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Manchester United v Stoke City Preview: The League’s The Priority

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Make no mistake about it whilst losing to Liverpool at Anfield was painful, the Premier League is and has always been Manchester United’s priority this season.

Stoke City are in town tonight, looking to improve on their appalling record at Old Trafford, a ground they have not tasted victory at since 1976.

There’s no doubt that Stoke since winning promotion to the Premier League in 2008, have improved year upon year making themselves a difficult team to beat. They don’t rely on Rory Delap’s long-throw’s as much as they used to and have got a squad good enough to finish well clear of relegation

Tomaz Kuscszak or Ben Amos may start in goal for United if both Anders Lindegaard and David De Gea are ruled out with injury problems. Stoke who will certainly not hold back and make set-pieces as tough as they can be for either goalkeeper who will under the most intense pressure tonight.

With Wayne Rooney expected to miss out with an ankle injury, again the emphasis will fall on Danny Welbeck’s young shoulders to lead the line with Javier Hernandez or Dimitar Berbatov likely to partner him up top if Sir Alex Ferguson opts to start two strikers.

Hernandez scored three times Stoke last season and you can bet that despite United’s injury problems, Pulis will have reminded his side to not let their guard down, paying extra-attention to the Mexican who despite not being in-form could very hurt his team again.

Berbatov on the other hand will be eager to impress again and keep up his record of being a ‘flat-track bully’ who only scores againgst smaller teams. Should the Bulgarian score tonight in a comfortable home win, there will be few United fans who will be bothered about that little accustation.

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

Chris Smalling v Peter Crouch

At the Britannia Stadium back in September, former England forward Crouch scored his first goal for Stoke as they held United to a 1-1 draw. He led the line well and despite at times having the movement of a crane fly can never be underestimated.

With Rio Ferdinand again unlikely to play it will be up to Smalling a player who is often compared to the former England skipper in terms of his style, ability and appearance to stop the enigmatic Crouch from terrorising United’s defence again.

Ryan Giggs v Glen Whelan

Before Stoke got promoted it’s fair to say that not too many football fans had heard of hard-working midfielder Whelan who has become a real un-sung hero for Pulis. The Irishman goes about his job quietly, linking up play and winning tackles with little fuss.

Now a key member of Ireland’s midfield under Giovanni Trapatonni, Whelan is continuing to raise his performances. He will have to work to get the better of Giggs tonight who will have lots of time to drop deep setting up attacks for Untied’s wingers.

Danny Welbeck v Ryan Shawcross

But for the impressive Gerard Pique moving back to Barcelona in the summer of 2008, there’s a good chance that Stoke’s captain Shawcorss would still be at Old Trafford playing alongside Welbeck, the man who he is likely to be marking tonight.

Shawcross has been immense for Stoke and is probably the best defender in the country not to have been capped by England. With Robert Huth alongside him, he is learning all the time and can’t be too far away from receiving a call-up from Fabio Capello.

In terms of a prediction for the game, as I stated earlier on in a on in a predictions articleI believe that United despite their injury worries and will just have too much firepower up front for Stoke who will be unable to keep the ball and should win at least 3-0.

Stoke though can make life difficult and United can ill afford to finish them off. Physically they are a strong side and will threaten from set-pieces which recently United have had problems dealing with. Welbeck and Berbatov to get on the score-sheet.

By Adam Dennehey @ADennehey87