This Saturday sees Man United travel to the Bet365 Stadium, hoping that a win against Stoke will keep the dream of 4th place within reach.
Mid table giants
There really aren’t any surprises when looking back across Stoke’s last 10 or so league games. We can sketch out a rough pattern of taking points against teams around or lower than them in the table and being beaten by teams in the top 4. They’ve racked up victories against Sunderland, Watford and Burnley, drew against Southampton and Leicester, and lost their games with Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal. Having performed well and taken the necessary point in targeted matches against mid-table rivals, Stoke can be forgiven for coming up short against the bigger clubs.
However, assuming this pattern of losing against the bigger clubs will continue through the game against United could prove dangerous, as the games they lost were all played away. If we take a look at the head to head stats, Stoke hasn’t lost to United at home since 2013 and has managed to take at least a point in three out of the last four meetings, including a grabbing a draw at Old Trafford in October. I expect a tight and organised performance from Stoke in this game. Playing from the back, frustrating their opponents and grabbing goals where they can, Mark Hughes will be quietly confident in his team’s ability to take a point, maybe more.
Want-away Bojan Krkic has a hip injury and is in doubt for Saturday, alongside longer term injuries to Butland, Walters, Cameron and Ireland.
United has been going from strength to strength since their terrible start to the season. Their draw against Liverpool last Sunday ended a 6 game winning streak that had seen them steadily close the gap that had emerged between them and the pack at the top of the table. The game against their bitter rivals was hard fought, and Mourinho can be forgiven for being frustrated by not taking 3 points in a game that saw one of Liverpool’s best defensive displays of the season so far. Should they beat Stoke, United will leapfrog Man City into 5th spot, and with a fraught and fraying City entertaining an ever improving Spurs in the 17:30 Saturday fixture, they very well might be keeping it.
As mentioned earlier, United don’t have the best recent record playing at Stoke, but this is a very capable squad in some of the best form they have had in the past few seasons. Bouncing back from the game against Liverpool in time to pip Pep is a prospect Mourinho will relish.
With no first team injuries to contend with, Mourinho will be able to pick freely from a fit squad. He will certainly be hoping for an improved performance from Paul Pogba, who has been heavily criticised for a poor display last weekend, particularly in defence. I expect United to dominate possessions and chances, constantly probing for weakness, and should they find any, it will come down to whether they can capitalise.
My instinct here would be to back Under 2.5 goals (at 17/20 on Bet365). The bookies are giving this a very slight nod over Over 2.5. Only one out of the last 6 Stoke home games have finished with more than 2.5 goals and considering they will likely have their backs against the wall, I really don’t see a goal fest here. Man United Win & Under 2.5 at 13/5 is good value, as a 0:1 or 0:2 result seems fairly likely. If you fancy Stoke to get a result, William Hill has Double Chance Stoke or Draw at 11/10.