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Friday, September 23, 2011

Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Manchester United

The Britannia Stadium might have been one of the rarest places where Manchester United managed to grab an away league win last season, but the challenge doesn't get any easier this season. Stoke City are not exactly what you call pushovers in the Premier League, as Chelsea & Liverpool might testify from what they have experienced earlier this season. Physical as much as their style of football is, the Potters are indeed a formidable side to play against in front of their home crowd.

Having qualified for the Europa League by virtue of being FA Cup finalists last season, Stoke City have reasonably strengthened this summer, with quality additions in the form of Peter Crouch, Wilson Palacios & Jonathan Woodgate from Spurs and Matthew Upson from West Ham. Most of the players have hit the ground running, which is evident from their league position i.e. 5th with 8 points from 5 games. Though they lost their last Premier League match 4-0 at Sunderland, they bounced back to beat Tottenham Hotspur on penalties in the League Cup during midweek. Stoke City tend to raise the level of their game when they face big name opponents, and manager Tony Pulis will hope that his side do just that when the Red Devils come visiting on Saturday.

Coming back to Manchester United, the Red Devils will continue to miss their skipper Nemanja Vidic, Rafael Da Silva & Tom Cleverley to injuries. However, strikers Danny Welbeck & Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez are back & have resumed training from midweek.

David De Gea will be back in goal, replacing third choice keeper Ben Amos, who played in the 3-0 win over Leeds United on Tuesday. The back four would include the experienced Evra & Ferdinand, with Evans & Jones possibly filling up the rest two slots since Smalling is doubtful to start. In case Sir Alex Ferguson decides to go with Jones to partner Ferdinand at centre back, Fabio might be in with a chance to start as right back.

Guessing United's midfield doesn't seem like rocket science, as Anderson & Fletcher would take up central midfield duties. Michael Carrick, who played against Leeds United as CB, will probably make the bench. They will be flanked by the dynamic wingers Ashley Young & Luis Nani, with Antonio Valencia also vying for a place in the starting lineup. As for who will partner in-form striker Wayne Rooney upfront, that is a selection headache for Ferguson. Chicharito, who scored both goals in the same fixture last season, is fit but Ferguson will prefer not to rush him back into the starting lineup. The Mexican therefore might have to be content with a place on the bench, letting the gaffer choose from Welbeck, Berbatov & Michael Owen. Both Berbatov & Owen played the whole 90 minutes on Tuesday, which may tilt the scales in favour of young Danny Welbeck, who's rapidly blossomed this season alongside Rooney.

The probable Manchester United lineup looks like this -

Manchester United Starting XI: De Gea; Jones, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Nani, Fletcher, Anderson, Young; Rooney, Welbeck.

Scoreline Prediction: Stoke City 1 Manchester United 3

You can follow the author on Twitter @AbhinavCJ.

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