Friday 12 January 2018

Match preview: United v Stoke City

United return to action on Monday after a rare week without a fixture as we welcome a Stoke City side who are struggling and managerless. Whilst the Reds were enjoying a well-deserved ten days of warm weather training on the desert beaches of Dubai, the Potters sacked their now former boss, and ex United legend Mark Hughes. 

The decision to dispense with 'Sparky', after four years and 200 games in charge, came with the club in the relegation zone after a poor run of five defeats in seven games. The final straw came in the 2-1 FA Cup loss to League Two Coventry at the Ricoh Area, when Stoke's famously patient owners dismissed Hughes. With a new manager unlikely to be appointed in time for this one, first team coach Eddie Niedzwiecki is expected to take charge of the Staffordshire side at Old Trafford. Former Watford and current Espanyol boss Quique Sanchez Flores in their first choice to succeed Hughes with ROI manager Martin O'Neill also high on their hitlist.

They suffered a 5-0 thumping at champions Chelsea in their last league away game. However, United are yet to get the better of their visitors since Jose Mourinho's arrival, with each of the three contests having ended all square. But the Reds, buoyed by their Dubai trip, will be refreshed and raring to go in a bid to pick up a hat-trick of wins to open 2018.

The Reds could be boosted by the return of skipper Antonio Valencia after a hamstring injury, with Tony V having not played since the West Bromwich Albion fixture on 17 December. Michael Carrick also took part in the training session in the UAE, while Chris Smalling and Marouane Fellaini are set to feature after both made their comebacks in the win over Derby County. Ashley Young will complete the last of his three-match ban, but Eric Bailly and Zlatan Ibrahimovic remain sidelined. Defenders Bruno Martins Indi and Erik Pieters are both doubts for the visitors, but their captain and ex-Red Ryan Shawcross could return after injury. The Potters have bolstered their team with the signing of Austrian centre-back Moritz Bauer from Rubin Kazan on a four-

On the sacking of 'Sparky' Jose said: "I was on the outside but I think Mark is a great guy with qualities who can do the job for them. For the players I don't think it is too difficult - probably they train the same way and it's not a dramatic change that isn't good at this time in the season.
The boss added:"Dubai gave us unbelivable conditions to work, great facilities, great weather, and three days of really, really good training. The team are fresh and prepared and hopefully we can improve our level because it was very good."

Jose remained tight-lipped when asked about United's reported move for Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez, and said: "I cannot say, I don't think it's ethical or correct to be speaking about other clubs players - he is a phenomenal player but is with Arsenal at the moment. We don't believe in signing a player just to do something and to weaken an opponent."

Form guide: United L D D D W W Stoke City L W D L L L 
Match odds: United 1/4 Draw 6/1 Stoke City 14/1
Referee: Anthony Taylor (Wythenshawe)

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