Manchester United v Stoke, Premier League, January 4, 2010
The new year began for Manchester United as the old one had finished. Sir Alex Fergusonâ€™s side were far from their best at the Hawthorns on Saturday but came away with all three points and remain top of the table.
Stoke meanwhile saw off Everton at home 2-0 and yet again looked like a team that should be safe from relegation worries in the coming months. If Tony Pulis could just add some consistency to his side they would be challenging for a European place but it seems unlikely they will produce a surprise result at Old Trafford on Tuesday night.
After Manchester City and Arsenal produced wins later in the day on Saturday, United will be eager to extend their lead ahead of their main rivals as they are the only one of the main challengers playing on Tuesday night.
Still unbeaten in 2010/2011 and with Wayne Rooney finally scoring from open play, his first goal in this manner since March, combined with the fine recent form of Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernandez, it seems foolish to back against Manchester United at the moment.
Rooney is an injury worry for the encounter with Stoke after a tough challenge from Chris Brunt. The England striker did briefly return to the field and will be eager to play after scoring and assisting the winner in the 2-1 victory.
With the games coming thick and fast it would be a surprise if Ferguson did not make some changes. Ryan Giggs missed the West Brom game completely and Darron Gibson may find himself in the starting XI again after so many games for the likes of Anderson and Michael Carrick.
Javier Hernandez has of course also played himself into contention and Michael Owen is available again, spending the full 90 minutes on the bench on Saturday. Edwin van der Sar missed the win due to flu so could also return and whilst the FA Cup is not a priority, Ferguson may already have one eye on Sundayâ€™s third round clash with Liverpool at Old Trafford.
The Potters will be buoyed by their win over Everton, traditionally one of their bogey sides but the statistics are not pretty for Stoke when facing this opposition. All five Premier League encounters since Tony Pulisâ€™ men returned to the top flight have ended in a United victory, with the aggregate score 14-1. And the last time Stoke won at Old Trafford was April 21, 1976.
Stoke were aggrieved when United won 2-1 at the Britannia in October as they felt Gary Neville should have been sent off before he was substituted and only some excellent finishing by Javier Hernandez was the difference between the two sides. Of late they have also been remarkably inconsistent, losing to both Blackpool and Fulham at home after producing creditable results like a win over Liverpool and draw with Manchester City.
Kenwyne Jones will likely start the match as the lone front man with wide support from Matty Etherington who has had a fine season and human battering ram Ricardo Fuller, either from the right or on the bench. Stokeâ€™s physical style is difficult to deal with at the Britannia but it is easy to fear for them a little heading to the Theatre of Dreams and with Wayne Rooney potentially coming close to top form.
101gg predicts: Manchester United 3 – Stoke 0