Liverpool might have brought Manchester United’s nine-match winning run to an end at Old Trafford last weekend but the Red Devils head for Stoke-on-Trent on Saturday looking to extend an unbeaten streak lasting 16 matches.
While much was said about Paul Pogba’s performance in particular against the old enemy, United will be looking for a much improved display from the one which saw them scrambling to record a late 1-1 draw last time out. And while the fixture list is set to become more hectic in the weeks to come, Jose Mourinho is likely to call upon his favoured players for the trip to the bet365 Stadium.
Morgan Schneiderlin’s exit to Everton has been followed by an agreement to sell Memphis Depay to Lyon, clearing up the two most distracting pieces of transfer business this January, and United have no reason not to go into the clash with Mark Hughes’ side with a clear head and a determined air.
Michael Carrick was withdrawn at the break against the Merseysiders, but that was believed to be an entirely tactical move with the former England midfielder free to play again in Staffordshire. While Luke Shaw has not featured for over seven weeks, the full-back is fully fit and should play some part in at least one of the next three fixtures. However, he is unlikely to feature against Stoke.
Eric Bailly is United’s only unavailable player due to his involvement in Cote d’Ivoire’s Africa Cup of Nations campaign, with the defender set to feature in Friday’s second group game against DR Congo.
As such United are free from such worries, with Paul Pogba – who has collected more yellows than any other United player this season (seven) – still three cards away from being banned.
With six days having passed since United’s last fixture and another five before they face Hull City in the EFL Cup semi-final second leg, Mourinho is unlikely to make wholesale changes on Saturday.
Juan Mata may well be recalled, while Marouane Fellaini could be pushing for consideration after he extended his impressive recent run with a telling appearance as a late substitute against Liverpool. Anthony Martial may find himself open to being left out after failing to get at young debutant Trent Alexander-Arnold more regularly against Liverpool, with Marcus Rashford among the possible replacements.
The clash with Stoke marks the final game before a significantly congested spell in United’s fixture schedule. With Hull and Wigan Athletic both to come in cup competitions, another match with Marco Silva’s Tigers following that and a trip to champions Leicester also ahead in the next fortnight, Mourinho is set to shuffle his pack in the coming weeks.
Stoke have used 2016-17 so far to strengthen their reputation for being a solid if unspectacular mid-table Premier League outfit, with Mark Hughes beginning his fifth season at the bet365 Stadium much as the rest have panned out. Currently sat in ninth spot, they represent a tricky but beatable opposition as ever.
United may well have lost the corresponding fixture last term, but it came at a time when the club were experiencing injury issues aplenty, manager Louis van Gaal was under pressure after the sacking at Chelsea of Jose Mourinho, and the recent Champions League elimination had hit everyone at Old Trafford hard.
Stoke have, of course, already taken a point off United this season thanks to Lee Grant’s extensive heroics and Joe Allen’s late David de Gea-assisted equaliser in the 1-1 draw at the Theatre of Dreams, and so the Reds will head south down the M6 with some caution.
One thing Hughes’ side do currently miss is a nailed-on goal threat, with nobody having chalked up more than three goals for the Potters this season, meaning their defence has come under more pressure to come through this term. That said, the likes of Marko Arnuatovic remain a threat despite the loss of Bojan Krkic to a hip injury.
Long-term casualties Stephen Ireland and Jack Butland remain unavailable, while Jonathan Walters is also expected to be out. Geoff Cameron could return following illness and injury.
- Stoke are unbeaten in their last three home league games against Man Utd (W2 D1), after a run of five without a win against them (D1 L4). The Red Devils haven’t gone four league games without a win at Stoke since a run of six in April 1964.
- Manchester United have only failed to score in one of their last 21 league games against Stoke, though it was in this exact fixture last season (0-2).
- Jose Mourinho has lost two of his three Premier League visits to the Bet365 Stadium (W1), his joint-highest loss percentage at any Premier League ground (67%, level with the Riverside Stadium).
- Manchester United are unbeaten in their last 12 Premier League fixtures (W7 D5), their best league run since March 2013 (18 without defeat).
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 14 league goals have won Manchester United 11 points this season; no player has won more for this side (level with Diego Costa).
- Only Ruud van Nistelrooy and Dwight Yorke (15 each) scored more goals in their first 20 Premier League games for United than the Swedish striker has managed (14).