Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Manchester United
•Manchester United have won six of their last seven games against Stoke City in all competitions.
•Victory would give Stoke three successive top-flight wins for the first time since last March.
•United have scored seven goals from outside the penalty area this season - the joint-highest figure in the top flight (along with Everton and West Ham). [BBC Sport]
Stoke City will welcome Manchester United to Britannia Stadium in the first Premier League competition of 2015 on Thursday at 7:45 p.m. ET, available to watch live on NBCSN or online at NBC Sports Live Extra.
The Red Devils’ first full month of the Premier League season was tumultuous, notable from their 5-3 loss to Leicester City, which marked the 14th time in league history that United was defeated by four or more goals.
At this point in time, Louis van Gaal saw his team deep in the middle of the table at 12th place.
Although the squad faced an uphill battle with a slew of injuries, Manchester is currently riding a nine-game unbeaten run starting in early November, and after drawing Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane, United sits in third place, ten points back from leader Chelsea.
Stoke City hasn’t received as much spotlight as their upcoming opponent, but manager Mark Hughes observed his side capture six points against Everton and West Brom—both matches scheduled only two days apart.
In the past month, Stoke has been graced with fairly good fortune, unbeaten in four of their six December competitions, and is positioned at 11th place in the PL standings.
[RELATED: Latest Premier League standings]
One of these contests came against Manchester United, in which Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata converted in a 2-1 result to hand Van Gaal his fourth-straight win.
What they’re saying
Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal praises fans’ impact (Manchester Evening News): “The thing that has pleased me the most is the fans. I think they are amazing. The fans have been fantastic because we were in a moment with 11 matches and 13 points – that is not good, I think more weak than good. In spite of that, the fans have supported us always and in the right way. I want to thank the fans for that.”
Stoke manager Mark Hughes on Van Gaal’s recent success (Daily Express): “Suddenly he seems to be the right figurehead for the club. He’s the guy you sense they need given that last year was a time of transition for them. And they’re still going through that process to a certain extent. He’s working hard and changed personnel. They need a strong person at the head of the club and he certainly gives that impression to everybody.”
Former Barcelona (now Stoke) forward Bojan is a doubt to perform after a hamstring issue forced his departure during Sunday’s tilt vs. West Brom.
Defender Phil Bardsley’s nursing an ankle injury and could miss out again, while Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia could gain limited minutes due to his groin problem suffered in the Tottenham draw.
On the brightside, the muscle injury of Red Devils’ midfielder Ander Herrera has healed well, and he appears set to take the pitch.
United has muscled past the early season woes, and if healthy, a top-four finish is definitely in the cards. However, Stoke has Jonathan Walters back on the pitch, and on home turf, I think the Potters make it difficult to snag the three points. Stoke City 2-3 Manchester United