Writer: Tom Mckeon
Date:Friday September 23 2011
The Britannia Stadium
24th September 2011
5:30pm Kick Off
Stoke face their toughest test of the season so far as the champions Manchester United roll into town, hoping to continue a scarily stunning start to the season, even by their own standards.
After a summer which has seen all eyes on the blue half of Manchester, United have more than strengthened and look to be as strong as ever - they`re the favourites to win the league again this year, and who can argue after their start?
I don't know how Fergie continues to build these fantastic sides, but there are plenty of young players who are coming into their own, and this Manchester United team is probably playing the best football in Europe at the moment.
The likes of Phil Jones, Tom Cleverley and Chris Smalling all probably started the season in the hope of game time, not expecting it. But they`ve all made stunning starts to the season as Ferguson looks to the next crop of talented youngsters which he hopes will continue to guarantee success.
And, Wayne Rooney is arguably the greatest striker on the planet at the moment, after scoring an outrageous 9 goals in United's first 5 Premier league matches.
So yes, it's not the ideal team to face when you've just lost 4-0 away at Sunderland, but Stoke are a totally different proposition at home and I'm sure the Potters will see this as an opportunity to prove last weekend was just a bad day at the office.
Last year's fixture was a terrific game - a stunning solo effort from Tuncay Sanli looked to have stole a point for the Potters after a typically cheeky opener from Javier Hernandez, but the Mexican wonderkid struck again in the dying moments, cruelly denying Stoke a point.
We've always ran United close at home, and tomorrow's game promises to be no different.
The only Stoke player who has been ruled out of today`s game is Kenwyne Jones, the striker pulled his hamstring in mid-week`s league cup win over Spurs, and will not be risked.
Meanwhile, after another solid performance at the heart of the defence, former West Ham defender Matthew Upson will be hoping to start alongside Ryan Shawcross.
this is going to be a game where Stoke`s defence will have to excel again, we`ve had such a tough start to the season and I think we all want a relatively average team coming to the Britannia so we can truly see how far we`ve progressed. I can almost guarantee we won`t be seeing the attacking best of the likes of Crouch, Pennant & Etherington and that`s why Ryan Shawcross is my one to watch.
Danny Welbeck has oozed quality this season, but the 20-year-old is still sidelined with injury so won't be fit to play against the Potters.
Javier Hernandez or 'Chicharito' as he is more widely known, was feared to be out for a while after a nasty collision in their 3-1 win over Chelsea at the weekend, but the Mexican has been deemed fit, with Fergie saying it was 'just a bump'.
Away player to watch - clearly, there`s one man which stands out, above all others, and that`s Wayne Rooney, but the England striker has never really had the best of times at the Britannia stadium.
To be honest, you have to watch all of them, Ashley Young has made an unbelievable start to his Man United career and he`ll be a massive threat, but if I was to pick one outů
It would have to be Nani, the winger has truly emerged from the shadows of Cristiano Ronaldo and has grown into a fine player over the last couple of years - Stoke will no doubt be terrific defensively, but when the likes of Nani, Young & Rooney are around, sometimes your best isn`t going to be enough and Stokies will be praying they don`t bring their A-game.
Match prediction - it`s such a tough one to predict, both teams have had great starts to the season, and I always back Stoke at the Britannia, but not against this United side. I expect us to give everyone a run for their money, and I even expect us to beat City this year, but United just know how to get the job done, I think we`ll put in a fantastic performance but we`ll get beat. Stoke 0-1 Manchester United. Hope I`m wrong!
Stoke face Swansea at the libery stadium on 2nd October - but the Potters entertain Besiktas at the Britannia this thursday, in the Europa league!
Date:Friday September 23 2011
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