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A bitter man and the best fans in the world between United and a semifinal spot

139603229_Stoke_465509bA trip to Stoke on a, presumably, cold Wednesday night in December is nobody’s idea of glamour, but tonight’s Capital One Cup quarterfinal at the Britannia could prove to be a lot more important than it would have in seasons gone by, where the League Cup was the least important competition of the season.

The tournament might have lied way down United’s priorities order at the start of the season but, given the current circumstances, United could do worse things than focusing on the Capital One Cup, particularly given that a place in the semifinal is only 90 minutes away.

Those 90 minutes, however, promise to be far from an easy task. First and foremost, there’s United lengthy list of absentees, with Marouane Fellaini, Michael Carrick, Chris Smalling and Robin Van Persie ruled out through injury, while Javier Hernandez and Shinji Kagawa remain doubtful, after missing Sunday’s 3-0 win at Villa.

Both, Hernandez and Kagawa, could, however, be in contention to play a part in tonight’s game, with David Moyes set to limit his rotation policy and keep Tom Cleverley, Danny Welbeck and Phil Jones in the starting XI, while there could be rare starts for Anderson – who could set up a heavyweight with Charlie Adam – Ashley Young and Alexander Buttner.

Moyes’ wafer thin squad isn’t the only obstacle standing between United and a place in the last four, with Mark Hughes – you know, the former United glory who turned bitter after leaving the club and hasn’t missed a chance of spouting venom onto them ever since? – and his team looking to give the self-proclaimed best fans in the league something to shout about.

Stoke’s transition from Tony Pulis to Hughes has been seamless, in the sense that very little has changed at the Britannia, with the Potters still adopting a back-four made up, shall we say, no-nonsense defenders, while Wilson Palacios, Steven N’Zonzi and Glenn Whelan are tasked with providing energy and guile – more of the former, very little of the latter – in midfield, with Marko Arnautovic and Oussama Aissidi looking to support Peter Crouch.

Earlier this season, United – who haven’t lost to Stoke since the 1993 Coca Cola Cup – rode their luck before winning 3-2, thanks to late goals from Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez, after Stoke had twice gone in front courtesy of goals from Crouch and Arnautovic, which prompted Hughes to claim that United had lost their aura.

Would winning the League Cup be enough to convince the many who doubts the former Everton manager is the right man for the job? Probably not, but it wouldn’t be such a bad start and a place in the semifinals would keep that door open and, besides, who really wants to see us losing against Stoke – one the many teams that treat a game against United like their cup final – ?