Manchester United travel to Stoke this weekend brimming with confidence after impressive victories over both Tottenham and local rivals Man City. The champions really impressed me at White Hart Lane and although they left it very late against City, there’s no doubt they deserved to win the match. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side may miss the guile of Cristiano Ronaldo but they have maintained their competitive winning edge and it’s hard to back against them at the Britannia Stadium.
It’s well worth noting that United won both home and away against Stoke last season without conceding a goal. However, they did not have it all their own way at the Britannia Stadium as an 83rd minute Carlos Tevez goal was all that separated the teams. Sir Alex’s side may have suffered an upset at Burnley earlier in the season but after such impressive performances, it’s hard to imagine they are ripe for another shock defeat.
Wayne Rooney is in the form of his life after scoring 6 goals in his last 6 league games and no side will find him easy to handle. The young striker has been backed up superbly by the form of veteran Ryan Giggs who rolled back the years against Man City last weekend turning Micah Richards inside out with his dribbling ability. The Welshman has already created 24 goal scoring chances for his team-mates this season which is more than any other player and a fantastic testament to his enduring ability in the Premier League.
LONDON — Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson will persevere with Ben Foster despite the goalkeeper's error-strewn start to the season.
The England international's gaffe led to Manchester City's first goal at Old Trafford last weekend before the defending Premier League champions eventually beat their neighbour 4-3.
Despite Tomasz Kuszczak keeping a clean sheet in the League Cup victory over Wolverhampton on Wednesday, Ferguson will have Foster start at Stoke on Saturday and remain his first-choice Premier League goalkeeper while Edwin van der Sar recovers from injury.
"Edwin is still three weeks away," Ferguson said Friday. "It was a good opportunity for Tomasz to play on Wednesday, but Ben will start against Stoke. He's not had a lot of game experience but he'll be OK."
The Red Devils are second in the standings after six matches, three points behind Chelsea, thanks to Michael Owen's stoppage time winner over City.
Ryan Giggs created each of United's four goals to show that he remains a key component in the team at 35.
"The horrible part of being a footballer is that at some stage you are finished with the game," Ferguson said. "It catches us all. When someone like Ryan is playing at the level he is at, he realizes to stay there, he has to prepare himself in the right way.
"He has to look after himself and do the right things. It is not a matter of him defying his age. It is more a case that there is no discernible deterioration in his game at all. It is remarkable."
Chelsea may be protecting a 100 per cent record at Wigan on Saturday, but manager Carlo Ancelotti knows it won't last forever.
"It's very difficult because now the team is doing very well," Ancelotti said Friday. "We have maintained a good control of the injury situation and we have players in good condition and there is a good atmosphere.
"But in football in my experience it's very easy to pass from good to bad situations. It's very difficult to win and maintain a good situation."
Winger Florent Malouda has attributed Chelsea winning six straight games to the play of strikers Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka.
"If you are an opponent and you see Didier and Nicolas are playing against you, you won't feel comfortable," Malouda said. "When they are confident, there is danger all the time for the opposition. And it helps us if the other team focuses too much on those two players as it will create space for the others.
"We have a strong midfield so when you have the pace of Nicolas with the power of Didier, it's good."
Meanwhile both Andrei Arshavin and Theo Walcott should return for Arsenal which plays at Fulham in Saturday's late kickoff.
Arshavin has missed four matches with a groin problem, while Walcott has not played this season due to a side strain as the Gunners have lost twice and fallen nine points behind Chelsea.
"We are very pleased because Arshavin gives us an attacking option that is always very interesting and away from home he's always very efficient as well," manager Arsene Wenger said. "He's a guy who turns up at the right moment and can always create chances or score himself."
Third-placed Liverpool missed out on the title last season in part because of its seven home draws, one of which was against newcomer Hull, which is back at Anfield on Saturday.
"We had difficulties last season with all the draws but now we are able to score goals in the first half," striker Dirk Kuyt said. "It's really important to score as early as possible because then it will be more difficult for them and easier for us.
