Away from the transfer deadline day shenanigans, ITK Twitter accounts and the dreaded “Sky Sport sources” line, for Manchester United and David Moyes there’s the small matter of a second Premier League game in four days to deal with.
Having finally got back to winning ways against Cardiff on Tuesday night, United travel to the Britannia, which, while it clearly isn’t the fortress the press have spent the last five years harping on about, remains a hotbed for dire football, generally windy and unpleasant days and, more importantly, some of the worst fans the Premier League has ever seen.
Mark Hughes, the man tasked with delivering some good news to the Neanderthals of football, is presumably still smarting after being overlooked for the United job and his bitterness is likely to have been worsened by the two meetings between the sides this season, which saw United muster a comeback to win 3-2 at home, before braving the elements to knock Stoke out of the Capital One Cup.
One can only hope the weather will be slightly better tomorrow than the last time United traveled to the Britannia, when they skies opened forcing anybody apart from Jonathan Walters to seek shelter for about five minutes.
Weather-related issues aside, United should be fairly confident ahead of tomorrow, given Juan Mata’s arrival seems to have lifted the team’s spirit, even though it hasn’t produced a tangible contribution on the pitch as yet, while the return of Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney have delivered a much-needed boost to David Moyes.
However, with neither of the three having played much football of late, Moyes could again opt to rotate his attacking options – a luxury he probably wasn’t used to until about a week ago – in a bid to get his players up to speed.
Were the United manager to finally adopt something resembling a bold approach instead, Antonio Valencia could be finally put out of his misery and dropped to the bench, with Rooney, Mata and Ashley Young lining up behind Van Persie, as Adnan Januzaj’s talented young limbs are better kept away from the gnaws of Stoke’s midfielders.
With Rio Ferdinand still out nursing an injury – although he did, admirably, find time to wish his fans in the Far East Happy Chinese New Year, presumably in a bid to start flogging “5 caps” in China – and Nemanja Vidic in the last of his three-game ban, the defence picks itself – particularly now that Moyes won’t have to “worry” about Kenwine Jones, who was shipped out by Hughes.
In midfield, bar improbable and unexpected good news over the next 13 hours, United will have to make do with the tragic lack of options that has crippled them for years. Darren Fletcher is expected to return in place of Ryan Giggs, while Phil Jones could again be asked to “do a job” in midfield, given that Moyes seems to have run out of patience with TClev23 – if that’s the case, welcome to the club, David.
With our rivals for fourth spot – typing that felt terribly small time, by the way – unlikely to drop points this weekend, United must win tomorrow and build some momentum going into the final third of the season, not to mention that it’d be a shame to ruin a record that currently stands at 11 wins in the last 12 meetings against Stoke.
Stoke, however, will be desperate to avoid another defeat, given they’ve lost five of their last six games and are only two points away from the relegation zone, as Mark Hughes’ magic begins to kick in.
Expect them to be up for it and expect their fans to remind us all that they “support their local team”.