Last Saturday continued to evoke positive memories for Manchester United fans; breezing past teams that a side of Manchester United’s structure ought to do routinely hasn’t been quite as prevalent in recent times, with nervy endings at home to mid table dross being rife.
Thankfully, no nervy ending was in store for Louis van Gaal’s side on Saturday. Similar to QPR back in September, Hull arrived at Old Trafford with the defeatist mentality that was so prominent amongst teams of their limited size in the days of Sir Alex Ferguson and Cristiano Ronaldo. Not for one moment did the visiting side look as if they would pose a threat. When a team is beaten before a ball is kicked, it’s down to a real fear factor – the quality of the players and the confidence running through the entire Manchester United set-up has begun to result in Old Trafford emerging as a fortress once again.
Moreover, it seems that dissimilarity at Manchester United is actually benefitting the side – Saturday’s 3-0 triumph over Hull yielded a different formation and lineup; as discovered last season, having a different lineup and system can sometimes merit inconsistency and a lack of coherence within a side.
But it does seem as if Louis van Gaal’s divergent methods provide Manchester United with an edge of unpredictability and freshness; the ability of each player to acclimatize to the various formations and personnel has been commendable to say the very least – an achievement that can only be accredited to the connection and understanding between Louis van Gaal and his squad.
The midweek game against Stoke City (a side that hasn’t won at Old Trafford since April 1976) provides opportunity for Manchester United to build more momentum as the busy December schedule beckons. Mark Hughes is a manager who is yet to emerge from Old Trafford victorious, but will take confidence from the last time the two sides met back in February; the Potters came out 2-1 victors in a game where the midfield was so diabolical that it actually made Charlie Adam look half decent.
This time around it will be significantly different, for I can all but guarantee that Louis van Gaal will not play a 4-4-2 formation with Mata shunted out to the wing.
Tomorrows opposition have encountered mixed results this season; winning away at Manchester City and Tottenham already this term has demonstrated their audacity and disclipline – but home defeats to Leicester and Burnley signifies a team capable of monumentally cocking up on occasions as well.
Having only made two clean sheets this season, it seems like Radamel Falcao could have an enjoyable night against a Stoke team that is unlikely to include their first choice CB in the form of Robert Huth for the encounter at Old Trafford. Other doubts for the game include Peter Odemwingie, Victor Moses, Steve Sidwell and Glenn Whelan. Ex-red Mame Biram Diouf will come up against his former team for the first time since leaving the club in 2012.
In the Manchester United camp the injury crisis doesn’t look as if it will be ceasing anytime soon. Saturday’s game resulted in Angel Di Maria suffering a seemingly pulled hamstring, but the severity of the injury is yet to be disclosed – the Argentinian will miss out for the first time since his arrival at the club; others who will remain absent include Rafael, Shaw, Blind and Jones. Wilson and Evans have a narrow chance of making the match-day squad.
If Louis van Gaal’s team is to achieve a top four position come May, it’s these games that need to be wrapped up comfortably. Playing against a team currently in 12th place, who have only beaten Manchester United once in Premier League history should yield no difficulty or struggle whatsoever.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-0 Stoke City