"Hull are a good team as well but we have to look at our own strengths and we must believe we can beat them."
Level with Liverpool on 12 points are Manchester City, which hosts West Ham on Monday, Aston Villa, which is at Blackburn on Saturday, and Tottenham, which hosts Burnley at the same time.
In Saturday's other matches: Portsmouth, searching for its first point of the season, hosts Everton and Bolton is at Birmingham.
In Sunday's only match, Sunderland hosts Wolverhampton.
For three seasons now, the 38-year-old has waited until the depths of winter to determine his fate, which the answer coming up positive each time. And Sir Alex Ferguson has confirmed it will be no different this term, even though the Dutchman has apparently already said he wants to continue.
"It has always been the case with Edwin that he has made the decision around the end of December and it will be this same this season too,'' said Ferguson. "There is going to be a time when he decides it is time but he never does anything at this stage of the season.''
In fact, Ferguson is more concerned Van der Sar is available again this season after he suffered two broken fingers in a pre-season game against Bayern Munich in July.
It was originally thought the former Fulham star would be out for two months, but Ferguson has confirmed he will be sidelined for another three weeks, meaning the first time he will be available is the encounter with Bolton on October 17.
In theory, Van der Sar's continued absence left Ferguson with a selection dilemma for the trip to Stoke.
Poland international Tomasz Kuszczak certainly must have been fancying his chances after keeping a clean sheet against Wolves on Wednesday, just three days after Ben Foster's dismal performance against Manchester City.
However, Ferguson has already decided to keep faith with Foster, who he believes will go to the World Cup as England's first-choice keeper.
"Ben will play tomorrow,'' he said. "I didn't have any doubts. We are not worrying about the odd mistake - young players make them all the time -- and he has not have a great deal of game experience. I do not have a problem with the boy."
There will no motivational material for Tony Pulis to pin up on the dressing-room wall. "Stoke are going to be a force," said Sir Alex Ferguson yesterday. The Manchester United manager knows how to use flattery to help his cause but he also appreciates just how difficult it can be to get a result at the Britannia Stadium following last season's 1-0 win. The significant team news is that Ben Foster will definitely start in goal for United despite his mistakes last weekend. No prizes for guessing whom Stoke will be targeting. Stuart James
Venue Britannia Stadium
Tickets Sold out
Last season Stoke 0 Manchester United 1
Referee H Webb
This season's matches 4 Y12, R0, 3.00 cards per game
sportingbet odds Stoke 7-1 Manchester United 7-20 Draw 16-5
Subs from Simonsen, Tuncay, Whitehead, Higginbotham, Wilkinson, Pugh, Griffin, Beattie, Diao, Cresswell, Cort
Doubtful Beattie (ankle), Fuller (groin)
Injured M Sidibe (knee,Oct), Am Faye (back, unknown)
Form guide DLWDL
Disciplinary record Y11 R0
Leading scorer Kitson 2
Subs from Kuszczak, Scholes, Carrick, Brown, Nani, Anderson, Neville, Gibson, Fabio, Owen, Welbeck, De Laet, Macheda, Tosic, J Evans
Injured Van der Sar (finger, Oct), Obertan (back, Oct), Rafael (shoulder, Oct), Hargreaves (knee, Nov)
Form guide WWWWL
Disciplinary record Y11 R1
Leading scorer Rooney 6
• Stoke's last eight home wins have all been achieved with a clean sheet
• The last time United scored in an away league game and did not go on to win the match was against Arsenal in November 2008
• Stoke are the only top-flight team to have drawn more than once this season
• United have score more second-half goals (11) than any other side this season
• Glenn Whelan has had more shots on target (four) than any other Stoke player this season; Dave Kitson has had the most shots off-target (five)
Leaving it late in the League Cup
Stoke City barely scraped by Championship side Blackpool in the Carling Cup in midweek, with a late winner from previously shamed defender Andy Griffin the difference between the two sides. In Griffin’s first appearance since last December’s bust-up with team-mate Ricardo Fuller in a league match against West Ham United, the former Stoke captain is looking to put the unfortunate fracas in the past in hopes of more first team appearances under Tony Pulis.
