Quique Sanchez Flores is a chance to lead Stoke City to Manchester for a vastly difficult and important Tuesday morning encounter with Jose Mourinho’s United side.
Manchester United are fresh from a week of hot weather training and relaxation in Dubai, while Stoke on the contrary faced the week from hell, bowing out of the FA Cup at the hands of fourth-tier Coventry City and sacking manager Mark Hughes as a result.
The differences in the two teams currently are a far cry from the last time they met, when an Eric Maxim Chuopo-Moting brace halted United’s winning streak at the start of the season, holding the Red Devils to a 2-2 draw in week four.
Stoke are winless in their last three Premier League clashes, and sit in the relegation zone, but many fans believe the sacking of Hughes is the overhaul necessary to reinvigorate their season.
It is believed former Watford manager Sanchez Flores is going to be announced as the new man in charge as early as the weekend, but it is yet to be known whether he will assume the reigns for the trip to Old Trafford.
On the other hand, United are unbeaten in six in the Premier League, but it is not a streak to be content with, due to it featuring three consecutive draws, including two at home.
United have not won at home in the league since the 14 December, and will need to eradicate that issue if they are to bridge the widening gap between them and league leaders Manchester City, which currently stand at 15 points.
Key Battle – Stoke’s physical attack vs United’s ailing defence
Cameroonian international Chuopo-Moting was a handful last time these sides faced, with his physical prowess and versatility proving difficult to contain, as he lost his marker twice to score both of Stoke’s goals.
As United do not boast the most physical of defences, especially without Eric Bailly and potentially Antonio Valencia (injured), the combination of his durability and Peter Crouch’s height, plus Xherdan Shaqiri’s doggish nature, could turn what many believe to be a one-sided affair into anything but. If United are to avoid another poor result at home, they will need to nullify the influence that this trio can bring.
Despite the potential threat Stoke can bring, they have not been firing on many cylinders lately at all, scoring just once in their past three league fixtures. They have also scored just 23 goals in 22 games this season, with top scorer Chuopo-Moting bagging just four league goals.
United have kept clean sheets in all of their last three fixtures, and will be hoping to add to their league-high 12 clean sheets so far this campaign. Despite this, the defensive stocks of United wore thin over the festive period, with Valencia and Bailly both missing, and Jones and Smalling picking up knocks, but the latter duo are expected to line up for this fixture.
During this period, United suffered their worst defensive performances of the season, conceding two at Leicester and at home to Burnley, accounting for a quarter of all goals conceded thus far this season.
Glen Johnson will not play a part in this match due to a knee injury, and injury clouds are also hovering over Bruno Martins-Indi (groin), Erik Pieters (hamstring) and Ryan Shawcross (calf), but all remain a chance to feature.
Stoke City Expected XI (4-3-3): Butland (GK); Pieters, Wimmer, Zouma, Edwards; Cameron, Adams, Allen; Chuopo-Moting, Crouch, Shaqiri.
Valencia heavily featured in training in Dubai and could play his first match since mid-December, with Chris Smalling and Marouane Fellaini also in line to make Premier League returns after featuring in the cup victory over Derby County. Michael Carrick and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are still out until February with heart and knee injuries respectively, with Bailly expected to return no earlier than March with his troublesome groin. Ashley Young remains suspended, as he will complete his three-match ban.
Manchester United Expected XI (4-2-3-1): De Gea (GK); Shaw, Rojo, Jones, Darmian; Matic, Pogba; Lingard, Martial, Mata; Lukaku.
United significantly hold the upper hand in the historical battle between the two clubs, winning 36 of the 78 past encounters. Stoke have won 17, with 25 drawn, but have not won against the Red Devils since Boxing Day 2015.
The last three matches between the two sides have all been drawn, with both of last season’s fixtures ending one apiece.
Chuopo-Moting scored the opening and final goal in the week four encounter between these two sides, with goals from Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku in between ensuring a 2-2 draw. It was the first time United had conceded all season and was also the first time they had points taken off them, after they won all three opening matches.
United’s last Premier League fixture partially ridded them of the woes inflicted in the festive period as they made light work of Everton and they should continue that form into this match. Stoke may not have a manager by the time of kick-off and if they do, they will not have had enough time to have acclimatised to the new conditions, leaving them vulnerable for a drubbing.
It cannot be ignored that Stoke boast an impressive record against United though, grabbing points off them at the last three times of asking, including once at Old Trafford. The Potters are in serious relegation trouble and a win against a top side would be the boost needed to reverse the mood in and around the club.
Ultimately, United should posses far too much firepower for a disjointed Stoke to handle, but it is the type of game that could easily provide an upset.
Manchester United 3 Stoke City 0