Our football writer previews the EPL encounter between Stoke and Manchester United.
Stoke City are one of those sides who don’t exactly live by the rules of consistency. Their season has been a series of fits and starts, and two consecutive wins will come as welcome relief for Mark Hughes.
Manchester United missed out on the opportunity to really put themselves in and around title contention last week against Liverpool. They were fairly dull in the first half but started to turn on the style as the second half progressed. They will need to be on their A-game as they travel to a notoriously resilient Stoke side this weekend.
English Premier League | Saturday 21 January | bet365 Stadium | 17:00
To Win (90 Mins)
Stoke City 9/2 | Draw 28/10 | Manchester United 6/10
The recall of Peter Crouch into the starting line-up was largely down to the injury to John Walters. But the scarecrow incarnate of the Premier League has returned Hughes’ faith with a couple of priceless goals in recent weeks.
The return of Marko Arnautovic last week to his brilliant best has exacerbated their recent striking potency. Xherdan Shaqiri has yet to find the sort of consistency that can make him a world beater on his day, but just imagine that front three can click this weekend. Crouch could terrorise Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo, while Matteo Darmian and Antonio Valencia could get penned in.
Glenn Whelan is going to have to be on top form as one would imagine that Paul Pogba is going to be highly motivated after bearing the brunt of displeasure from fans following his performance against Liverpool.
The physical battle between Ryan Shawcross and Zlatan Ibrahimovic should also be fairly compelling. Joe Allen will also feel that he could slip unnoticed into that box a lot like Frank Lampard giving the lack of pace on offer in Michael Carrick. Stoke will feel quietly confident that their added physicality and recent goal-scoring upsurge will give them a good chance this weekend.
Paul Pogba will need to bounce back from a dismal performance last week. I have been impressed with the way that Jones has returned following a succession of major injury setbacks. His partnership with Rojo seems to be blossoming and has completely offset the absence of Eric Bailey.
Antonio Valencia will feel that he could get beyond Pieters and provide some useful service to Ibra this weekend. I expect that Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial may be the men on the flanks, with the latter tasked at taking on the experienced Glen Johnson.
The spellbinding form of Zlatan may once again come to the fore in what I predict will be a tight match at the Britannia. His ability to hover in those serendipitous areas could be the difference between the two sides.
I also expect that Carrick won’t be quite as exposed this weekend as he was by the obvious pace and guile of Liverpool.
Verdict: Manchester United Win (6/10)
I think that United’s recent defensive cohesion will hold out this weekend, despite what will be a spirited performance from Stoke. Perhaps their edge in athleticism in the midfield area will be telling. Get on the Red Devils victory at 6/10!