Despite their struggles away from home, there were few teams last season who had a realistic chance to pick up a result both home and away against Manchester United. One of those teams was Stoke, who hung with United in both meetings last season and were unlucky to not come away with at least a point.
Will today be the day that Stoke finally break their run of misfortune against United, or will United successfully navigate a tough trip to the Britannia Stadium to continue this season’s incredible start?
United have six wins in six matches against Stoke since the Potters made their return to the top flight in the 2008/09 season, and they’ve scored 16 goals and allowed only two in those six wins.
Both of Stoke’s goals came in last season’s two encounters, and in both, Stoke played United close but ultimately came up empty-handed. In United’s visit to the Britannia Stadium last October, United took a first-half lead before Tuncay put Stoke on course for a point after his 81st minute equalizer, but Javier Hernandez struck five minutes later to give United a 2-1 win.
Then, when the two sides met at Old Trafford in January, United took a first-half lead once again, but Stoke equalized early in the second half through Dean Whitehead. But Nani struck the eventual winner shortly after the hour mark to preserve United’s recent perfect mark against Tony Pulis’ side.
After finishes of 12th, 11th, and 13th, Stoke look set to challenge for the top seven or eight this season.
A run to the FA Cup final saw them earn a place in the Europa League qualifying rounds, and along with qualifying for the competition proper, Stoke have gotten off to a solid Premier League start, and even after getting thumped 4-0 at Sunderland last weekend, they sit fifth in the Premier League table, with two wins, two draws, and that lone defeat after five matches.
To show off their new ambitions and to help meet their heightened expectations, Stoke spent big, relatively speaking, late in the transfer window, signing striker Peter Crouch from Tottenham for a club-record 10m and giving Spurs another 8m for midfielder Wilson Palacios, and prior to that late ‘spree’, Stoke made a couple of thrifty defensive signings, nabbing experienced duo Matthew Upson and Jonathan Woodgate for free.
Chicharito, who scored three goals against Stoke last season, could be absent today after being on the receiving end of a poor, poor challenge from Ashley Cole in Sunday’s 3-1 win over Chelsea, but if he’s unable to go, Danny Welbeck is fit again and ready to go after making his return from injury in Tuesday’s 3-0 Carling Cup win at Leeds.
Elsewhere, Chris Smalling could also be sidelined due to a groin strain, but Rio Ferdinand could resume his regular place in the center of United’s defense, which could see Phil Jones start at right back as he did at Bolton.
Elsewhere, it will likely be much the same lineup we saw in the win over Chelsea, even with Tuesday’s Champions League tie against FC Basel in mind.
United were made to work for their two wins against Stoke last season, and there’s a good chance they’ll have to fight tooth and nail for the win today.
But United’s class and calmness under pressure will see them through, and they’ll make it six wins in six games to open the Premier League season and seven wins in seven meetings against the Potters.
Score Prediction: Stoke City 1-2 Manchester United