Month April 2013

Month April 2013

David de Gea’s year of growth

April 30, 2013 Tags: Opinion 33 comments
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April 2012: Manchester City’s Joe Hart was named in the Premier League team of the year, while Manchester United’s David De Gea faced a summer of seemingly endless debate about his future as the club’s number one keeper. There were plenty of suggestions that the Spaniard could be replaced permanently, either by Anders Lindegaard, or by a new number acquisition.

Fast forward 12 months and few United supporters were surprised to see the 22-year old named in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year after a series of terrific performances that underpinned the club’s march towards a 20th league title.

De Gea has been an ever-present in the team in 2013, starting all but one fixture – United’s FA Cup replay versus West Ham United – since Lindegaard’s calamitous performance in the 4-3 win against Reading in December. In the period De Gea amassed an unbroken sequence of 678 minutes without conceding a Premier League goal until James Milner beat the Spaniard with a deflected shot in the recent Manchester derby.

It hasn’t always been rosy though. Early criticism of de Gea’s lack of physical presence and the youngster’s weakness in dealing with crosses seemed warranted as he struggled to acclimatise to the physical rigours of the Premier League, as a 20-year old in his first season at United. The improvement has been tremendous, with the Spaniard benefiting from a customised strength-building programme, which has aided his confidence in dealing with crosses and some of the more robust aspects of the English game

Still, it has not been an easy season for de Gea in the media. In January, there was a universally brutal press assessment after the ‘keeper’s weak punch led to a late Tottenham Hotspur equaliser at White Hart Lane. That many commentators failed to mention de Gea’s heroics throughout the match smacked of a pre-meditated agenda to savage the young ‘keeper.

More surprising, perhaps, was ex-Red Gary Neville’s assessment, who used his platform as a Sky pundit to lambast de Gea for his gaffe against Spurs.

The lone voice of support, it seemed, was ex-United goalkeeping great Peter Schmeichel, who offered a robust defence of a stopper who has dealt with a constantly changing back-four this season. While the finger of blame was squarely pointed at the player, many commentators draw parallels between de Gea’s acquisition and Sir Alex Ferguson’s “disastrous” attempt to replace Schmeichel with Massimo Taibi and Mark Bosnich, among others.

Indeed, though Ferguson stood firm in his support for de Gea during a difficult period, many pundits had already begun writing the obituary on the younger ‘keeper’s time at United.

“Sir Alex Ferguson has become exasperated by De Gea’s inability to iron out the flaws in his game,” said The Telegraph’s Mark Ogden in January.

“Senior players at the club are understood to have lost faith in the 22-year-old even before his costly injury-time mistake against Tottenham on Sunday which led to the home side claiming a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane.”

Meanwhile, Alan Nixon in the Mirror claimed that “United chief has asked supremo David Gill and the club’s American owners to fund a buy for a genuine number one.”

The Daily Mail, widely recognised for a hyperbolic approach to reporting on United, preposterously suggested that United could move for Liverpool’s Pepe Reina or Barcelona stopper Victor Valdes, ignoring the very real truth that the two ‘keepers’ position in the Spanish squad were in fact under threat from de Gea. When Real Madrid number one Iker Casillas suffered injury recently, it was de Gea that received the call-up for World Cup qualifiers against Finland and France.

In contradiction to the reporting in England, it is widely accepted in Spain that it is now a matter of time before de Gea replaces the aforementioned trio to become Spain’s numero uno.

In the meantime, de Gea has continued to improve. Confident performances against physical teams such as Stoke City and West Ham in recent weeks seemingly underscored the benefits of a stringent gym routine. And while accusations of physical frailty are common, few can now doubt de Gea’s mental strength after coming through a sustained media witch-hunt. Perhaps the player’s apparent poor command of English helped.

de Gea should remain at the club for the long-term too, with the 22-year-old refuting suggestions that he is homesick. Re-affirmation of the player’s commitment to remain at Old Trafford was welcome in the face of the player’s stunning performance against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu earlier this season. De Gea made a number of crucial saves – one shot tipped on to the post with his finger-tips and another saved brilliantly with the right foot.

Credit for the player’s performances is seemingly shared between Sir Alex and United’s goalkeeping coach Eric Steele, who remained undeterred in a conviction that the player’s is potential world-class. Ferguson has since then credited de Gea for United’s significant defensive improvement during the second half of the season.

“David de Gea has developed and matured as the season has gone on,” said Ferguson. “We’ve seen a very progressive and developing young goalkeeper and next season he’ll be even better.”

With an inaugural Premier League title secure, and a consistent season under his belt, de Gea’s campaign has culminated in the Spaniard being chosen ahead of City’s much-lauded Hart as the PFA’s choice for the Premier League goalkeeper of the season.

Replacing one of the game’s great, Edwin van der Sar, was never an easy task, especially at a club of United’s stature. The job isn’t complete, tet de Gea has shown the mental fortitude at a young age to withstand the pressure directed at him. It is surely good preparation for a long United career.

David de Gea’s Season
Premier League Games: 27
Minutes: 2430
Goals Against: 25
Goals Allowed Average: 0.93
Saves: 90
Shots faced: 300
Shots on Goal faced: 112
Saves Percentage: 78.3%
Clean Sheets: 11
Yellow Cards: 0

Source: STATS.

Preview: Arsenal v United

April 28, 2013 Tags: , Matches 84 comments
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Robin van Persie will command the headlines Sunday afternoon, although the former Arsenal striker is unlikely to receive a welcoming entrance at the Emirates. Manchester United’s visit to north London less than a week after claiming the Premier League title ensures that the Dutchman garners a much discussed ‘Guard of Honour’ from his former colleagues; a customary recognition that will do little for the home supporters’ mood.

It is in keeping with modern football of course, but the abuse meted out to van Persie at his old stomping ground is likely to both be severe and personal. Little of it will bother the remarkably mature Dutchman, who has scored 27 goals in his début season for the club.

That van Persie has secured the prize he sought when leaving the Emirates last summer is only likely to heighten the hate generated on the terraces though.

Still, with Arsenal finishing the season strongly in the hunt for fourth place the home side has much to play for away from the focus on a former player. Meanwhile United, driven by the goal of reaching a record 96 points, but potentially attenuated by the recent triumph, is a beast unknown.

Indeed, with the title won Sir Alex Ferguson has already ditched the bravado of victory to focus on the next challenge. No matter the season’s stage, winning is all says the 71-year-old Scot. United must secured 12 points from  four remaining games to beat Chelsea’s record top flight tally of 95 achieved under José Mourinho in 2005.