Pulis has led the Potters to tenth place in the Premier League table at this early stage of the season, performing miracles with a squad which has suffered its share of injuries and misfortunes. Stoke looked to have fought a hard-earned draw against Chelsea in week five, only to have the Blues pull off one of their trademark late shows to take all three points at the Britannia Stadium.
Pulis has also had to contend with an injury to James Beattie, who after arriving at the club in January last season from Sheffield United, has been in fine form, scoring seven times in 21 appearances. Keeping a healthy squad will be vital for Pulis over the course of the season as he looks not only to keep the Potters in the Premier League, but also potentially to guide them to a top ten finish.
Young Red Devils see off Wolves
Sir Alex Ferguson will have mixed feelings after seeing his young side pull off a 1-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers. With some of the less experienced and younger members of the squad having been given their chance to impress, Brazilian defender Fabio da Silva found himself sent-off midway through the first half after an unsightly challenge on Wolves’ Michael Kightly. His dismissal would have a domino effect for young United hero Federico Macheda, who was sacrificed for defensive reinforcement in the form of another youngster, Ritchie De Laet.
Although things did not quite go to plan in the League Cup, Ferguson can now focus on catching up with Chelsea in the Premier League. After controversially overcoming Manchester City’s challenge last weekend, Manchester United will travel to the Britannia Stadium to take on a hungry Stoke side.
Centre-back Rio Ferdinand is struggling for form after coming back from an early-season injury, while Ferguson could have a selection headache given the recent form of Michael Owen. Owen has impressed through goals in the Manchester derby as well as an assist in the win over Wolves, while Dimitar Berbatov has continued to disappoint with his lacklustre and underwhelming performances.
Danny Welbeck scored the winner against Wolves, and since bursting into the first team squad last season, will be looking to break into the starting eleven as often as possible. The race is on to partner Wayne Rooney up front for Manchester United, while Rio Ferdinand will have to pick up the slack at the back to get the Red Devils back to the Premier League summit.
Leyton Orient 0-1 Stoke City (League Cup)
Stoke City 1-0 Sunderland (EPL)
Stoke City 1-2 Chelsea (EPL)
Bolton 1-1 Stoke City (EPL)
Stoke City 4-3 Blackpool (League Cup)
Manchester United 2-1 Arsenal (EPL)
Tottenham 1-3 Manchester United (EPL)
Besiktas 0-1 Manchester United (CL)
Manchester United 4-3 Manchester City (EPL)
Manchester United 1-0 Wolverhampton (League Cup)
Tony Pulis is waiting on news for strike pair Ricardo Fuller and James Beattie, both picking up knocks in Stoke’s win over Blackpool.
Fuller has encountered a groin strain that could keep him sidelined.
An ankle injury flare-up is threatening to sideline James Beattie, who only recently regained full fitness.
Richard Cresswell could be recalled into the squad to partner Dave Kitson, while Tuncay Sanli is also in contention for a starting berth.
Possible Starting XI: Sorensen, Huth, Faye, Shawcross, Collins, Delap, Whelan, Whitehead, Etherington, Kitson, Tuncay.
Sir Alex Ferguson has confirmed that Edwin Van der Sar will be absent for three more weeks, also proclaiming that Ben Foster will continue as his stand-in.
Owen Hargreaves is also easing back into first team contention and is reportedly now just a month away from returning.
Michael Owen could earn a starting berth this weekend after positive performances in his last two matches.
Paul Scholes is back from suspension after being sent off against Tottenham.
Rafael da Silva is out with a shoulder injury while Gabriel Obertan has suffered a back strain.
