Man United vs Stroke City
With a full midweek programme of Premier League fixtures, Manchester United welcome Stoke City to Old Trafford on Tuesday night, hoping to maintain their recent momentum that has seen them secure fourth position in the table.
After an introduction to the English game that saw his side fare even worse than David Moyes last season, Louis Van Gaal is finally beginning to see the fruits of his labours and his ambitions, and since the day his side suffered that nightmare 5-3 loss at Leicester City in September, United have lost just one game in eight, that being the single goal reversal across the city at the Etihad a month ago. That defeat has been followed by three consecutive successes, a scratchy 1-0 home win over Crystal Palace, an impressive 2-1 win at Arsenal last week, and finally, in what Van Gaal described as United’s best performance of the season so far, an emphatic 3-0 home win over Hull on Saturday. With Ramadel Falcao only just coming back from injury, and Angel Di Maria having to limp off just 14 minutes into Saturday’s game, Van Gaal will have welcomed the return to form of Robin van Persie, who has appeared disinterested at times this season, but who looked back to his sharpest best against Hull, marking a lively performance with his fourth goal of the season. He and Wayne Rooney are again starting to look like the best strike partnership that the Dutch coach has at his disposal right now, but he will be equally pleased that his defence has stopped leaking goals and looks less vulnerable that earlier in the season.
United will fancy their chances against a Stoke City side who are stumbling a little recently, having come unstuck in both games since the international break. Their surprise defeat at home to Burnley ten days ago was followed by a more dogged by ultimately fruitless performance at Anfield on Saturday, where a late Glen Johnson goal undid all the earlier hard work. Those defeats have taken the gloss off their excellent 2-1 win at Tottenham just before the international break, but that remains their only win in the last six games. Mark Hughes will at least have taken some comfort from the impressive performance of Bojan Krkic at Anfield, with the Spaniard unlucky not to score with one particular effort which came crashing back off the post. Steve Sidwell and his replacement Glenn Whelan were both forced off with respective knee and calf injuries injuries at Anfield and appear unlikely to feature against United, but Hughes will be hoping that Phil Bardsley can return at right-back after missing the Liverpool game due to a sickness bug.
Three months into the season, United finally look more comfortable play the Van Gaal way, and their fans might just be beginning to believe that Old Trafford really can return to being the Theatre of Dreams.