Analyzing Manchester United's Next 5 Opponents
It's been a rocky start to the season for Manchester United, even if the Premier League standings don't necessarily reflect the fact.
Dodgy defending and a lack of control in the centre of the park have led some to write off the Red Devils, even at this early stage.
But after having been beaten by Tottenham at Old Trafford a little over a week ago, a change in tactics and a tweak in personnel has resulted in dominant wins over CFR Cluj in the Champions League and Newcastle in the league.
With some tricky games ahead, Sir Alex Ferguson will be hoping his side can continue this momentum in the coming weeks.
Here's a rundown on the team's next five opponents.
Stoke City (Oct. 20)
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Key Player: Ryan Shawcross
The Premier League's resident brutes, Stoke City, come to Old Trafford next weekend, in a clash that is sure to provide a physical test for United.
Having bullied Liverpool, Swansea City and Chelsea in recent weeks, the Potters' style of football reflects the hard-nosed nature of manager Tony Pulis, who in truth has worked wonders since taking charge in 2006, turning the side into a comfortable mid-table club.
Peter Crouch has long been Stoke's most dangerous weapon in attack, even though fellow forward John Walters has a decent pair of feet and long-range shot.
But the midfield will be United's for the taking if they can maneuver their way past their opponents' deep-lying midfielders Steven Nzonzi and Glenn Whelan.
My Prediction: 2-0 United
SC Braga (Oct. 23, Nov. 7)
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Key Player: Ruben Micael
Having been shocked by upstarts CFR Cluj in their first group stage game, Sporting Braga bounced back admirably in their second to beat a shellshocked Galatasaray side 2-0 in Turkey.
The Portuguese club play United twice in the coming weeks, the first tie to be held in Manchester, the second in Braga.
The key player for the Red Devils to stop is central midfield playmaker Ruben Micael, who is currently on loan from Spanish club Atletico Madrid.
If Sir Alex can plot a way to prevent him from dictating the flow of the game, two wins, and early qualification from the group could be on the cards.
My Prediction: 3-1 United, 1-0 United
Chelsea (Oct. 28, Oct. 31)
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Key Player: Juan Mata
It goes without saying that Chelsea has been playing some of the best football in Britain in the season's early going.
New signings Oscar and Eden Hazard have especially impressed, whilst the creative midfield general Juan Mata has had a September-to-remember.
A Premier League encounter is followed by a Capital One Cup meeting between the two clubs, both to be held in west London at Stamford Bridge.
United will have to be at their very best to win either game, but I'm taking the high road and predicting two draws, with the Blues to win the cup clash on spot-kicks due to United's notoriously poor record from 12 yards this season.
My Prediction: 2-2 draw, 1-1 draw
Arsenal (Nov. 3)
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Key Player: Santi Cazorla
One can be sure that the Arsenal contingent in the stands at Old Trafford will give summer convert Robin van Persie all the stick they can muster when their side meets Manchester United in early November.
The Gunners' tactical renaissance this season has impressed many in the game, but until they can find a clinical finisher to put away the countless chances created by the midfield, a challenge for the Premier League trophy will be near-impossible.
Based on his adaptation into the Cesc Fabregas position of old, the ambidextrous Santi Cazorla has already proved another quality Arsene Wenger signing.
But despite United's shaky backline, and their prolific attack, I'm going to defy expectations and predict a 0-0 bore draw, with both team's cancelling each other out in the middle of the park.
My Prediction: 0-0 draw
Aston Villa (Nov. 10)
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Key Player: Ciaran Clark
After a stuttering start, Aston Villa have actually been playing some rather decent football lately, with lightening-quick forward Gabriel Agbonlahor starting to get back to his blistering best.
But a disappointing loss at Tottenham in their last Premier League game showed that Paul Lambert's side are not quite there yet.
Young defender Ciaran Clark has impressed many with his assured displays alongside new signing Ron Vlaar at the back.
But even so, United should by no means be afraid of a trip to Villa Park.
My Prediction: 3-0 United
Which of United's upcoming fixtures will prove the hardest test? How many points can Sir Alex's side realistically hope to take?