English Premier League
KO – 1400 GMT
International breaks usually give the managers time to reflect on the wrong and rights of the previous games. If the team goes into the international week with a win then it is all well and good. Being on the bad side of a result and the permutations combinations begin. The worst part of the break from a manager’s point of view is no matter what has happened you cannot do anything for the next two weeks. Mulling and wondering is the only thing that the manager can do while his players are with their national team. Manchester United and Stoke City are on completely different side of the planet when it comes to the international break. While United have nearly all of their first teamers on international duty, Stoke have the luxury of resting their key players and preparing for the match.
Persie, Rooney, Evans, Welbeck, Cleverly, Hernandez. These are some of the names of the United players had on international duty. Even though international weeks are just a regular feature of the season, the travelling part of the equation does take out a lot of the players. For instance Kagawa, who went all the way to Japan to play a friendly against Brazil. Ferguson will be looking for a good performance from his players. Already 4 points behind the early pace setters Chelsea, United simply cannot afford to drop points against the Potters at home. The curse of the defense which United are oddly familiar with is beginning to die down. Jones and Smalling are back on the mend. Upfront the dream partnership of Rooney and Persie is taking baby steps towards becoming a deadly partnership on the pitch rather than just on paper.
Stoke manager Tony Pulis, known for implementing physical tactics against his opponents will be looking for a good performance rather than points at Old Trafford. “Not shipping goals” will be the motto of the day for the Potters. With United’s star studded lineup, it would take a magnificent performance form Pulis’s side to keep the home side at bay. With that being said, Crouch has been in good form this season and will hope to breach the stuttering defense. Midfield, one of United weaknesses this season is something the Stoke manager will look to take advantage of. Any positive result will be a win for Pulis and he will accept it gleefully.
Manchester United – International breaks have never been friends with Alex Ferguson in the past. This break though, on the other hand is a rare occasion where none of his first teamers came back with an injury and he has a clean bill of health. Robin van Persie, who rarely returns from international duty without a niggle or two is completely fit. Everyone on international duty has returned injury free. It must have been good to see Fletcher getting a lot of playing time for Scotland. Rooney, Cleverly, Carrick and Welbeck have returned to training after a disappointing performance in Poland. Depending on the fitness levels, Ferguson will be looking to put an attacking lineup against the Potters. Rooney and Persie will be expected to start with Welbeck and Hernandez starting on the bench. Defensive problems seemed to have eased up for the club with Jones and Smalling nearing first team return. Young, who has been out injured may make it to the bench.
Stoke City – The International break is a boon for the Potters. With not many of the players featuring for their countries, Pulis can devote the whole time to freshen up his squad. The Stoke manager has a completely rested and fresh bunch of players to choose from. Begovic, who has been indispensable, will be expected to start in goal. Upfront Crouch might start as a lone man in a defensive formation against the Red Devils. Glenn Whelan has orchestrated the team very well and Pulis will be looking for inspiration from him at Old Trafford. Kightly has been a menace on the wings and with Evra’s questionable form, he might be a very important player in the game.
Stoke City – Peter Crouch – The Englishman has been in decent form this season, banging in 5 goals this season. He is one of the tallest players in the league and poses an unmatched aerial threat in the box. Crouch is a handful despite his lean stature and with United’s continued misery with the defensive injuries, Crouch will definitely be a thorn in the eye for the home side.
Manchester United – Robin van Persie – One of the rare occasions where the Dutchman had an injury free international break. The striker has been in terrific form since joining his new club and given his deadly prowess when on-song, Stoke will need to be aware of the damage he could inflict upon them.