Manchester United's Rooney and van Persie attend a training session at the Carrington training complex in Manchester

Premier League Preview: Manchester United vs. Stoke City

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  • Stoke City haven’t beaten Manchester United in any form of competition since 1993 when they won the first leg of a League Cup matchup.
  • Manchester United have their lowest league point total after eight matches (11) since 1989.
  • Stoke City have conceded just seven goals in their eight matches.

Manchester United look to get back on track as they host Stoke City at Old Trafford (10am ET, watch live on NBCSN or online via NBC Sports Live Extra). With the heat on David Moyes increasing with every disappointing result, the new United manager will have Robin van Persie back to call upon in front of goal.

A draw with Southampton last time out, coupled with defeats to West Bromwich Albion and Liverpool already on the books this season, have seen many question whether Moyes is the right man to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson.

The defending champions may be on their way to a climb back up the table thanks to some momentum from their 1-0 Champions League win over Real Sociedad midweek.  The Red Devils must get the results in the Premier League however – and fast – or pressure on Moyes could certainly bubble over.

While Mark Hughes’ side hasn’t been exactly flashy this season, their defensive record will bring a decent test for the Manchester United goalscorers.  They’ve conceded just seven goals this season, although Stoke have also only scored four.

This where it will be massively important for Moyes to call on van Persie, who has struggled with nagging injuries to start the season.  Knocks have caused the attacking talisman to miss a Premier League match and a Champions League tie, and he was pushed to the substitutes bench for a second league match.

The return of van Persie plus the excellent form of Wayne Rooney is definitely a sign of better times to come.  The mercurial English star has three goals and an assist in his last five league matches, and did most of the work on the play that resulted in Sociedad’s early own goal midweek.

Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley will most likely not feature for Manchester United due to injuries, and Geoff Cameron is a doubt for Stoke with a calf injury that forced him to miss last week’s match against West Brom. Stoke captain Ryan Shawcross is also a question mark, having been sick all week.

What they’re saying

David Moyes on Wayne Rooney: “It’s been great working with Wayne because he’s an excellent footballer. I’ve said from day one he’s been great. He had a very good game in midweek. We want that form to continue. We want him to keep scoring goals. He is a big plus for us just now. I don’t think it’s me or anyone else. It’s Wayne Rooney. He had to make sure he was the best he could be and he’s done that. He’s in good nick, his talent is unquestionable. He’s physically very good, mentally in a good place and his form has been good.”

Mark Hughes on playing at Old Trafford: “West Brom have gone there and won, so it’s more than possible that we can get a positive result. We’re playing well away from home, arguably slightly better away from home than we are at home, so if we can take our performance level and keep it high we can go there and be positive. You can’t go to Old Trafford and be apprehensive about what’s ahead of you. You have to be positive and have a go. Our expectations and the expectations of our fans are high. We want to go there and put in a positive performance, if we do can that then let’s see what happens.”

Ryan Giggs on Manchester United form: “We’ve got the feeling that, somewhere along the line, we are going to score a load of goals. We have created a lot, especially in the last couple of games, whereas perhaps, before that, we didn’t.  That’s encouraging and, with the quality we have got on the pitch, we should be scoring more goals. Why we’re not, I don’t know, we are just going through one of those stages where we are not scoring enough goals. The lads at the back are doing a really good job, so hopefully it will come.”

Prediction

As much as Hughes has a point about teams not being as fearful of Old Trafford as they have been, it’s still a fortress for United.  The win midweek will provide them with a bit of confidence, and it’s hard to argue with the duo of Rooney and van Persie at this point.

Something Moyes & co. seriously  need to improve on is playing with a 1-goal lead.  Many times this season the club has had chances to extend an early lead, only to fail and see it come back to haunt them later.  This is something they failed to do against Southampton, and even against Real Sociedad midweek en route to a nervy win.

Nobody saw the West Brom win or Southampton draw coming, but it’s even harder to forsee yet another slipup.  A win for the home side is in the cards, although another tensely close victory would probably do little to ease the pressure on Moyes.  They’ll need to win confidently and convincingly to silence the doubters for the next 7 days.

AEK Athens beats Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) AEK Athens defeated Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0 in an ill-tempered game on Sunday that saw 12 yellow cards and two dismissals.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win of season ]

Astrit Ajdarevic scored the only goal in the 34th minute with a free kick that deflected off Olympiakos defender Manuel da Costa.

Olympiakos’ athletic director Francois Modesto was sent to the stands for protesting about the lead-up to AEK’s goal. His team’s central defender Alberto Botia was dismissed after a second yellow card in the 75th for pulling an advancing AEK forward’s jersey.

Despite the defeat, its second of the season, Olympiakos has a 10-point cushion over second-place Panionios, which beat 10-man Iraklis 1-0.

PAOK, a 4-0 winner over Veria, remains in third place, one point ahead of Panathinaikos, which beat Asteras 5-0 on Saturday. AEK is joint fifth with Xanthi.