“At a club like Manchester United there’s an expectation to live up to,” Ferguson said.

“You really need to win all the time and that’s all there is to it. I’ve said to the players it’s one thing being champions of the Premier League but another thing to set a record. We have an opportunity to set the record and, hopefully, we can do that. If we can do that, 96 points would be phenomenal. I don’t know if that could ever be beaten but nonetheless it’s a marvellous achievement by us.”

United host Chelsea at Old Trafford next weekend, followed by matches against Swansea City and then West Bromwich Albion on the final day of the season. With little to play for, achieving a points record is likely to be a tough ask, with Chelsea and Arsenal competing with Tottenham Hotspur for two Champions League places.

“Well, there are four different types of challenge,” Ferguson told MUTV.

“We’ve got Arsenal who are chasing a Champions League position and then it’s Chelsea, who are in exactly the same position as Arsenal. I think we’ve got a duty to other clubs who are chasing Champions League places.

“Also, the rivalry we’ve had with Arsenal and then Chelsea over the years does put an edge to these games anyway so hopefully we’ll represent ourselves in the right way.

“Having won the league, there’s always a danger of falling into the trap of ‘it’s all over and we can relax’ and enjoy ourselves but .

Arsenal v Manchester United - Premier League, Emirates Stadium - 4pm, 28 April 2013Ferguson is likely to field a changed side at the Emirates, with defenders Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić available for recall. The veteran pair missed United’s title-clinching victory over Aston Villa at Old Trafford on Monday night.

Michael Carrick and Jonny Evans suffered injury against Villa, although neither misses the trip altogether, while Paul Scholes is still unavailable with a sore knee. The 38-year-old has less than a month before an inevitable second retirement this summer. Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck could come back into the team, with Phil Jones deployed in midfield.

“We have a few bumps and bruises from the other night but it is hopefully nothing serious and I expect to have a strong side on Sunday,” Ferguson confirmed.

“Two of the players played with an injury throughout the [Villa] game – Jonny Evans and Michael Carrick. Next week, I should have Vida and Rio back. I can put Jones into the middle of the pitch and play Vida and Rio together and we’ll get the experience going to Arsenal.

“A lot of the younger players have been on the fringes for the last few weeks, and I desperately want them to feel their contribution has been big. Chicharito, Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley and Nani – I think it’s important to get them involved in the last few weeks.”

Meanwhile, Arsène Wenger’s side holds a single point advantage over Chelsea and Spurs in the hunt for fourth place. Tottenham’s draw with Wigan Athletic on Saturday hands an advantage to their north London rivals – with matches against Queens Park Rangers, Wigan Athletic and Newcastle United to come, qualification is surely the Gunners’ to lose.

Still, the question of whether United’s intensity will drop is a potent one, especially with the Premier League secure. Ferguson’s call for focus chimes poorly with a sense of complacency that has crept into United’s play at times this season, particularly during the second half of matches. It is an understandable conceit with 27 victories achieved in the Premier League.

“It’s easy to ease off, yes,” said Wenger, who has never finished outside the top four in a more than a decade with Arsenal.

“I do not hope too much. It is a special game, always, a little bit because naturally the stress is not there any more. Your tendency is to relax a little bit. You are still on the high for the next game. It would be a big mistake for us to think they will ease off straight away on Sunday.”

Yet, if Ferguson’s side does drop its intensity level at the Emirates it is unlikely to be the returning hero that does so. The striker has found a rich vein of form at just the right time. Nine matches without a goal ended with five scored in the last three, including the stunning hat-trick against Villa.

That United has tasted defeat just once in the past 11 meetings with Arsenal bodes well for van Persie. And while the Dutchman celebrated in muted fashion after scoring in the fixture between these sides at Old Trafford, none of the visiting supporters will begrudge the Dutchman his moment on Sunday. Especially in the face of mass vitriol.

Match details
Arsenal v Manchester United – Premier League, Emirates – 4pm, 28 April 2013

Possible teams
Arsenal (4-3-3): Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Ramsey, Arteta, Wilshere; Cazorla, Walcott, Podolski. Subs from: Mannone, Coquelin, Jenkinson, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Rosicky, Gervinho, Arshavin,  Oxlade-Chamberlain

United (4-4-2): de Gea; Rafael, Vidić, Ferdinand, Evra; Jones; Cleverley, Carrick, Rooney; Kagawa; van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Büttner, Jones, Evans, Powell, Carrick, Valencia, Anderson, Giggs, Nani, Welbeck, Hernández

Match officials
Referee: P Dowd
Assistants: A Garratt and S Ledger
Fourth official: M Oliver

Arsenal: WWWDWW
United: WLLWDW

Last 10: Arsenal 1, United 8, Draw 1
Overall: Arsenal 78, United 91, Draw 46


  • Per Mertesacker’s goal against Fulham last weekend helped Arsenal climb into third place in the Premier League with a 1-0 victory at Craven Cottage;
  • Midfielder Jack Wilshere started that game on the bench, but is likely to feature against United – the youngster boasts a pass in his opponent’s half once every 2 and half minutes this season;
  • Kieran Gibbs boasts a tackle success rate of 71.2 per cent from 66 attempted challenges this season,
  • Striker Olivier Giroud’s red card last weekend ensures the Frenchman is suspended for United’s visit, proffering Theo Walcott an opportunity through the middle – Walcott boasts the best minutes-per-shot rate of any player in the Gunners squad at one every 30.2 minutes;
  • Robin van Persie’s hat-trick against Villa secured a 20th league title for United last Monday – they were the 22nd, 23rd and 24th Premier League goals of the Dutchman’s season;
  • van Persie’s goals have come amid an attempt on goal once every 24.7 minutes on average this season, according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index;
  • Michael Carrick has finally garnered the recognition his consistent performances have long deserved – the midfielder has achieved more than 1000 successful passes in the opponent’s half this season and is the only United player to do so;
  • Jonny Evans may not play at the Emirates, but the Northern Irishman has again blossomed this season, achieving the best tackle success rate in the United squad of 73.5 per cent from 34 attempted challenges.


The transfer list

April 27, 2013 Tags: Opinion 58 comments
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Manchester United’s season will end with the Premier League trophy heading back to Old Trafford once again. It is, by any measure, a season of success, although disappointment in Europe and two domestic cup competitions will sting Sir Alex Ferguson over the summer.

