Manchester United: Fergie's Five Areas of Concern Against Stoke

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Manchester United: Fergie's Five Areas of Concern Against Stoke
Julian Finney/Getty Images
Will Sir Alex be smiling on Saturday night?

On the face of it, Manchester United’s match at home to Stoke City on Saturday should provide the Reds with a comfortable three points towards their attempt to win back their title.

After all, in their eight league clashes since Stoke regained their Premier League status in the 2008-09 season, United have won seven and drawn one, conceding only three goals whilst amassing 19 in the process.

On past form, then, it appears to be no contest.

However, despite not setting the world on fire so far this season, Stoke have revealed their obdurate nature, grinding out two narrow wins and four draws in their opening seven games and, at present, sitting in a comfortable mid-table position.

Their only loss came against the current leaders, Chelsea, who took until the 85th minute to break Stoke’s resistance with a goal from the most unlikely source, Ashley Cole.

They have also achieved creditable draws against Liverpool and, more notably, the current champions, Manchester City.

So maybe it won’t be so straightforward after all.

Let’s highlight five possible areas Sir Alex Ferguson needs to target to make his charges’ passage through this potential banana skin of a match a little more comfortable.

Michael Steele/Getty Images
Crouch has been Stoke's main source of goals so far this season

Keep Peter Crouch Quiet

Crouch has been a mini-revelation since he joined the Potters last year and has contributed four of the six goals his team have scored in the league so far. Three of those four goals have come, not surprisingly, from set pieces or high balls pumped towards the lanky striker.

United need to look at limiting that supply line (more on that later).

When you consider that Stoke’s only other goals in the league have come from a Walters penalty and a mishit Michael Kightly shot that somehow slipped through the Swansea keeper’s gloves, you realise that the task of subduing Crouch is paramount.

 

Goalkeeping

I am a great advocate of keeping faith with your preferred keeper and have a strong belief that David de Gea is the man for the long term.

However, bearing in mind the potential aerial bombardment that may ensue, for this one game, I would go with Anders Lindegaard between the sticks simply because of his superiority in terms of dominating his area.

 

Midfield Domination

The acquisition of Charlie Adam, the rapid progress of Kightly and the trickery of Matthew Etherington have strengthened Stoke’s midfield considerably and, in addition to snuffing out potential attacks, they have proven to be an invaluable conduit to Crouch.

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Charlie Adam has provided a useful supply line for Crouch

No longer are Stoke the one-trick pony that relied on the bazooka-like delivery from the throws of Rory Delap as their main supply line.

This improved midfield needs to be looked after and, whichever combination Sir Alex selects, the work these players carry out shutting down the opposition and working to retrieve the ball when possession is lost could be crucial.

I would favour continuing with the more robust diamond formation and, for this match, would favour Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley or Paul Scholes, Antonio Valencia and Wayne Rooney to start, with Scholes/Cleverley and Ryan Giggs as backup .

 

Pace and Trickery

One area where United have impressed so far this season, for parts of games anyway, is the speed and accuracy of their passing and movement off the ball.

When they are "fizzing," no one can live with them. They did it for the first 20 minutes or so against Newcastle and in the second half against Spurs.

Realistically, no team—not even Barcelona—can keep up that sort of pace for 90 minutes, but ultimately United need to extend these periods of complete domination to put matches beyond the opposition.

An reminder of what Hernandez can do

They may have the opportunity to do that on Saturday. Stoke are no pushovers, but at their best, United could expose the well organised, though somewhat limited defence that Tony Pulis has moulded into a compact and solid unit.

 

Finishing

Despite spending a large percentage of the time in opposition territory, United have so often let themselves down with their profligacy in front of goal.

Against Stoke, who have shown themselves to be miserly in terms of goals conceded (five in seven games), chances may be few and far between. For that reason, I would go for Hernandez ahead of Danny Welbeck for this one.

The extra pace and eye for goal of the Mexican give him the edge for me despite Welbeck’s impressive performance for England against somewhat embarrassing opposition last Friday.

 

These are some of the areas I think are crucial for Sir Alex Ferguson to concentrate on.

What do you think?

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