English Premier League

Stoke City v Manchester United – Britannia Stadium– Saturday 26 December 14:45

| Draw 21/10| 5/4

Boxing Day kicks off at the Britannia Stadium with Stoke City hosting Manchester United in a humdinger of a match. Manchester United are winless in six consecutive matches in all competitions, and The Potters will be looking to add even more misery to Louis van Gaal’s under-firing team.

Stoke City
Lee Chung-yong came off the bench to lash home a sensational late winner for Crystal Palace to edge Stoke 2-1 at the Britannia Stadium last time out. However, manager Mark Hughes says his players are ready and able to pile on the misery for a vulnerable Manchester United team – despite last Saturday’s home defeat against Crystal Palace. “Confidence-wise, we are not damaged by the performance (against Palace). We will look ahead to the Man U game and at the moment it seems they are not in great shape, so it might be a good time to play them”, said Hughes. Stoke have become quite successful in finding players to fit the clubs mould. They don’t overspend and yet they have created and established a team that is capable of greatness. Xherdan Shaqiri was back for Stoke at the weekend after suffering a slight pull in his hamstring against West Ham. The Swiss international is their most creative player. He has the vision to produce quality through balls and passes, but also has the ability to beat an opposing defender with his quick feet and dazzling skills. Marko Arnautovic is as effective as they get. He is big and tall, with pace, power and strength, making him difficult to keep quiet. Arnautovic will be looking to get back on the scoresheet, following his brace against Manchester City a few weeks ago. Bojan Krkic will lead the line for The Potters. The ex-Barcelona forward scored in the defeat against Crystal Palace last time out and will be looking to build on that. The Spaniard has great speed and agility and also possesses tremendous skill and flair on the ball. The much-maligned Ryan Shawcross has been a rock at the back for Stoke and has been one of the main reasons behind their resurgence. His work ethic, strength on the ball as well as in the air, including his speed and Click-to-bet-now-300x40rugged tackling, make him difficult to play against. A victory over Man United will take Stoke up to eighth on the table, just three points off the Champions League places, so maximum points will surely be the objective for The Potters.

Manchester United
As if last Saturday afternoon’s 2-1 defeat to newly-promoted Norwich at Old Trafford wasn’t embarrassing enough for Louis Van Gaal, the stats that have emerged off the back of the loss are even more galling for one of the proudest (i.e. egotistical) managers in the game. Van Gaal’s team were booed off the pitch and some Red Devil supporters were even chanting Jose Mourinho’s name as their side crashed out of the top four, being replaced by Spurs, who recorded a 2-0 away victory over Southampton. The defeat means that United are now without a win in six competitive games for the first time in over a decade and have lost consecutive league games to newly-promoted sides for the first time in 69 years. Poor football has been followed by being knocked out of the Champions League and then losses to two relegation battlers in Norwich City and Bournemouth have led Van Gaal onto thin ice with some papers suggesting the Dutchman has one or two games at the very least to save his job. And so begins the manager merry-go-round. To say things are little gloomy at Man United currently would be something of an understatement. The club’s fans are on the verge of full-blown revolt over Van Gaal’s stubborn determination to make his team play dull, boring football. Club captain Wayne Rooney continues to misfire. His form this season has been shocking to say the least. Players such as Juan Mata, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Anthony Martial and Memphis Depay have failed to lift the team as well. Chris Smalling has arguably been Man United’s best player this season, but it would be strange to count on a defender to get those much needed victories. As they say, goals win you games, and that is something Man United are struggling to produce. Since the great Sir Alex Ferguson retired as manager, the club has been in a shambles and has failed to cope without him. Something has to change soon; otherwise things can only get from bad to worse.

Probable Line-ups:

Stoke City: 4-2-3-1
Butland; Johnson, Shawcross, Wollscheid, Pieters; Van Ginkel, Whelan; Shaqiri, Afellay, Arnautovic; Bojan

Manchester United: 4-2-3-1
De Gea; Young, Jones, Smalling, Blind; Carrick, Herrera; Martial, Mata, Depay; Rooney

Prediction: Stoke City

Stoke have kept just two clean sheets in their last nine home league games, so both teams are likely to find the back of the net. However, The Potters are unbeaten in the last two home meetings against Man United, drawing once and winning the other. The home win looks too good to pass up at a valuable 23/10.

Aaron Crowie


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