The Premier League may have been sealed with four games to go, but it hasn’t been a universally productive season for Ferguson’s players, some of whom may well be on their way out of the club this summer.

Poor performances are one thing, but the loss of Ferguson’s trust is quite another. It is the latter that normally guarantees an exit. And while the political machinations of the transfer market are plenty, so predictions almost impossible, here is Rant’s top five potential exits this summer:

It would take a brave punter to place any money on the Portuguese winger remaining at United beyond this summer. That Ferguson was happy to sanction a sale of the 26-year-old former Sporting player over the winter says much – Nani’s time at Old Trafford is surely up.

Having arrived for a little over €25 million – £17 million in 2007 prices – it is unlikely United will realise a profit on the winger, who has only intermittently fulfilled his undoubted potential. Indeed, for around 18 months or so after Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure there was genuine belief that Nani could replace his fellow Portuguese’s star turn.

The output had normally been productive though. The 12 goals and 13 assists produced last season was matched by few in Nani’s position across the major European leagues. And by the end of the 2010/11 campaign many were shocked that Nani was left out of the nominations for Player of the Year.

But with the player having appeared in just 20 games all season – 14 starts – he has done little  to command a substantial fee, or indeed the hefty wages the player has reportedly sought.

Injury had played a part, but in truth the player is no longer first choice even when fit. That players with less natural talent – Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young, for example – are ahead in the pecking order is a measure of just how many of his six years at Old Trafford Nani had wasted.

Expect to see Nani sold to a continental club this summer. Juventus, Paris Saint German, and mid-tier Spanish clubs might be in the bidding at around £12-15 million.

Premier League 2012/2013
Starts: 6
Sub: 4
Minutes Played: 546
Goals: 1
Assists: 2
Passing accuracy: 80%
Chances created: 10

« « » »

There has rarely been a more disappointment with a player that has graced Old Trafford. Not that there has ever really been any doubt about Anderson’s talent, even if the Brazilian has only recently improved on a history of shockingly wasteful passing. Instead the anticlimax comes in a talent completely unfulfilled; a €30 million fee that will never be recovered and has seldom brought value.

Injuries have stolen much of Anderson’s lustre over six seasons, but that is only a partial truth. The player, a most un-Brazilian Brazilian, has let himself down far too often. Those late nights, the partying when injured, a body not maintained at its optimum, and a casual attitude to training that has so often frustrated. United’s investment has rarely been match by Anderson’s professionalism.

In that Anderson had damaged his most precious asset: the burst of pace and athleticism that brought the player to international recognition as a 17-year-old trequartista in Brazil.

True, Ferguson has rarely deployed the player in an attacking role, where his supporters maintain the former Gremio midfielder performs best. There is scant evidence of that, but in truth little to support Anderson’s involvement as more orthodox midfielder either.

Ferguson has been steadfast in his support. Yet, there is an inescapable sense that Anderson is a regret whose closure will only come with a departure this summer. Expect the midfielder’s return to Portugal for somewhere south of £10 million.

Premier League 2012/2013
Starts: 7
Sub: 6
Minutes Played: 624
Goals: 1
Assists: 1
Passing accuracy: 88%
Chances created: 10

« « » »

Wayne Rooney
The former Evertonian is no longer a boy – not with more than 400 appearances now on the clock for United. Yet, there is an inescapable feeling that Rooney is on the down-slope of a career that perhaps hasn’t hit the stratospheric heights once expected.

Make no mistake, Rooney’s is an exceptional talent. Here is a player equally comfortable at ‘nine’, ’10’ or in a conventional midfield role, as recently witnessed.

But this flexibility has damaged Rooney’s output this season, with the Scouser rarely deployed as United’s striking focal point. Instead, in a slightly withdrawn role Rooney has intermittently excelled. It has been a season of highs, lows and a little too much mediocrity.

Yet, the question isn’t really about Rooney’s value to United, nor his natural talent, but whether the 26-year-old still has the hunger and physical capability to perform with the elite. That burst of searing pace has gone, while the player is no longer in finest shape.

No longer first choice striker, Rooney could soon be usurped in the ‘shadow’ role by Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa. It is an uncomfortable time for a player who has scored 197 goals for the club.

Could United cash in this summer with PSG reportedly interested? Certainly there are few clubs that could afford the England-international’s astronomical wages, although the transfer fee might be lower than £25 million.

Premier League 2012/2013
Starts: 21
Sub: 4
Minutes Played: 1910
Goals: 12
Assists: 10
Passing accuracy: 83%
Chances created: 37

« « » »

Javier Hernández
Few will be celebrate if the effervescent Mexican departs Old Trafford this summer. But with the striker afforded so few opportunities a fresh start away from Manchester might suit the 24-year-old. Real Madrid’s long-standing interest has not been solidified with an official bid, but there is sure to be heavy interest from Spain should United seek to cash in on a player who has scored 16 goals this season.

Hernández still has plenty to offer, but Robin van Persie’s arrival means there are unlikely to be any more opportunities for the Mexican next season. Hernández moves on or settles for a long-term squad role.

After all, while Rooney, Danny Welbeck, and to some extent van Persie, offer flexibility, Hernández is really only effective in one role. And even if Rooney leaves the club this summer, the Scouser’s departure will surely only come if Ferguson’s brings in a top-class replacement.

Premier League 2012/2013
Starts: 7
Sub: 11
Minutes Played: 779
Goals: 8
Assists: 2
Passing accuracy: 82%
Chances created: 11

« « » »

Anders Lindegaard
The season began with Sir Alex lauding the benefits of rotating his two main goalkeepers – David de Gea and Lindegaard. The campaign draws to a close with David de Gea not only established as United’s first choice stopper, but one of the top two performers in the Premier League. Indeed, Lindegaard’s fall from grace has been so stark since a calamitous performance against Reading at the Madejski in December that it will surprise few if the Danish international moves on in the summer. After all, Ben Amos has patiently waited in the wings for an opportunity, while England under-19 ‘keeper Sam Johnstone is thought of highly by United’s coaching staff.

Just eight starts in the Premier League this season means that Lindegaard is also likely to miss out on a winners’ medal unless Ferguson takes pity on the 29-year-old former Aalesund player. The Dane is likely to be available for around £2 million.

Premier League 2012/2013
Starts: 8
Minutes Played: 720
Goals conceded: 11
Errors: 1
Saves: 18

Rant Cast 152 – the one with title winning bite

April 26, 2013 Tags: Rant Cast 6 comments
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On this week’s Premier League winning Rant Cast Ed & Paul celebrate Manchester United’s spectacular title triumph. It was the 20th time United has been crowned ‘Champions of England’ – the 13th title for Sir Alex Ferguson, and of course, Sir Ryan of Giggs. The celebrations continued long into the night… but that was just your Rant Cast hosts.

Also on this week’s packed show we talk about Luis Suarez once again, as the Liverpool forward takes a bite out of Branislav Ivanovich. The 10 game ban that followed the Uruguayan’s antics at Stamford Bridge will give Liverpool’s embittered supporters something to new complain about.

Meanwhile, we take your questions, do a bit of singing and look forward to Robin van Persie’s guard of honour at the Emirates next weekend!

Hit us up with any feedback below or follow the pod on Twitter: Paul – @UtdRantCast, Ed – @UnitedRant.

And if you really love the show, you can always help cover our rising bandwidth costs by making a small donation!

Stream this episode using the player below or listen on iTunes and leave us a review! The podcast RSS feed is available here.

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Championship won, Sir Alex’ hard work starts here

April 23, 2013 Tags: , Opinion 46 comments
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It really never gets boring, this lark of winning Premier League titles. Some 13 have now come during Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign; the latest after his side beat Aston Villa 3-0 at Old Trafford on Monday night.

Perhaps none will be quite as giddily received as that in 1993, not after Steve Bruce’s late late double. Nor will there be as much euphoria as that generated in 1999, when the Premier League was achieved as the first leg of the treble. But make no mistake, this year is special. Special for every reason that last season’s loss was so traumatic.

Manchester City’s last-gasp victory in May 2012 hurt. And despite supporters’ bravado of the past week there was no genuine sense that the Blues had become but temporary custodians of United’s trophy. Not last summer at least.

Yet, Sir Alex’ side responded to last season’s defeat with a campaign of consistent performances. At times the genuine determination required to drag points out of nothing has also shone.

“Focus,” as Sir Alex calls it – not least his side’s ability to come back from opening-day defeat at Everton and win 25 Premier League matches in the next 29.

By stark contrast Roberto Mancini’s is a side that capitulated amid a flurry of infighting, complacency and rank poor man management. In that there is certainly a sense of smug satisfaction among the Old Trafford faithful, with City breaking down into bitter recrimination that may still result in Mancini departing this summer.

In fact, while the data says that in most key areas United hasn’t truly improved on last season – goals scored, passing statistics, attacking numbers and the rest – Mancini’s side has gone backwards. The Italian might end the campaign with another FA Cup, but there are some serious questions to be answered about his stewardship.

Abnormally, there has been scarcity of drama over the past eight months. No pivotal moment, no great clash between rivals to seal the title, nor a last gasp winner that has proven decisive. In truth there’s been little doubt about the Premier League’s destination since February.

United’s consistency ensured that.

“You can go on and on about losing the title,” Ferguson said in the aftermath of Monday’s victory.

“At the end of the day, our consistency for the last 20 years has been unbelievable. This club never gives in. From Sir Matt Busby, the Munich Disaster, to rebuilding and to win the European Cup, that tells you the history of United..”

“I think the focus of the team was good. The focus on the challenge from City. It’s amazing, 13th championship in the Premier League. Our consistency has won us the league.”

Still, it is a triumph that falls short of Ferguson’s very best: those of 1993, 1999 and 2008. Each redefined the club’s history. This year’ will do nothing of the sort, with a fair suspicion that the side is far from Ferguson’s finest.

That a certain stardust is missing is in not doubt. Since Christmas Ferguson’s side has retrenched into it’s shell – a  functional unit bent on claiming points. It is questionable whether this side will be revered in 20 years.

It is an assertion rejected by the Reds’ 71-year-old coach, who maintains that his current vintage compares favourably with any of United’s past.

“Nostalgia plays tricks in people’s minds,” adds Ferguson.

“The amount of times you’ve said ‘when I was a boy, things weren’t the same’. It’s nostalgia. Put it in context, we’ve got 84 points from 34 games, we’ve never done that.”

If there is an absence of magic then at least one player has made a real difference during the campaign. Robin van Persie’s 28 goals in all competitions has shaped a season, although it is the Dutchman’s charisma that has added most – a calming influence spawning a belief that a goal will come when required. It so often has.

There will also be words for Michael Carrick come the campaign’s end. The Geordie has once again held United’s midfield together with performances that now draw long past due eulogies.

Mention in dispatches is also reserved for the fast maturing Rafael da Silva and United’s outstanding young goalkeeper David de Gea. And with Danny Welbeck and Phil Jones also enjoying Ferguson’s enduring support, the Scot retains a strong base from which to build.

But the hangover of glory will be short-lived. It is the Fergusonian way. By May’s end thoughts will already have turned to retaining United’s Premier League title next season, and mapping out a route to one final night of European glory.

The latter depends on how United strengthens over the summer, with the Reds’ midfield in no shape to take on Europe’s finest. United might have been unlucky to exit at Real Madrid’s hands, but it is a fool’s errand to argue that Ferguson’s side is the continent’s best.

Potential summer moves for Borussia Dortmund’s Polish striker Robert Lewandowski and Benfica’s Argentinian defender Ezikiel Garay will do little to enforce United’s soft underbelly.

But will Ferguson break an six year streak and sign a midfielder? With Anderson’s time done, Darren Fletcher unlikely to return, and Paul Scholes surely on his way to a second retirement, it would be negligent not to.

Moreover, the domestic challenge will surely be stronger next season. In Abu Dhabi, City’s owners will unleash the state’s sovereign wealth once again. It is, after all, not much use owning a vanity football club if the team is beaten by such a distance. Clear blue water, Sheikh bin Zayed Al Nahyan might call it.

Chelsea may be a different beast, but owner Roman Abramovich, having spent not far off £200 million over the past two seasons, may have the taste for glory again. This will certainly be true if José Mourinho returns from six years in the continental wilderness.

On the continent Bayern Munich this week announced the arrival of German wunderkind Mario Götze, while Barcelona and Real Madrid are sure to invest heavily once again.

It is a challenge at home and abroad that will fuel Ferguson into a 27th campaign in charge at Old Trafford.

“The manager has great desire and a winning mentality,” said Wayne Rooney, whose own future is as yet unresolved.

“We all buy into that and want to do well for the club. When you lose the title, it’s hard to take. The way we did it wasn’t a nice feeling last time so we’ve all dug in deep and all worked together.”

But in football, Rooney also argued, it is foolish to take anything for granted – a good message for the summer. Ferguson now has an opportunity to build from the front. Once again England’s finest, the side everybody else must chase. Ferguson wouldn’t have it any other way.

Preview: United v Aston Villa

April 21, 2013 Tags: , Matches 155 comments
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Two bruising encounters inside four days held the propensity to leave their mark on Manchester United; the concern being more of the abstract than physical, despite the aggressive approach displayed by Stoke City and West Ham United. Yet, with four points secured in the past week against anything but passive opponents, Sir Alex Ferguson has every reason to feel pleased with his team’s work. Pretty United’s form is not, but it is championship winning stuff.

Ferguson’s side should take another step towards Premier League glory with victory over Aston Villa on Monday night, although United’s inclination for ‘doing it the hard way’ ensures that there could yet be more drama to come this season. This shouldn’t be the case against relegation-threatened Villa, but in hubris there is always danger.

Still, while United’s performance at West Ham was, in keeping with a recent theme, somewhat underwhelming, Ferguson had little but praise for his players. Little wonder the encomium; in a brutal encounter, the Scot’s team stood up to the physical challenge, and twice came from behind to earn a crucial point.

“The team were fantastic the other night in terms of standing,” said Ferguson, whose team could yet seal the title against Villa on Monday

“It’s the type of game you get with Big Sam’s teams. We had to deal with it and I think a point was well deserved. We maybe could have won it in the last 20 minutes when we had all the play and one or two chances.

“Nonetheless you have to be satisfied coming back after being down twice and getting a point. The last two away games have shown how determined we are to win the league. I’ve admired my team in these games. We’ve done very well.”

Villa pose a different challenge again, with Paul Lambert’s young side finding some form at just the right time. Three victories in the past five Premier League matches has proffered the Birmingham side hope, although the draw with Fulham last weekend could yet prove damaging.

Yet, Lambert’s side has won four times on the road this season, scoring 20 goals in the process. That’s as many wins as Everton, West Bromwich Albion and Swansea, and just three goals short of Arsenal’s record away from the Emirates. Villa pose a genuine threat to United’s short-term ambitions.

Manchester United v Aston Villa - Premier League, Old Trafford - 8pm, 22 April 2013Still, United boasts a healthy range of options for Villa’s trip north, with only Ashley Young and Paul Scholes definitely out of the game. Meanwhile, Nemanja Vidić has recovered from his encounter with Geordie forward Andy Carroll.

Tom Cleverley could earn a recall in midfield, while Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie should start in attack despite recently speculation about the Scouser’s future.

“Every game now seems to be more important than the last one, when you get nearer to that line that’s the way it is,” adds Ferguson.

“I have the same squad for Monday and hopefully we’ll pick the right team. We’ve got a few bumps and bruises from Wednesday. Vidić had got a beautiful bruise on his cheekbone and after coming out of that war zone, we’re quite happy no-one was seriously injured.

“Ashley is out for the season. It’s unfortunate and it’s a bad blow. We thought it’d be maybe two or three weeks but now he’s been down to the specialist. The prognosis was not very good at all. We’re going to lose him for the rest of the season.”

Meanwhile, the visitors arrive on the cusp, with just a three point cushion ahead of Wigan Athletic and the bottom three. The Latics’ back-to-back defeats against Manchester City and West Ham offers Villa hope, although Lambert will look at a fixture list that includes matches against United, Sunderland, Chelsea and Norwich City with some trepidation. The final day clash with Wigan at the DW Stadium could yet be pivotal.

Injuries to Craig Gardner, Chris Herd, Mark Albrighton, and Richard Dunne do little to help Villa’s cause.

The midlanders’ trouble – and potential salvation – stems from a more realistic assessment of the club’s financial situation by owner Randy Learner. Far from splashing out millions on star names such as Darren Bent, the American has underwritten a refocused investment in Villa’s youth academy in the past two years. It is a policy that Ferguson, unsurprisingly, supports.

“Young people give you a future by creating a strong blend that can last for a few years,” said Sir Alex.

“Young players will always remember the manager who gave them their first start. The team will improve because of that, I am sure of it. Paul had the courage to do it and even if they were to go down, Villa have a structure that should bring them right back up. But on the evidence of what we’ve seen recently they’ve every chance of staying up anyway.”

United’s focus is at the other end of the table, of course. Four United victories in succesion against the Villans suggests that the points, and title 20, are not far away.

Match details
Manchester United v Aston Villa – Premier League, Old Trafford – 8pm, 22 April 2013

Possible teams
United (4-2-3-1): de Gea; Rafael, Jones, Ferdinand, Evra; Cleverley, Carrick; Valencia, Rooney, Nani; van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Büttner, Evans, Powell, Scholes, Anderson, Giggs, Kagawa, Hernández, Welbeck

Aston Villa (4-3-3): Guzan;  Lowton, Vlaar, Bennett, Baker; N’Zogbia, Westwood, Delph; Agbonlahor, Benteke, Weimann. Subs from: Given, Clark, El Ahmadi, Holman, Sylla, Dawkins, Bent, Bowery

Match officials
Referee: A Taylor
Assistants: S Long and D England
Fourth official: N Swarbrick


Head to Head
Last 10: United 6, Villa 1, Draw 3
Overall: United 92, Villa 49, Draw 38


  • United came from behind twice to draw 2-2 with West Ham in midweek, thanks to goals from Antonio Valencia and Robin van Persie;
  • After a period of drought van Persie has now scored in two Premier League games running, breathing life into the race for the Golden Boot race – the Dutchman has 21 compared to Luis Suarez’ 22 goals;
  • van Persie has been the more efficient of the pair, taking just 5.52 shots per goal compared to Suarez’s 7.4;
  • Despite van Persie’s recent drought, United boasts three of the top five players in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for minutes per goal or assists this season;
  • Hernández leads the rankings, averaging a goal or assist every 71 minutes this season, while van Persie is ranked third with one every 84 minutes, and Rooney fifth with a goal or assit every 93 minutes;
  • At the other end Patrice Evra won eight tackles against West Ham, more than any other player in the matches taking place last week – Evra’s has won more tackles than any other United player this season;
  • Villa defender Ron Vlaar has caught the eye this season, with 51 attempted tackles, giving away just six fouls, at a rate of 8.5 tackles per foul conceded, the best in the Index;
  • Charles N’Zogbia scored for Villa against Fulham, just his second of the season, although he’s been more prolific at creating chances, clocking up six assists – one every 170 minutes;
  • Fabien Delph attempted 12 tackles against Fulham, more than any other player in the last round of games and just one short of the Index record for tackles attempted in a game this season;
  • Nathan Baker made 27 defensive contributions last weekend, including a tackles, clearance, interception or block, every 3 minutes 20 seconds.



Rant Cast 151 – Horse 0-1 Man

April 20, 2013 Tags: Rant Cast 1 comment
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On this week’s Rant Cast Ed and Paul look back on Manchester United’s victory over Stoke City at the Britannia, and a hard-earned draw with West Ham United in east London. The Reds take two more steps towards the title even if the team’s performances have tailed off.

We talk horses as a Newcastle United fan takes on our equine brethren at fisticuffs. But who came out on top in the battle of man vs. burger?

Finally, we look forward to United’s home fixture with Aston Villa on Monday night – a game in which United could potentially seal the Premier League title.

Hit us up with any feedback below or follow the pod on Twitter: Paul – @UtdRantCast, Ed – @UnitedRant.

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Stream this episode using the player below or listen on iTunes and leave us a review! The podcast RSS feed is available here.

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Kagawa may be permanently consigned to the left

April 18, 2013 Tags: Opinion 75 comments
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There should be no doubting Shinji Kagawa’s class. During the 2011/2012 season he was a genuine contender for the best player in the Bundesliga – a title that went to Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Marco Reus, the player who would replace Kagawa at Borussia Dortmund. The campaign marked the pinnacle of the Japanese player’s career to date.

Kagawa, who started his career as a defensive midfielder in the second tier of Japanese football, was initially deployed as a goal-scoring attacking midfielder at Dortmund. That changed with the absence of Nuri Sahin and Mario Gotze in Kagawa’s second season at the German club, which forced the Japanese to share the playmaking duty as well.

​Kagawa excelled in the role.

The Japan international is quick, agile, technically sound and intelligent. Combined with his excellent work ethic, these traits made him a highly effective playmaker. In fact, towards the end of Kagawa’s two year tenure at Dortmund, BVB manager Jürgen Klopp relieved him of all defensive duties and had him just prowl the field.

The former Cerezo Osaka player took up good positions, waited for the ball to find him and launched devastating counterattacks with the sort of quick, incisive passing Manchester United fans have seen just glimpses of to date.

​Sir Alex Ferguson clearly intended to use Kagawa as a number 10. The midfielder was deployed in the position throughout United’s pre-season programme. The trend continued when the Premier League started, Kagawa impressing many in United’s defeat at Everton on the opening day.

But he was soon back on the bench even as Wayne Rooney, the incumbent number 10, struggled to regain fitness. As it turns out, the Japanese failed to make impact and ended up injured himself.

​Since returning from injury Kagawa has been primarily used on the left. The form, or rather lack of it, of United’s wide players might have prompted Ferguson’s thinking, but given the Japanese has been used in such a specific way by the United manager there might actually be a genuine, tactical aim behind the move.

​Kagawa nominally starts on the left flank, but rarely hits the byline as a traditional winger might. Nor does he attack the box as ‘inverted’ wingers are wont to do. Instead, Kagawa almost invariably quickly drifts infield, offering a passing option in the middle. In United’s recent game against Stoke City, for example, the former Dortmund player often dropped back into United’s half in search of space and the ball.

​Deploying a nominal winger to retain the ball in the middle is not new. Andreas Iniesta performs the same role for both Barcelona and Spain. David Silva and Samir Nasri play the same role at Manchester City. Sir Alex has used Ryan Giggs in the role many times in the recent era. In fact, a modern history of ‘ball retaining wingers’ at United goes all the way back to the early noughties when Paul Scholes occasionally found himself on the left flank.

​Kagawa hasn’t yet convinced the fans that he can do a good job on the left. More enlightened United supporters argue that he can’t show his true worth as a left winger, citing Kagawa’s indifferent form on the left for Japan.

The key to this argument is that playmakers do their best work when the play is directed through them – the more time on the ball, the better the playmaker’s influence on the game. In fact, it is an argument that Kagawa made himself, shortly after joining the club.

“We seem to pass the ball sideways a lot,” said the 24-year-old. “I want team-mates to start giving me the ball from all areas and angles. I need to speak to them about this, because I want them to have the trust in me to play the ball forward. ”

Adding more recently: “I have the most experience from my time at Dortmund in playing behind the striker. However, I just want to be part of the team, I will play wherever the manager wants to me to play”

​The argument is true, but United’s players are more accustomed to channeling attacks through the flanks than through a central playmaker. Kagawa might even see more of the ball on the left than in the middle.

After all, while ​Kagawa starts on the left his movement into the middle can allow United a moment of dominance in central midfield. And there are few players in the world better than Robin Van Persie at making something of the inevitable through pass or quick one-two that takes the ball into the box.

​If Kagawa’s deployment on the left is indeed purposeful rather than temporary, the United manager must look at options during the summer to better take advantage of it.

​Key is a central midfielder who can break through the lines, adding further dominance in the attacking midfield area. Tom Cleverley certainly makes clever runs, but he is physically unimposing and lacks finishing skills. A midfielder who can strongly challenge for 50-50 balls and shoot from distance might also be welcome.

​Priority, however, lies on the other flank. If United play through Kagawa, and only Kagawa, it will be easy for opponents to stop. On the opposite flank, United’s right-winger must do his share of attacking to provide variety and unpredictability. The classic winger vis-à-vis Antonio Valencia at his peak would certainly do.

With Rafael da Silva more than capable of attacking the byline and providing crosses, a right-winger who looks to cut in and attack the box would also fit in well. It remains to be seen whether Wilfried Zaha, who primarily plays on the right, but cuts inside, can be groomed into a United quality winger of this variety.

Preview: West Ham v United

April 16, 2013 Tags: , Matches 192 comments
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It wasn’t pretty, although little of Manchester United’s season can be categorised as such, but the Reds’ victory over Stoke City on Sunday surely ends any lingering doubts about the Premier League’s destination. United should now seal the title within the next three fixtures.

Defeat to rivals Manchester City last Monday came within an established pattern; United’s performances have dipped markedly since Real Madrid’s controversial Champions League victory last month. And while the Reds did little in the 2-0 win over the Potters on Sunday to break the paradigm, victory leaves Sir Alex Ferguson’s side to find just seven points in six games to secure league title number 20.

Indeed, Ferguson’s outfit will draw to within two results of the title should the Reds overcome West Ham United at Upton Park on Wednesday night. Less if City slip up against Wigan Athletic on the same night.

Upton Park is a ground that has not always held happy memories, of course, but with the Hammers just about safe, and United having righted a potentially listing ship, the opportunity will not be lost on those in red to profit from the trip to London’s east end.

Defeat to City, Chelsea in the FA Cup, together with underwhelming Premier League performances against Reading and Norwich City in the past month, proffered a strong impression that United’s was a season stumbling to a close. Victory at Stoke came not so much at a sprint, but at least with some comfort.

“Character,” said Ferguson, brought victory in the midlands, although critics might point to the palpable lack of that quality post-Madrid. Still, with Wayne Rooney dropping back into midfield, and United prepared to graft for victory, Ferguson’s team secured points that were always of more value than any praise for style. At least at this stage of the campaign.

“I always say you don’t leave your character in the dressing room and I think we saw that against Stoke,” said the 71-year0old United manager.

“The Britannia Stadium is not an easy place to go to and we had this swirling wind in the first half in particular, which was difficult, but nonetheless we had to find a way through it and we kept our composure. We weren’t over-anxious about the game – we kept playing the ball, passing it around.

“We didn’t make a lot of chances, but we’ve done that at Stoke over the last six years and made very few chances but usually won the games. The performance and the character the players showed was terrific.”

Sunday’s was United’s fourth victory in five visits to Stoke’s ‘new’ home ground, exposing the disingenuous claim that the Potters’ home turf is anything but a soft touch – at least for Sir Alex’ side. Still, with poor results having haunted Ferguson’s team of late, Sunday’s points will likely prove invaluable come the season’s denouement.

After all, momentum matters, which is why United’s visit to east London is certainly no time to regress into complacency, despite the Reds’ renewed 15-point Premier League lead.

“Now it’s West Ham and we have to play well again,” adds club captain Nemanja Vidić

“They play in a similar style to Stoke – we’re going to have long balls and set-pieces to deal with. Yes, you think you’re almost there but you have to win the games. It helps us build up the confidence and a few players had a great game – people like Antonio, Wayne and Robin. It’s important for players like this to be in good form for the games to come.”

West Ham United v Manchester United - Premier League, Upton Park - 7.45pm 17 April 2013Even so, Ferguson is likely to refresh his side for the trip south, with Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck in line for a recall. Meanwhile, Rooney could revert to a more attacking role should Cleverley come back into the side, with Shinji Kagawa most at risk of dropping to the bench.

Amid much speculation about the striker’s future this week – and role within the side – Rooney will surely welcome a striking berth in east London. After all, with a new contract to negotiate this summer, the former Evertonian’s hand is hardly strengthened each time he is deployed as a part-time midfielder.

Jonny Evans could return to Ferguson’s line-up, but Paul Scholes is unlikely to be selected after missing the past three months of United’s campaign.

“We have no injuries from Sunday against Stoke,” Ferguson told MUTV. “It was a tough game, certainly. But there were no injuries and that is a blessing of course We have a good, strong squad. We took 20 players with us to Stoke and those 20 players will go with us again on Wednesday night.”

Meanwhile, West Ham welcome the Reds with Premier League safety almost certainly secured. Sam Allardyce’s side boasts a six point advantage over the bottom three, with a healthy goal difference advantage to boot. However, the 58-year-old manager is likely to be without a clutch of defenders for United’s visit, including James Tomkins, Winston Reid and George McCartney. Mark Noble and Joe Cole remain on the sidelines.

Still, with United’s prize firmly in sight few will bet against the visitors turning in the first strong performance since Madrid’s unlikely win at Old Trafford.

“I think you have to say they are as good as they have ever been because nobody normally wins the title so easily and by so big a margin, or has this much of a margin at this stage of the season,” adds Allardyce.

“It’s pretty scary what total they might actually finish with.”

That United has won the last eight league meetings against West Ham, scoring 22 goals and conceding just three in the process says much.

Match details
West Ham United v Manchester United – Premier League, Upton Park – 7.45pm, 17 April 2013 March 2013

Possible teams
West Ham (4-4-2): Jaaskelainen; Pogatetz, O’Brien, Collins, Demel; Jarvis, Nolan, Diame, O’Neil; Carroll, Vaz Te. Subs from: Henderson, Potts, Collison, Taylor, C Cole, Wellington, Maiga, Chamakh

United (4-2-3-1): de Gea; Jones,  Evans, Vidić,  Evra; Cleverley, Carrick; Valencia, Rooney, Welbeck; van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Büttner, Rafael, Ferdinand, Powell, Scholes, Anderson, Giggs, Nani, Kagawa, Hernández

Match officials
Referee: Lee Probert
Assistants: R Ganfield, H Lennard
Fourth official: A Marriner.

West Ham: LWLWDD
United: DWWLLW

Head to Head
Last 10: West Ham 1, United 8, Draw 1
Overall: West Ham 42, United 58, Draw 25


  • The Hammers’ 1-1 draw at Southampton brought the Londoners a point closer to safety last weekend;
  • Mark Noble has been a key player earning West Ham’s safety this season, boasting one of highest defensive contribution totals in the Hammers squad with 96;
  • In a similar vein, defender James Collins has racked up an impressive 30 blocks this season.
  • Meanwhile, Matt Jarvis has supplied 71 crosses this season – the 8th best in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index – but claims just two assists;
  • Speculation surrounding Wayne Rooney’s future may be rife this week, but only three strikers have bettered the Scouser’s 599 successful passes in the opponent’s half this season – Luis Suarez, Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tevez – while none surpasses his average rate of 3.13 minutes per successful pass;
  • Shinji Kagawa’s five goals is the highest of any United midfielder this season, the result of a solid 75 per cent shot accuracy rate;
  • Michael Carrick has amassed 944 successful passes in the opponent’s half and is rated as the second most successful tackler in the United squad behind Rio Ferdinand, having successfully completed 61.2 per cent of his 67 attempted challenges this season.


Preview: Stoke City v United

April 14, 2013 Tags: , Matches 124 comments
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It is less a question of ‘why Delilah’, as Stoke City’s adopted song goes, but what exactly the club’s fans believe is the nature of any rivalry between them and Manchester United? After all, the visiting fans in Sunday’s match at the Britannia care little about Stoke, or the 42 mile distance between the clubs. Much to Stoke’s chagrin, it is a rivalry seemingly born only in Potters’ minds.

Still, the midlands club represents a significant hurdle in United’s faltering season. Victory will ease any palpitations Red hearts now suffer after last week’s reverse against Manchester City. Defeat, unthinkable given the hosts’ dire form, brings City squarely back into the title race with half-a-dozen matches to go.

City’s victory on Monday hurt United, although it has little to do with the Blues’ bizarre claim to the Champions of Manchester tag, but for the potential to derail United’s seemingly inextricable march towards the Premier League title. With a 12 point lead, and just seven matches to go, Ferguson’s team will surely still claim the title, but there is now at least a question mark. Not least because United blew an eight point lead with a similar number of fixtures remaining last season.

Still, if the derby loss does anything it should re-focus minds at Old Trafford, with Sunday’s visit to Stoke followed rapidly by a trip to West Ham United on Wednesday – surely a decisive week in the title race.

“The incentives are there for ourselves in the sense that we’ve only got seven games left,” said Sir Alex Ferguson.

“The challenge is there for Stoke as well. I don’t think they will go down but, nonetheless, they’re in a precarious situation because, down the bottom of that league, you don’t pick up a lot of points. I think they’ll get enough to get out.

“I don’t think we should look at our position in terms of being 12 points clear. What matters is winning on Sunday and we need to do that. As we always do, we should just try to do our best. We have a job to do on Sunday and we need to do it.”

Certainly, defeat is nowhere near as catastrophic as that in last April’s derby – a truly pivotal game. But United’s current funk may say much about the Reds’ state-of-mind. Real Madrid’s controversial victory in the Champions League at Old Trafford has sucked the wind out of United’s sails. It is Ferguson’s job to turn the tide.

But if Ferguson’s ship is listing it is still some way from the sinking below the waterline, even if defeat to City may feel a little deleterious. That Ferguson has sought to play down defeat as one born in the details says much. There must be no sense of panic at Old Trafford.

“It’s always disappointing to lose a derby,” adds Ferguson.

“There was nothing in it between the two teams. Possession-wise, they were better in the first half and we were better in the second half but lost two bad goals and you can’t do that in derby games. Both teams went for it. There was only one save in the whole match between the two goalkeepers. That gives you an idea about how close the game was.

“You don’t want to lose derby games. Nonetheless, we’ve got to dust ourselves down. We know we can recover from disappointments and we’ll do it again.”

Stoke City v Manchester United - Premier League, Britannia Stadium - 2.05pm, 14 April 2013 That statement may be a little oblique in the circumstances, but Ferguson will at least have plenty of options for the short trip south. He takes a largely fit squad, with only winger Ashley Young, Chris Smalling and captain Nemanja Vidić absent.

Vidić and Smalling should be available next weekend, although Jonny Evans returns against Stoke. Meanwhile, Phil Jones – outstanding against City on Monday night – should retain his place in the United line-up. Paul Scholes could return to the squad.

“We are hoping Nemanja can start training today but he’s maybe a bit short for Sunday,” Sir Alex told MUTV.

“At least Jonny should be back and that’s the good news we’ve got on that front. Chris Smalling has started training running-wise and is not far away. Phil was fantastic and that was only his fourth game at centre-back this season.”

However, the squad’s rut of poor form poses plenty of questions. That none of his wingers claim any semblance of form is a challenge, while the balance between attack and defence is one that United has not always found during the campaign.

Still, Ferguson will field a strong side at the Britannia – a ground at which United has secured three wins from four visits despite Stoke’s reputation for an intimidating atmosphere.

Meanwhile, the hosts are in dire trouble at the foot of the Premier League, with just three points separating third-from-bottom Wigan Athletic and the Potters. Indeed, five defeats in the past six matches leaves Stoke bottom of the form table, with just five points secured in 2013. Even relegation-threatened Aston Villa won comfortably at the Britannia last weekend.

Under fire manager Tony Pullis welcomes back Matthew Etherington, defender Marc Wilson and midfielder Glenn Whelan to the hosts’ squad. The trio’s fitness proffers a boost in what has been an increasingly difficult season for the midlands outfit. After six season’s in the Premier League, the club is genuinely on the precipice.

And there is little comfort for Stoke in the side’s record against United; one that reads eight losses in nine meetings. Stoke has scored just two goals against United in four Premier League meetings at the Britannia, while the Potters must look back to Boxing Day in 1984 – and a 2-1 victory – for the last win over United.

Few will count on a repeat. Least of all Sir Alex.

Match details
Stoke City v Manchester United – Premier League, Britannia Stadium – 2.05pm, 14 April 2013 March 2013

Possible teams
Stoke (4-4-2): Begovic; Whelan, Huth, Shawcross, Wilson; Kightly, Nzonzi, Whitehead, Etherington; Jones, Walters. Subs from: Sorensen, Wilkinson, Adam, Cameron, Shotton, Owen, Crouch, Jerome

United (4-2-3-1): de Gea; Rafael, Jones, Ferdinand, Evra; Cleverley, Carrick; Valencia, Rooney, Nani; van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Büttner, Evans, Powell, Scholes, Anderson, Giggs, Kagawa, Hernández, Welbeck

Match officials
Referee: Jon Moss
Assistants: M McDonough, J Flynn
Fourth official: M Jones


Head to Head
Last 10: Stoke 26, United 38, Draw 32
Overall: Stoke 6, United 3, Draw 1


  • Michael Kightly’s second half goal did not prevent Stoke falling to a 1-3 at the hands of Aston Villa last weekend;
  • If the home side is to get anything from United’s visit then Ryan Shawcross is key – the Stoke captain lies second on the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for blocks with 38 this season;
  • Glenn Whelan boasts the best tackle success rate of any Potters midfielder, completing 55.5 per cent of his 63 challenges;
  • Jonathan Walters has scored a number of late winners this season, but his shot accuracy is just 45.2 per cent from 42 attempts;
  • Meanwhile, Antonio Valencia admitted this week that United’s players are “worried” following defeat to City on Monday evening – the Ecuadorian winger has been much criticised for his own performances this season despite leading the squad for crosses completed (49) and dribbles (18);
  • Defender Jonny Evans continues to improve – highlighted by an excellent 71.8 per cent tackle success rate from 32 challenges this season;
  • By his high standards Robin van Persie has been enduring something of a dry spell in recent weeks, although with the Dutchman having a shot once every 24.8 minutes on average a goal is surely around the corner.