TONY PULIS’ side will be chasing a first-ever, and potentially season defining Premier League victory against the Champions-elect this weekend . . . in front of the live television cameras.
The Potters come into the game on the back of a hugely disappointing 3-1 home defeat against Aston Villa; a result that has left the Club languishing perilously above the drop zone with just six games left to play.
United however, still have work to do to clinch themselves a 13th Premier League crown, after a 2-1 home defeat of their own against City rivals Manchester City on Monday night delayed their inevitable title celebrations at Old Trafford.
Peter Crouch’s first goal for the Club in the corresponding encounter last season secured Stoke a first point in the Premier League against Sir Alex Ferguson’s side, after Nani had fired the visitors into a first-half lead.
Earlier this season, United came out on top, but only after a major fright from the Potters who had taken the lead through a Wayne Rooney own goal.
David De Gea produced two superb saves to deny the visitors a second goal, before Rooney made amends for his earlier misfortune with a well-taken brace, whilst Robin Van Persie and Danny Welbeck were also on target.
Michael Kightly’s superb individual effort pulled Stoke back into the clash at 3-2, only for Rooney to net his second goal of the afternoon 20 minutes from time.
INTRODUCING THE REDS:
THE CHAMPAGNE will have to be kept on ice for a little while longer now . . . after the noisy neighbours raised the acoustics at Old Trafford on Monday evening.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side had hoped to move within touching distance of retaining the Barclays Premier League title with victory in the Manchester derby, but Sergio Aguero, the man who snatched the crown from their grasp last season, caused them more anguish.
Aguero’s stunning late winner secured Manchester City back-to-back wins at Old Trafford for the first time in 41 years and trimmed United’s lead to twelve points with seven matches remaining, although it has surely only delayed the inevitable in terms of the final outcome.
It was very much a case of all good things coming to an end, most notably an 18-match unbeaten run while they had won six successive League matches without conceding a goal.
United looked as though they may well extend their incredible record of coming from behind to win matches when Phil Jones’ header was glanced into his own net by Vincent Kompany, thus cancelling out another deflected goal from James Milner early in the second period.
But with a strike that was eerily similar to his last-gasp title decider eleven months earlier, Aguero ghosted past two defenders before producing the most clinical of finishes.
United still hold all the aces going into the final stages of the season as they aim to land their 20th League title and their 13th crown since the formation of the Premier League.
Their determined bid to reclaim the title from their neighbours has been based on the fact that Ferguson has once again harnessed youthful exuberance to the considerable amount of experience throughout his squad as they hit the front from an early stage in the race.
The likes of David De Gea, Rafael, Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck have all shown increasing maturity over the course of the current campaign to compliment the abundance of senior stars who have also
featured prominently in their push for this major prize.
While the £24 million arrival of Robin van Persie has undoubtedly been the most decisive factor in United having the edge on their closest rivals, there have been a number of other influential figures whose contributions have certainly silenced the doubters.
Ryan Giggs may be fast approaching his 40th birthday, but his boundless energy has made him the best possible advert for yoga, while Rio Ferdinand has found ways to manage his fitness ailments of the past considerably better in the past few months and Michael Carrick’s value to the side is often overshadowed by the exploits of bigger names around him.
Consequently, Ferguson feels his squad is as strong as it has ever been as it continues to evolve and he looks to bring them even more success, once, of course, he has ensured the Premier League trophy is back where it has spent so much of its time over the past 21 years.
MEET THE MANAGER:
SIR ALEX Ferguson’s appetite for success remains undimmed, even though he is already the most successful British manager of all time.
He is closing in on the 13th Premier League title of his near 27-year reign at Old Trafford but even at the age of 71, he’s clearly in no mood to step into the shadows.
He has threatened to retire in the past but nowadays insists he will stay in the job just as long as his health permits, which is bad news for United’s rivals.
He succeeded Ron Atkinson as The Reds manager in November 1986 but had to wait four years before landing his first major honour, the FA Cup.
Legend has it that had United failed to find a way past Nottingham Forest at The City Ground in the third round of that season’s competition Ferguson would have been asked to vacate the top job at Old
Trafford. A Mark Robins goal saw them through and the rest, as they say, is history.
He guided United to the treble of Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup in 1999 and in 2008 became only the third British manager – behind Bob Paisley and Brian Clough – to land Europe’s biggest prize on more than one occasion.