Possible Starting XI: Foster, O'Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Giggs, Valencia, Fletcher, Anderson, Rooney, Berbatov.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Dave Kitson is finding his feet at Stoke City, netting three goals in the league already this season. His performance will be crucial on Saturday with Beattie and Fuller potentially sidelined, leaving him with the bulk of the offensive responsibilities.
Having already suffered an early season injury set-back, Rio Ferdinand is struggling for form for Manchester United. Gifting a well-taken goal to Craig Bellamy in the Manchester derby, Ferguson will be hoping the Rio of old emerges against Stoke City.
Manchester United are eager to stay on the heels of Chelsea, who are the only team in the Premier League still unbeaten. The Red Devils have endured an early season hiccup to Burnley, one they will not be eager to repeat against Stoke City.
Ferguson’s selection up front should prove interesting as he searches for a partner to Wayne Rooney. Michael Owen’s recent good form might have the former Newcastle man starting this Saturday, yet Ferguson could give Dimitar Berbatov another bite at the apple.
Tony Pulis will field his strongest side in hopes of slaying the Old Trafford giants. The Potters have managed a decent start to the season, and a win against the reigning champions could work wonders for Stoke’s confidence.
However, a striker shortage could wreak havoc on Pulis's’side, with both James Beattie and Ricardo Fuller potentially sidelined for this clash. That leaves leading scorer Dave Kitson to lead the line at the Britannia Stadium, looking to add to the three goals he has already scored this season with either Richard Cresswell or Tuncay Sanli.
Alkthough Stoke will leave it all on the pitch, the Red Devils have momentum left over from their triumph in the Manchester derby. With an eye on Chelsea, it is hard to imagine Sir Alex Ferguson and his men will let this one slip away.
United suffered a shock defeat at Burnley early in the season, but have since won six consecutive games in all competitions, causing Ferguson to state that they will only get better as the campaign continues.
"We had a bad start, there's no doubt about that, but the form of the team has been coming on well," Sky Sports report the United manager as saying.
"Our best performance was at White Hart Lane [United won 3-1 against Spurs]. I'm happy with our form now. We have the squad and my only dilemma is who to play.
"Usually October sees us become more consistent and hopefully that will be the case again. The squad is a strong one and my only problem seems to be who to pick for each game."
One player who has impressed in United's recent run is 35-year-old veteran Ryan Giggs, and Ferguson concedes that there is little else he can say to add to the plaudits that have already come the Welshman's way during a long career.
"I don't know what more there is to say about him," the Scotsman added.
"It's not a matter of defying age with him because there has been no deterioration in his game at all – and it's remarkable.
"It's down to how he has lived his life, how he has looked after himself and done the right things and his form is just as good as it was last year."
"Owen Hargreaves is back now, and hopefully the boy gets a break and continues his progress without any further mishaps," the United boss told reporters at his Friday press conference.
"It's been long time for the lad and normally when a player has been out that length of time, he's always helped during his rehabilitation by with other players.
"The fact he did it on his own in America under the guidance of the doctor [Richard] Steadman. Then it's not easy, but he's got the determination and the resilience to see it through and he's now back with us.
"I feel that maybe it'll still take us four weeks to get him into the rhythm of training again and get to the point of match play. But I think that hopefully he is on the way back."
Ben Foster will be in goal again for the Red Devils at the Britannia after Ferguson also confirmed that Edwin van der Sar will be absent for at least another three weeks with a broken hand.
Tomasz Kuszczak impressed between the sticks in the League Cup win over Wolverhampton Wanderers on Wednesday night, but Ferguson today revealed that he is sticking with the England international for the visit to the Potteries.
"Edwin is still three weeks away. It was a good opportunity for Tomasz to play on Wednesday, but Ben will play against Stoke," Ferguson explained.
United have no fresh injury concerns ahead of the trip to Stoke, a club for which Ferguson retains the utmost respect.
"Stoke have a good home record, and I'm not surprised how they've started the season at all," he added. "They're a club on the up and they're going to be a force this season."