Having ended the impressive run of results with a home loss to Crystal Palace, Stoke City will be keen to return to winning ways on Boxing Day and pile more misery on stuttering Manchester United. With the players slowly losing faith in manager Louis van Gaal, the Red Devils face a tough task of trying to end a three-match losing streak.
Even though Tony Pulis had exceeded expectations at Britannia Stadium year after year, the club chiefs sacked the highly rated manager and appointed Mark Hughes in his place in an attempt to make the club more attractive to the fans from around the globe and the risky decision appears to have worked. The Welsh manager has done a very good job not only on the pitch, but also in the transfer market, and the arrival of players like Bojan Krkic, Glen Johnson and Xherdan Shaqiri definitely signalled the beginning of a new era. And even though the Potters still sit in the bottom half of the Premier League standings, they have shown a great deal of potential of late, with the 2-0 triumph over Manchester City the highlight of the current campaign. Prior to the unfortunate defeat to Crystal Palace, Stoke City had won five of previous six matches in all competitions, enjoying a League Cup triumph over Chelsea in the process and we have reason to believe they will secure at least one point in the clash with out-of-sorts Manchester United.
Mark Hughes has confirmed that Peter Crouch (groin) and Geoff Cameron (hamstring) will not be risked against Manchester United.
There are no other fresh worries for the Welsh manager, but the likes of Stephen Ireland, Shay Given and Marc Muniesa continue to miss out.
Even when they were sitting at the Premier League summit, it was painfully evident that Manchester United were not living up to the billing and it was only a matter of time before the results started becoming as bad as the performances. Louis van Gaal may have managed to sort out the shaky defence, but he did that by taking away the attacking flair the Red Devils have always been renowned for and no wonder senior players have asked the manager to reconsider his cautious approach. Over the past few weeks, Manchester United have been paying the price for some disappointing performances, as they were eliminated from the Champions League, while slipping to fifth in the Premier League standings having taken mere two points from last four league fixtures. With the players completely out of confidence and Louis van Gaal under serious pressure as Jose Mourinho continues to be linked with the Old Trafford job, the Red Devils could find it hard to show the improvement they desperately need to get something from Britannia.
Bastian Schweinsteiger continues to serve a three-match ban, but Wayne Rooney has returned into action to make his 500th appearance for the club.
Jesse Lingard and Matteo Darmian are not yet ready to return, whereas Morgan Schneiderlin faces a fitness test and Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia and Marco Rojo are definitely out.
Key Factors to Consider
- Stoke defeated both Chelsea and Man City without conceding this term
- Under 2.5 goals were scored in 11 of Stoke’s last 12 games on all fronts
- Not more than one team have scored in seven of Stoke’s last eight games
- Manchester United are winless in last five matches, losing last three
- The Red Devils scored at least once in each of last four away fixtures
Stoke have been raising their form of late and the unfortunate defeat to Crystal Palace is unlikely to act as a major blow to the players’ confidence. Meanwhile, Manchester United have been utterly disappointing of late and we cannot see them getting anything from Britannia.
Verdict: Stoke not to lose
Best Odds: 5/8