PSG drops points against Toulouse days after massive UCL win

PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 14:  Julian Draxler of Paris Saint-Germain looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Paris Saint-Germain and FC Barcelona at Parc des Princes on February 14, 2017 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Just days after its massive (and somewhat unexpected) beatdown of Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain failed to close the gap on league leaders Monaco.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win ]

PSG settled for a 0-0 draw on Sunday at the Parc des Princes against eighth-place Toulouse, leaving the Parisian side three points behind Monaco through 26 rounds of action.

[ MORE: Bielsa returns to Ligue 1 with Lille ]

Despite holding the visitors to just three shots (one on target), Toulouse managed to contain a rampant PSG attack, which posted four goals midweek in their rout of the Blaugrana.

PSG’s first strong chance came in the 14th minute when Lucas Moura’s effort was saved in the bottom corner by goalkeeper Alban Lafont.

Meanwhile, Edinson Cavani may have had the game’s best opportunity to break the deadlock when the Uruguayan attacker struck the post from inside the penalty area.

Unai Emery’s group will be back in action on Feb. 26 when PSG travels to Dimitri Payet and Marseille.

Wenger worried over Sutton’s pitch heading Monday’s clash

SUTTON, GREATER LONDON - FEBRUARY 16:  Pundits Paul Merson (4L) and Matt Le Tissier (2L) take part in a training session alongside Paul Doswell manager of Sutton United (L) and players during a Sutton United FA Cup media day on February 16, 2017 at the Borough Sports Ground in Sutton, Greater London. Sutton United are due to face Arsenal in the Emirates FA Cup Fifth round on 20 February.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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The story of Monday’s encounter between Arsenal and fifth-division Sutton United will be whether the minnows can overcome the mighty Gunners.

[ MORE: Mourinho pleased with United’s “attitude” against Blackburn ]

However, Arsene Wenger already fears a bigger challenge within the game, one that concerns his players’ safety.

Sutton’s 5,000-seat Gander Green Lane features an artificial surface, which is largely uncommon for English and most European venues regardless of club standing.

“First of all the pitch. Secondly their enthusiasm. Thirdly that we are not ready mentally for a big fight and think subconsciously that it doesn’t matter,” Wenger said ahead of Monday’s FA Cup meeting in South London.

In preparation for their meeting with the U’s, Wenger had his side train on their own indoor artificial field on Friday.

“Look, ideally we would like to play on a normal pitch. Competition is as well to deal with what you face, and we’ll face an unusual pitch and we’ll have to deal with it,” he said.

“We practice inside [on Friday] because we have an artificial pitch. It’s not the same as it’s a dry pitch, and at Sutton I’ve heard that’s a wet pitch, they water it before the game. So it will be much quicker than what we have.”

Leipzig beats ‘Gladbach 2-1, cuts Bayern’s Bundesliga lead

Leipzig's scorer Willi Orban, center, and his teammates celebrate their side's 2nd goal during the German Bundesliga soccer match between RB Leipzig and Hertha BSC Berlin in Leipzig, Germany, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
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BERLIN (AP) Leipzig held on for a 2-1 win at Borussia Moenchengladbach to cut Bayern Munich’s lead in the Bundesliga to five points on Sunday.

[ MORE: Messi rescues Barca, Pescara wins second Serie A match ]

Emil Forsberg scored one and set up another for the promoted side to end its two-game losing streak and stay on course for Champions League qualification with its 14th win of the season.

[ MORE: Bielsa makes Ligue 1 return, joins Lille as new manager ]

`Gladbach `keeper Yann Sommer pulled off a brilliant fingertip save to deny Marcel Sabitzer early on, but he was powerless to stop Forsberg from breaking the deadlock after half an hour played.

Sabitzer and Timo Werner played their way through the static `Gladbach defense and Werner laid the ball off for the Sweden midfielder to fire inside the bottom left corner.

The home side was given a lifeline when Marvin Compper brought down Lars Stindl and referee Felix Zwayer pointed to the spot, but Peter Gulacsi saved Thorgan Hazard‘s penalty before the break.

More poor defending allowed Werner grab the second 10 minutes after the break, firing inside the far post after Forsberg played him through.

Jannik Vestergaard pulled one back with a powerful header from a corner to set up an exciting finale. However, six minutes of injury time were not enough for an equalizer.

Leipzig had kicked off to a chorus of whistles from the home fans, who then mostly stayed silent till the 19th minute in protest against the visiting side. Huge banners in the north stand said “Traditional club since 1900” – an apparent protest against Leipzig, founded in 2009 when Austrian energy-drink billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz rebranded a fifth-tier team with his company’s livery before financing its steady promotion through the lower leagues.

COLOGNE 1, SCHALKE 1

Cologne stopped Schalke’s progress but the point was enough for the visiting side to overtake `Gladbach on goal difference in 10th.

Alessandro Schoepf got the visitors off to a flying start in the second minute with the help of the left post, and Leon Goretzka hit the post after half an hour with the home side still struggling to get into the game.

But Anthony Modeste equalized before the break with a fine strike inside the far post, and might even have scored again just minutes later, when his hesitation allowed Benedikt Hoewedes get back and clear.

Guido Burgstaller came closest to a winner for Schalke in the second half, his shot just wide of the far post after beating the goalkeeper.