Man Utd really ought to pick up another three points when they welcome struggling Stoke City to Old Trafford this weekend (12pm Sunday on BT Sport 1).
Jose Mourinho’s men went some way towards silencing their critics against Leicester City last time out, thrashing the champions 4-1 thanks to a fine all-round display. It was a much-needed boost for the Red Devils, who had lost three of their previous four encounters in all competitions, and Mourinho will have been delighted by his players’ response in front of their own supporters.
The main talking point surrounding the game was the Portuguese’s decision to drop captain Wayne Rooney to the substitutes’ bench, with Juan Mata (pictured) replacing the England international in the No. 10 role. The move paid off handsomely, with a revamped midfield of Mata, Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera hugely impressive.
Stoke were just a matter of minutes away from picking up their first victory of the 2016/17 campaign last weekend, but Salomon Rondon’s late goal ensured West Bromwich Albion left the Bet365 Stadium with a point.
It has been a miserable start for the Potters, who currently find themselves second-bottom of the standings after three successive ninth-place finishes. Hughes will be fully aware that a failure to turn things around soon could result in his job coming under severe threat.
Stoke have looked shaky at the back and blunt in attack since the season got under way in the middle of August. It is a worrying combination that has left the club’s fans concerned that they could be set for a lengthy battle against relegation to the Championship.
Phil Jones (knee) will definitely miss out on Sunday, but Luke Shaw (illness), Anthony Martial (calf) and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (thigh) could all be included in the starting XI after various fitness problems. Rooney is struggling with a back injury but could miss out regardless, with Mourinho likely to be wary about breaking up the Herrera-Pogba-Mata triumvirate that served him so well against Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester.
Daley Blind was terrific at left-back and is likely to continue in the role, with Antonio Valencia on the other side of the defensive line of four and Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling set to resume their partnership in the centre. Marcus Rashford has impressed in recent weeks and will hope for a spot on one of the flanks, with Jesse Lingard, Martial and Mkhitaryan also in contention.
Stoke cannot play Jack Butland (ankle), Stephen Ireland (broken leg) and Ibrahim Afellay (knee), although Jon Walters (ankle) and Jacob Haugaard (ankle) could be available for selection. Loanee goalkeeper Lee Grant is likely to keep his place between the sticks, with Glen Johnson, Ryan Shawcross, Bruno Martins Indi and Erik Pieters set to make up the back four. Xherdan Shaqiri’s recovery from injury is a boost going forward, with the Switzerland international always capable of conjuring moments of magic from nothing. Stoke will want to see more from striker Wilfried Bony after a quiet start to his career in the Potteries.
Our Preview’s Man Utd v Stoke Betting Tips Verdict
Taking everything into account, it is difficult to look past a very comfortable triumph for Man Utd at lunchtime on Sunday. Stoke have simply not been at the races so far this term and it is difficult to envisage them suddenly performing at Old Trafford, so a 3-0 victory for the Red Devils could be the way to go in this one.
In terms of goalscorers, Mata – who will almost certainly get himself into very dangerous positions throughout – looks like a sensible choice to find the back of the net at some point. So here are this preview’s selections: