To say we haven’t had the best of starts this season would probably be an understatement. Stoke seemed to have their season back on track against West Brom, only to be denied victory in the dying minutes of the game, mounting more pressure on manager Mark Hughes.
It wasn’t all doom a gloom, as although the result was not what we’d have hope for, the performance was much improved. The returning Shaqiri brought back some much needed energy down the right hand side, and Joe Allen once again proved his worth with his first goal for the club.
The Potters currently sit 19th in the Premier League table without a victory to their name, and have the tough task of facing Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United next. We can take confidence over the fact we beat a Mourinho side twice last season, with two memorable home victories over Chelsea, however those two victories were at home.
In preparation for this weekend’s game, we talked to United fans Harry Foley (@_HarryFoley) and Ryan Johnson (@RyWTN) from @utdreport, and got their thoughts on their season so far, as well as what they expect from Sunday’s match.
Firstly, what are your thoughts on Uniteds season so far?
H.F: We started very strong and on the back of two seasons of Louis Van Gaal’s football regime it seemed as though we were the United of old again. There were the bumps in the road with the losses to City and Watford in the league but we seem to be back on track after such a dominant display against Leicester. I think we’re yet to hit the top gears.
R.J: It’s been an inconsistent season to say the least, with the losses to Watford and Feyenoord the real low points so far. However, we’ve shown glimpses of being a threat again, especially in the games against Southampton and Leicester. I think there was always going to be a hangover from the Louis van Gaal era, meaning Mourinho has his work cut out for him. Despite a few blips, I’m pretty happy with how it’s going so far, especially with Eric Bailly, who has been effectively faultless.
What do you think of Mourinho and how he’s handled the team so far?
H.F: Regardless of money spent, it’s been tough for Mourinho because there’s an obvious hangover in our football from Van Gaal’s tenure. He’s implemented some decisions which have benefited the team hugely, such as Bailly and Blind as a centre back duo. But he still needs to get the best out of £89m by giving Pogba more freedom – whether that be in a three man midfield or playing him as a number 10 instead of Rooney (who, for the time being, shouldn’t be near the starting XI). He’s one of the most tactically astute managers in world football and has been successful everywhere he’s been – I don’t see that changing here.
R.J: I think Mourinho is still trying to figure out what works best for us, whether to play with a pivot in midfield or go with a 4-3-3, and I think he’s finally starting to realise that we need the latter. Like I previously stated, there was always going to be the problem of ironing out Van Gaal’s philosophy, but we saw in the win against Leicester that the players are starting to adjust to the new regime. Rooney being dropped from the side was essential, but I do believe we should be playing 4-3-3 from now on, with the likes of Herrera and Pogba in midfield.
What are your hopes for the rest of the season?
H.F: To be involved in the title race until the very end. Ideally I would love to say to win the title, but at this moment in time I can’t see anybody beating City to it. I’d be happy to finish second behind them this season. We can take the title back next season.
R.J: For this season, I would be happy with a top 3 finish, and maybe a decent cup run. It’s pretty obvious that it’s going to take time for things to click under Mourinho, but it is vital we get a place in next season’s Champions League, where we belong. Finishing top 3 would also mean we get to skip the qualifier for the Champions League next season, which would be one less thing to worry about.
Who is your favourite player currently at the club?
H.F: Comfortably David De Gea. Watching him mature from a nervy newcomer to one of the, if not the best goalkeeper in the world has made me grow so fond of him. For me he’s the best there is.
R.J: My favourite player at the club is Daley Blind. He’s been an unsung hero over the past two seasons, and people are finally starting to realise his worth. His ability to make up for his lack of strength and pace with pure footballing intelligence is something you don’t see very often. Blind’s versatility is also unique, and he allows us to build from the back and retain possession. When Blind isn’t included in the side, our build-up play is noticeably worse. He is a vital cog in Manchester United’s works.
What player should Stoke look out for on Sunday?
H.F: It goes without saying that Pogba and Ibrahimovic can do damage to any team, but Ander Herrera has been in terrific form. He never seems to tire and his ball winning ability is phenomenal.
R.J: Stoke have to be wary of Zlatan Ibrahimović on Sunday. It sounds obvious, but the Swede can go from having no influence on the game to putting the ball in the back of the net in a split second. With the likes of Rashford and Martial to take care of, Stoke can’t forget about Zlatan, who has a pretty impressive scoring record since moving to Old Trafford.
What do you think of Stokes season so far?
H.F: There’s not been much positive to take from it for Stoke. I’m sure sitting in 19th with only 2 draws to your name is not how Stoke fans would have wanted to start the season as the fixtures haven’t been too difficult. From what I’ve seen the main problems have been defensively. But there’s a squad of enough talented players there to turn the season around – it’s early days yet.
R.J: It’s been a tough one for Stoke, yet have found themselves unlucky at times. However, I believe Hughes has the capability to shake off this slow start, giving Stoke reason to believe they’re due a win; let’s just hope it doesn’t happen this weekend!
Predictions for tomorrows game
H.F: Given Stoke’s defensive frailty, I expect United to score at least 2. Meaning Stoke will have to match that in order to get anything from the game – which I don’t see happening I’m afraid. 3-1 United.
R.J: Manchester United 3-1 Stoke. United’s home advantage will be a major factor this week, I believe. If last week’s performance against Leicester is anything to go off, Stoke could be in real trouble. I’m fairly confident we can get the result we need, especially if we start with a 4-3-3 formation.