Having dropped two points against Southampton last week, Europe provided David Moyes with a much-needed boost as United overcame Real Sociedad on Wednesday night, moving join-top of Group A alongside Bayer Leverkusen, while their performance was arguably the more encouraging of the season yet.
United host Stoke today, entering October’s final league fixture in eight place, eight points adrift of league leaders Arsenal, something that was definitely not on Moyes’ mind when he replaced Sir Alex Ferguson, but United can have little complaints about their league position, having failed to produce a convincing performance since beating Swansea on the opening day of the season.
Mark Hughes believes that United are there for the taking. “They can’t afford any more slip-ups. Maybe they are a little bit vulnerable,” said the Stoke City boss.
“I don’t think there’s that aura around the club at the moment and maybe it’s a good time to meet them.
“There are only a certain amount of games you can lose. Five or six keeps you in the title race. Lose any more and you make it very difficult, nigh on impossible,” continued the former United player.
While United have definitely lost some of their aura of invincibility, a home fixtures against Stoke should provide them with the perfect opportunity to get their campaign back on track, considering that the Potters have lost in all of their previous visits to Old Trafford and have lost more games against United than against any Premier League side.
After an encouraging start to the campaign, Stoke have begun to display the same issues that had crippled them during Tony Pulis’ reign and have now failed to score in three Premier League games in a row, boasting the league’s worst shots-to-goals ratio.
United have hardly set the world alight, but should still have too much quality for the Potters, particularly with Marouane Fellaini, Nani, Adnan Januzaj and Robin Van Persie all expected to feature after having been rested against Real Sociedad. Van Persie could prove particularly difficult for Stoke to handle, considering that the Dutchman has netted eight in the last seven games against the Potters.
Of the players that were omitted from the starting XI on Wednesday, Marouane Fellaini can also be expected to start, particularly as Tom Cleverley is still a doubt after recovering from a calf injury sustained on England duty, and United’s summer signing has a point to prove to his manager, after seeing Ryan Giggs running rings around Sociedad’s midfield during the week.
Fellaini has made it clear that he prefers to be deployed as a defensive midfielder, but the Belgian has so far struggled to make an impression in United’s 4-4-2, the formation Moyes seems to prefer in league games, in contrast with the 4-2-3-1 he chose in the Champions League. In a flat, four-man, midfield Fellaini suffers from a lack of speed and dynamism, while he could thrive as one of the two players to sit in front of the back four in a 4-2-3-1.
Whatever the formation, United will be expected to secure a second home win in three days, before welcoming Norwich in the Capital One Cup on Tuesday and traveling to Fulham and San Sebastian in the following weeks. Four wins out of those four games are an absolute must for David Moyes.
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