Louis Van Gaal’s side travel to The Britannia Stadium on New Year’s day to face a Stoke City side who have tasted victory in their last two encounters. The Red’s themselves go into the game on a nine game unbeaten run but will be looking to improve their record of only having won two away games all season. United scraped a 2-1 victory in the reverse fixture at Old Trafford back at the start of December.
The key team news ahead of the game is that Ander Herrera is due to return from injury after missing the past couple of games. Marcos Rojo, Adnan Januzaj and Marouane Fellaini are all doubts whilst Daley Blind and Angel Di Maria are almost certain to miss out. Van Gaal complained his players were tired following the 0-0 draw against Spurs so he may well shake it up a bit at The Britannia. Here’s how United may take to the field:
David De Gea is a certainty to start of course. The Spaniard kept a clean sheet in the last encounter, making a number of comfortable saves against Spurs and continuing his impressive form.
The manager seems to have settled on a back three for the past couple of games and I wouldn’t expect him to change it following the clean sheet against Spurs. Phil Jones was the only centre back to play the whole ninety minutes at White Hart Lane so i would expect him to continue again after his solid display. Jonny Evans seems to struggle at White Hart Lane however and gave the ball away carelessly on a number of occasions before he was hauled off, I expect Chris Smalling to come into the side in his place. Finally, Paddy McNair also looked tired in the closing stages of the game before he was replaced and I wouldn’t be surprised if Tyler Blackett was also brought in to freshen things up.
In the left-wing-back position there is no reason to suggest that Ashley Young won’t keep his place in the side. The Englishman was in good form again against Spurs and almost got his name on the scoresheet. In the right-wing-back position Rafael could well come into the side after Antonio Valencia was taken off with a minor injury in Sunday’s game.
Michael Carrick has been an integral player since his return from injury and despite the hectic fixture schedule he should again be a certainty to start with United’s midfield injury woes. The game may come just too soon for Ander Herrera so as a result of limited options I would expect Wayne Rooney to continue alongside Carrick with the pair putting in an impressive shift against Spurs.
In front of the pair Juan Mata should be a certainty to continue in the side after arguably being the Red’s man of the match in the last encounter. After two assists against Newcastle on Boxing Day the Spaniard was again the key link between the midfield and attack at White Hart lane, he showed a number of superb touches and passes and will have been kicking himself after missing a glorious chance to get on the score sheet.
Despite missing an excellent opportunity to open the deadlock on Sunday United’s number twenty and a good overall game as he held up the ball well and showed some fantastic link-up play. The Dutchman will be on the team sheet again this Thursday.
His strike partner Radamel Falcao was somewhat disappointing however after also missing a couple of chances and looking completely burnt out towards the end of proceedings. I can’t see the Columbian being fit enough to start his third successive game so I expect young James Wilson to get another opportunity to impress against Stoke City.
Predicted Starting XI:
Smalling, Jones, Blackett;
Carrick, Rooney (C);
Wilson, Van Persie.