Stoke City — Manchester United (Premier League)
Saturday Britannia will stage Manchester United rebirth of sorts. Supporters are dying to see the influence of Juan Mata in his second start for the Red Devils and preferable in the company of the other two elite players they have so missed. Stoke have their own relegation issues to worry about and will be hopping that turning-point for United is delayed one more week.
Stoke are 16th in the Premier League with 22 points. The thing is that’s just 3 above relegation. As standings go at the moment there’s a 5 point gap between 11th and 20th seed which means any of the 10 squads can still fall into that condemned trio that will drop to the Championship. Wednesday night they failed against fellow strugglers Sunderland 1-0 at the Stadium of Light. N’Zonzi was sent off due to a second yellow card and Stoke was forced to play one man short from 53’ on. It was their 4th straight loss, and if Chelsea and Liverpool were expected the same can’t be said for Crystal Palace and Sunderland. They are yet to win a League game in 2014.
On Tuesday Cardiff and Stoke finalized a swap, Peter Odemwingie for Kenwyne Jones, and the new signing got the first start the very next day, at Sunderland.
Steven N’Zonzi is suspended for one match. Robert Huth, Matthew Etherington and Andy Wilkinson are ruled out.
Probable line-up: Begovic — Cameron, Shawcross, Wilsonm, Pieters — Whelan, Palacios — Walters, Ireland, Odemwingie — Crouch.
David Moyes is a new man since he signed Mata. Or maybe he has restored his old self. Either way the baffled frown is gone, replaced with confidence, assertiveness. He’s bossy. He said he will rebuilt the team and there will be casualties. It’s about time! Anderson is off to Fiorentina, Fabio and Wilfried Zaha are moving to Cardiff. And it may just be the tip of the iceberg. Moyes’ revolution at Old Trafford may reach it’s peak in the summer and involve a lot more players. Sinji Kagawa was never a favourite and with Mata, Rooney and van Persie return he’ll lose his space in the squad. Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra will end their contracts at the end of the season and I don’d see the Scot pushing for new ones. He’ll take the chance to bring new talent in.
Tuesday night all eyes were searching for Juan Mata in the starting XI and Moyes was too happy to oblige. But the Spaniard wasn’t alone. The Dutch that makes all the difference in Manchester United performances was also fielded. And it only took him 6 minutes to do his thing. United was wining right from the start. How refreshing was that? Sure, they were playing what is probably the worst squad in the division but still. Robbie van Persie is a transformative player, the mere presence changes the rhythm of the game, creates space and movement.
The big problem now is centre midfield, has pairing Phil Jones and Ryan Giggs so eloquently proved last Wednesday. Maybe Fellaini can start earn his keeping with a first line-up since early in the season.
Nemaja Vidic is still suspended. Nani is unavailable due to injury and Micheal Carrick’s recovery may take another week or so. Rio Ferdinand is doubtful.
Probable line-up: De Gea — Rafael, Smalling, Evans, Evra — Fletcher, Jones — Mata, Rooney, Young — Van Persie.
How eager must David Moyes be to start the trio — Mata, Rooney and van Persie — simultaneous? Juan Mata’s debut for United left a good impression and lift up moral. To get to that top four sit there’s an awful lot of ground to cover for the rest of the season. The Potters get to see first-hand how that partnership works.