Manchester United vs Stoke: 5 Questions Ahead of Saturday's Match
Sir Alex Ferguson and his Red Devils are still riding high in the Premier League having earned the maximum points from the season thus far. Topping the league in goals as a team overall and featuring the individual top scorer in Wayne Rooney, things are definitely looking rosy at Old Trafford.
But last week's game against Chelsea, scoreline aside, served as a warning to United that appearances may be deceiving.
The 3-1 scoreline flattered a United team that looked at times sluggish and careless and showed the rest of the league how they can be hurt. It was only Chelsea's lack of clinical finishing that saved the Red Devil's their blushes.
With that in mind, they travel to the Britannia Stadium to face a Stoke team that, while not as skilled as the champions, will look to use their physicality to take advantage. Here are five questions United fans should keep in mind as the match draws closer.
Will David De Gea Be Tested?
Early season embarrassments aside, David De Gea has pretty much sewn up the No.1 jersey with a string of impressive performances against Arsenal, Bolton and Chelsea.
The thing is, he still shows an alarming tendency to flap at crosses, a weakness that Bolton promised to exploit but failed to do so. In fact, De Gea has yet to be punished at all in that respect.
Is Stoke the team to do so? Like Bolton, they are a physical team in the box, and in Rory Delap they boast a player with a Gary Neville-like long throw that may cause problems for the wiry Spanish keeper.
Who Will Start Up Front with Wayne Rooney?
When you have the league's best player on your team, it's a given that you should start him almost every game. But who will Sir Alex Ferguson pick to line up alongside of him? Normally, Javier Hernandez would be an almost automatic choice, but the speedy Mexican picked up an Ashley Cole-sized knock over the weekend and is therefore in doubt.
Do you go with the fit-again Danny Welbeck?
Do you go with the resurgent two-goal hero Michael Owen?
Or do you go with last year's joint top scorer (and potential center-back) Dimitar Berbatov?
Is Rio Ferdinand Fit?
Rio Ferdinand, the once captain for club and country, is quickly approaching an Owen Hargreaves-like fragility this season. Coming off an injury, Sir Alex claims his center-back is fit and could be in line for a start.
But against an extremely physical team like Stoke, do you risk your fragile veteran for a full 90 minutes considering your defense is in the middle of a minor injury crisis? Or do you trust your defense to the youthful pairing of Phil Jones and Jonny Evans (or even Dimitar Berbatov!?)
Who Is Your Right-Back?
The answer to this question depends on a number of other issues, such as the fitness of Rio Ferdinand and the health of Chris Smalling. But if Ferdinand is ready to go and if Smalling's reported "knock" is minor, then it begs the question: Who is the best choice for right-back against Stoke?
With former first choice right-back Rafael nursing an injury, Chris Smalling was given the role and he definitely ran with it. He produced some impressive performances that got him a starting berth for the national team.
But Phil Jones was also given a chance, and on the basis of some recent results, might be even better at it than Smalling.
As a right-back, Jones has shown a surprising efficiency in going forward, an excellent cross and good dribbling. His driving runs have also created chaos in opposing defenses and have led to goals.
And let's not forget Rafael's twin brother, Fabio, either. Quicker but less physical than either Jones or Smalling, Fabio has long been considered the better of the Da Silva twins. Is it time to give him a long term starting berth and prove it?
Michael Carrick or Darren Fletcher?
Tom Cleverley started out the season as United's first choice central-midfielder to start alongside Anderson. But his injury has opened the door for one of two veterans to show that they're not quite ready to relinquish their spots just yet.
When Cleverley went down in the Bolton game, the first man off the bench was Michael Carrick. Although the former Tottenham man has lost both pace and esteem in the eyes of fans, he is still one of the team's better passers. Regardless of whether he passes backwards more than he should, he doesn't often offer up the terrible interceptions that can sometimes plague Anderson's game, and therefore could be a good complement to the Brazilian.
On the other hand, Darren Fletcher, who is hopefully fit for good this time, offers yet another dimension that United's midfield needs. A tough tackler who never gives up, Fletcher adds the kind of steel and bite that Anderson doesn't. If he is at the top of his game, he may be what United needs against a team like Stoke.
So there you have it.
There is no doubt that Manchester United is flying high right now, and are heavily favored to win against Stoke.
But that doesn't stop questions from being asked of the champions, and here are five that I've come up with.
What questions do you have? Strike back in the comments below, and thanks for reading.