Manchester United have made a perfect start to the season and will look to keep that run going with victory away at Stoke City on Saturday (17:30 BST, live on BT Sport).
Jose Mourinho’s side have shot out of the blocks to win their first three matches of the campaign without conceding a goal. Consecutive 4-0 victories over Swansea and West Ham were followed by a 2-0 win at home to Leicester prior to the international break.
Mourinho’s only complaint in the wake of that last-mentioned fixture was the lack of noise inside Old Trafford. He was otherwise happy after seeing his side secure victory in the sort of match in which they too often dropped points last season. Their 10 home draws – three more than any other top-six side – were a significant contributor to them missing out on the top four last time out and it is something they are keen to improve upon this time around.
There was a bit of tension at times against Leicester, particularly after Romelu Lukaku missed from the penalty spot early in the second half, but United kept their cool and eventually emerged victorious thanks to goals from substitutes Marcus Rashford and Marouane Fellaini.
Performances to date have been impressive. United have comfortably outshot their opponents and created a high volume of chances whilst conceding few of genuine quality. New signings Lukaku and Nemanja Matic have settled in seamlessly, and they have looked a more rounded and potent outfit than they were for much of last season.
These are still early days. Man Utd won their opening three matches last season only to go on to win just two of their next 10. The fixture list has been kind and they have not yet been properly tested. They have found Stoke awkward opponents in recent years and encounters with Everton, Southampton, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea in five of their following seven fixtures will help give a better idea of their true level.
Stoke have been mid-table finishers in each of Mark Hughes’ four seasons at the helm and there has been little in the opening weeks of the new campaign to suggest that they will move significantly up or down the table this time around. A tight, 0-1 defeat to Everton on the opening day was followed by a 1-0 win over Arsenal and a 1-1 draw at West Brom.
It was not the most exciting of transfer windows at the Bet365 Stadium but some prudent business saw the club improve the squad whilst turning a profit. The defensive ranks were bolstered sufficiently to facilitate a permanent switch to the 3-4-3 formation they used a few times last season, while the arrival of Darren Fletcher has added leadership in midfield.
One area that hasn’t been fully addressed is the attack. Stoke were one of the league’s lowest scorers last season, and players who between them provided 15 of their 41 goals have since departed. Marko Arnautovic was an inconsistent and frequently frustrating performer but he was nevertheless directly involved in over a quarter of the club’s goals. Meanwhile, last season’s top scorer Peter Crouch turns 37 in January.
The attacking options with which Stoke confront the new campaign feel like a series of gambles. Free transfer signing Jean-Eric Choupo-Moting has never scored more than 10 goals in a season, while loan arrival Jese Rodriguez has played for Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain but has a patchy injury record and didn’t stand out on loan at Las Palmas. It may fall on last season’s signings Saido Berahino and Ramadan Sobhi to contribute more.
Unsurprisingly, Stoke have tried to keep their matches tight so far this season and that is a pattern that is unlikely to change on Saturday. Both of last season’s fixtures between these teams ended in 1-1 draws, and Hughes would be content with that same result this time around. Man Utd do, however, possess a bit more attacking potency than before, which should be enough to see them over the line to victory in a low-scoring match.
Our Preview’s Stoke v Man Utd Betting Tips Verdict
- Bet on Manchester United -1 on an Asian Handicap @ best odds of 87/100 with Bet365 (the bet pays out if they win by two or more goals; your stake is returned if they win by one)
- Back under 2.5 goals @ 19/20 with Bet365.
Stoke v Man Utd Betting Odds from Best Bookies
This is how the best UK bookies are betting on this match: