Stoke City v Manchester United Preview: Can The Host’s Physicality Be Dealt With?

Manchester Untied this weekend have a tricky game against Stoke City this Saturday in the late afternoon kick-off at the Britannia Stadium. Despite winning our first five games, there’s no doubt Stoke in their own backyard will not simply roll over and it will be a tough match.

Stoke have had a great start to the season and currently sit 5th in the Premier League after five games played. A decent side was boosted well in the transfer-window by Tony Pulis with the signings of Cameron Jerome, Peter Crouch and Wilson Palacios adding more bite and quality to a side that already had enough quality about it to stay up.

Since they won promotion to the top-flight in 2008, Stoke have in all fairness won more critics than lovers as a result of their tough and old-fashioned style that has seen Rory Delap’s throw-in become their biggest weapon. The former Derby, Southampton and Sunderland man with all due respect to him, was not someone who would be classified as an Icon in the Premier League, but there’s no doubt that for Stoke he is their ‘go-to-man’

Delap’s efforts have resulted in 28 goals being scored by the Potters during the last three seasons, 18 of those coming in the League. They are hard to defend due to their flat trajectory and top teams including Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City have conceded goals from them much to the delight and amusement of Stoke’s noisy fans.

It has been surprising that teams have been unable to defend Delap’s throw-ins better than they have, but somehow they’ve worked and have got dangerous over the years, despite teams being more aware to them. Stoke as of yet have not scored a ‘throw-in’ goal against United so far in their three-year stay in the top-flight and Sir Alex Ferguson will be wanting to ensure that wait continues past this weekend.

There’s nothing wrong though with playing to your strengths and Delap’s throw-in’s complement Stoke’s direct and physical approach quite well. Pulis has a good crop of strikers in Jonathan Walters, Kenwyne Jones, Ricardo Fuller to go with the aforementioned new signings Jerome and Crouch so it’s only natural that his team ‘rough’ teams about to the benefit of his forwards.

United’s young team have certainly made a great start this season but Sir Alex may be tempted to go with experience this weekend and if Rio Ferdinand is fit, then given his experience he may probably be selected ahead of Jonny Evans to partner Phil Jones in the centre of United’s defence.

That’s not a knock on the Northern Irishman who has started the season well, but Ferdinand who made his return from injury in United’s last away game at Bolton is probably more equipped to dealing with Delap’s throw-ins and any crosses into the box than Evans who in the past has been criticised for not being ‘strong’ enough.

So what can we expect from tomorrow’s game. What will be the key battles on the pitch? 

David De Gea v Rory Delap

In the build-up to United’s win against Bolton, there were strong rumours that Sir Alex would drop United’s Spanish keeper for the game at the Reebok due to the Owen Coyle’s side physical approach. Of course David De Gea played and looked quite assured.

But make no mistake about it; he will be tested this weekend by Delap’s throw-ins. Bigger keepers have struggled to gather the ball or get their positing right from them and Pulis will no doubt have wrapped his ‘go-to-man’ in cotton wool in training this week to make sure that the former Irish international is available to wreak more havoc for tomorrow’s game.

Anderson v Wilson Palacios

One of the stories of United’s blistering start to the season has undoubtedly been the form of Brazilian midfielder Anderson. Not only does he look more confident and sharper than ever before but his play is starting to reap the awards and he has started the season as a first choice in midfield.

There’s no doubt that Honduran Palacios – who grew stale at Spurs – will want to show Harry Redknapp that he was in wrong in freezing him out of the team last year and will want to show his class again this weekend. The former Wigan player has impressed against United in the past and certainly if confident in his ability, has the strength to thwart Anderson this weekend.

Wayne Rooney  v Ryan Shawcross

In all honesty it’s a surprise that former-Red Ryan Shawcross hasn’t won an England cap yet despite not really having a bad game for Stoke over the last three seasons. He has impressed under Pulis and deservedly was handed the captaincy at the start of last season.

His performances continued to improve and despite Fabio Capello having an abundance of defenders to choose from, the centreback should feel very unlucky if he does not make his International debut by the season’s end. Wayne Rooney has started the season in scintillating form so will provide a major test for Shawcross to face tomorrow.

In terms of a prediction for the game tomorrow, as I stated earlier on in a predictions article, I believe this is going to be a tough game for us. Given past games at the Britannia, It will probably not be a pretty game this weekend, at times even with our form this season, it may at times be unwatchable.

Despite the worries over how De Gea will cope with Stoke’s physicality, there is no denying that if United play to their strengths that they will trouble the Spaniard’s opposite number, Asmer Begovic in goal. Ashley Young and Nani certainly have the pace and crossing-ability to trouble Shawcross and co at the back. One goal for United may just be enough in this one and there’s no fan who wouldn’t take that this weekend.

By Adam Dennehey  @ADennehey87