction: Stoke 1-2 Manchester United