As a player, he served Queen’s Park, St Johnstone, Dunfermline, Glasgow Rangers, Falkirk and Ayr United in his native Scotland before moving into coaching and taking charge of East Stirlingshire and St Mirren.
However, he shot to managerial prominence at Aberdeen, where he ended the Glasgow dominance of Scottish football by leading them to three Scottish titles, four Scottish cups, one League Cup and one European Cup Winners’ Cup. He joined United after a brief spell as manager of Scotland following the death of Jock Stein.
MANCHESTER UNITED FACT-FILE:
Full name: Manchester United Football Club
Stadium: Old Trafford
Owners: The Glazer Family
Co-chairmen: Joel and Avram Glazer
Manager: Sir Alex Ferguson
2011/12: Premier League (2nd), UEFA Champions League (Group Stage), FA Cup (Fourth Round), League Cup (Fifth Round), FA Community Shield (Winners)
*Record league victory: 10-1 v Wolverhampton Wanderers, First Division, 15/10/1892
*Record league defeat: 0-7 v Wolverhampton Wanderers, Second Division, 26/12/1931
*Record transfer fee paid: £30.75m for Dimitar Berbatov to Tottenham Hotspur, September 2008
*Record transfer fee received: £80m for Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid, July 2009
League: 20 Stoke City wins; 33 Manchester United wins; 25 draws
FA Cup: 3 Stoke City wins; 3 Manchester United wins; 5 draws
League Cup: 2 Stoke City wins; 1 Manchester United win; 2 draws
Other: 1 Stoke City win; 0 Manchester United wins; 0 draws
TOTAL: 26 Stoke City wins; 37 Manchester United wins; 32 draws
THE LAST FIVE ENCOUNTERS:
Manchester United 4-2 Stoke City (Premier League) – 20/10/2012
Manchester United 2-0 Stoke City (Premier League) – 31/01/2012
Stoke City 1-1 Manchester United (Premier League) – 24/09/2011
Manchester United 2-1 Stoke City (Premier League) – 04/01/2011
Stoke City 1-2 Manchester United (Premier League) – 24/10/2011
LATE fitness checks will be made on several of Tony Pulis’ first-team squad members including both Matthew Etherington and Marc Wilson.
The pair were forced off with knocks during the reverse against Villa last weekend, leaving them as potential absentees for this weekend’s game with United.
Meanwhile, Charlie Adam will be hoping that his impressive cameo appearance from the bench will be enough to see him included in the side on Saturday.
Glenn Whelan is also on standby to return to the starting eleven after overcoming a trapped nerve in his back, which sidelined him
TONY PULIS: “The lads have been absolutely fantastic in the build-up to the game, and hopefully they can take that with them on to the pitch on Sunday.
“It was a slow start, obviously because of last weekend’s defeat. But, as the week has gone on the momentum really has built up.
“This is going to be a tough game, there is no doubt about that, but we have performed well against the big Club’s in recent years, so let’s see what we can do.”
PETER CROUCH: “In my opinion, it’s probably the perfect game for us because people are going to write us off.
“When that has been the case in the past, we have more often than not answered those critics and picked up decent results.
“You could say that one of our strengths is playing in games when nobody really gives us a sniff.
“When big teams come here we always seem to raise our game, and hopefully the crowd will be right behind us again because they really do help us.”
THIS WEEKEND’S FIXTURES:
Arsenal v Norwich City
Aston Villa v Fulham
Everton v QPR
Reading v Liverpool
Southampton v West Ham United
Newcastle United v Sunderland (12.00pm)
Stoke City v Manchester United (2.05pm)
All matches kick-off at 15:00 unless otherwise stated.
Stoke City win: 11/2
Manchester United win: 4/7
The odds are correct at the time of writing, and are from bet365.com. These may differ dependant upon the latest betting trends.
JONATHAN MOSS will take charge of his 28th game of the season at the Britannia Stadium this weekend.
The West Yorkshire based official has taken charge of three matches involving either the Potters or United this campaign, the last being 1-0 home defeat for Tony Pulis’ side against West Ham last month.
Of Mark’s two games officiating Stoke, the side have recorded three points; a 2-0 success over League Cup holders Swansea City at the Britannia Stadium last September and the recent defeat against the Hammers.
He has booked 77 players this term, showing just a solitary red card.