David Moyes knows his success at Manchester United will ultimately be measured in trophies. The early struggles will be forgotten if he can capture some titles. So don't expect his squad to take the Capital One Cup challenge from Stoke City lightly.
Normally, a League Cup match amid a very busy stretch would be a chance for a manager to go with a completely fresh lineup, often featuring several young players. Moyes and United could opt against going that route as they seek a title.
Stoke have reached the tournament quarterfinals without having to play a Premier League opponent. Their recent form suggests they are ready to seriously challenge United, having lost just once since the Red Devils beat them in league play in late October.
So let's check out all of the important information for the midweek clash, followed by a look at the top storyline and a prediction for which club will advance to the semifinals.
Where: Britannia Stadium in Stoke-on-Trent, England
When: Wednesday, Dec. 18, at 2:45 p.m. ET (7:45 p.m. GMT)
Watch: beIN Sport and Sky Sports 1 Ireland
Live Stream: beIN Sport Play
Match Odds (to Advance, via Sky Bet)
Stoke City: +225
Manchester United: -300
Top Storyline: Are Manchester United Finally Building Positive Momentum?
Two victories certainly isn't enough evidence to say United have turned things around. Yet, the long-awaited signs of progress that were seen against Shakhtar Donetsk and Aston Villa at least show the Red Devils are back moving in the right direction.
That's why United should strongly consider going with a full-strength lineup even though it's a League Cup match. They are finally starting to look like the title contender fans were expecting. It's time to build off that success instead of letting the momentum slip away.
The Stoke Sentinel passed along comments from Potters assistant boss Mark Bowen, who noted United looked far more dangerous in their win over Villa than in previous weeks and said Stoke can't worry about what type of lineup they will face:
"I watched that on TV during a coaching course at St George's Park," said Bowen, "and at times there's no doubt they were a bit ominous with the likes of Danny Welbeck coming back into form.
"We will obviously be doing our usual thorough preparations ahead of the game, but with a team like United it's always difficult trying to second guess their starting line-up because in most positions they have about three players to choose from."
When the dust settles at season's end, it could very well turn out the Capital One Cup was United's best chance at a trophy in Moyes' first season. It would be a mistake if United let that opportunity slip away with a second- or third-string lineup on the pitch.
So with a championship just three rounds away and United building some momentum, the likes of Wayne Rooney, Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck should all draw starting assignments. If they do, the Red Devils will be the clear favorite to advance.
Otherwise, if United go with a full rotation, the match will be more of a toss-up. Stoke have been playing well as of late and can still play a strong defensive match, as illustrated in two scoreless draws over their past three matches.
Manchester United were so effective against Aston Villa because they returned to the basics. They controlled possession and pushed forward with pace when the opportunity presented itself, and Welbeck returned to form to help jump-start the attack.
Now they need to start replicating that form on a regular basis to climb the Premier League table and make deep runs in tournaments. Stoke will attempt to defend and counter, but a quick United goal would ruin that plan and allow them to keep building off their recent success.
Manchester United 2, Stoke City 0
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