Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Manchester United

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  • Mata, Rooney, Van Persie all available for Manchester United
  • Stoke City’s last Premier League win: Dec. 21, vs. Aston Villa
  • The Potters have not beaten Manchester United since joining the Premier League in 2008.

David Moyes demurred when given the chance to play Juan Mata with Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney on Tuesday. Instead, the former Chelsea playmaker’s debut saw Rooney start on the Red Devils’ bench, eventually coming on for Van Persie in the second half.

On Saturday, Moyes gets another chance to embrace United’s future when his team visits Stoke City (10:00 a.m. ET, NBCSN; also available on NBC Sports Live Extra).

If that future means Champions League soccer next season, there’s no room for error. Manchester United can’t afford to drop points at places like Stoke. While the Britannia would normally be a place where one-point would be explicable, a six-point (and three-team) gap between United and fourth means the Red Devils must maximum these opportunities.

On form, the Potters seem ready to accommodate United. Losers of four games in a row, Stoke hasn’t scored a goal in their last 275 minutes. Thanks in part to that drought, the team’s only three points clear of relegation, with Hull, Fulham and Cardiff the only teams below them in the form table.

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On Saturday, they’ll be without midfielder Steve N’Zonzi, who will be serving his one-match ban for picking up two yellow cards  against Sunderland.  Robert Huth will be out recovering from a knee injury, while Matthew Etherington is sidelined with a calf problem.

For United, Rio Ferdinand and Nani are both, with the team announcing late Friday that Michael Carrick’s ankle will keep him out for at least one more match. Captain Nemanja Vidic will also be absent, still serving a suspension from his Jan. 19 red card against Chelsea on.

What they’re saying

Juan Mata, on his transition to life at United: “I have felt comfortable at this club from the first minute. Time has gone so quickly but the welcome has been amazing. The lads are really good and there is a great atmosphere.”

Mark Hughes, on Stoke’s transfer needs: “If we don’t get anybody else in then so be it because the group has shown that they are an excellent group with determination and skill and if we go with this group from now until the end of the season then so be it because I haven’t got a problem with that.”

Prediction

For both teams, Saturday could provide a repeat of their mid-week performances. On Tuesday, Manchester United found the goals they needed in an otherwise unspectacular performance. On Wednesday, Stoke never found a way through Sunderland after conceding early. If United can recreate Tuesday’s best moments, they’ll have enough. United, 1-0.

Raiola: Zlatan to “100 percent” stay in Europe for two seasons

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic may be 35 and coming off major knee surgery, but that isn’t stopping suitors from lining up across Europe.

Ibrahimovic’s agent, Mino Raiola, says that MLS is not an option for the Swede over the next two seasons. From Sky Sports:

“Many clubs have asked for Zlatan. He can play two more years and will stay in Europe, 100 per cent.”

It would make sense for Ibrahimovic to stay around Manchester United, where he is admired by Jose Mourinho and coming off a season that showed he’s still capable of contributing at a high level.

But he remains beloved in Italy, and would be effective for most clubs in the Top 5 leagues should he return at even 75 percent of the Zlatan we’ve seen regularly.

Report: Manchester United, Inter Milan keen on Perisic deal

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Manchester United wants Ivan Perisic, and both the player and his current club are all about it.

Perisic, 28, is ready to leave Inter Milan, and the Serie A mainstays are happy to accept $46 million for his services according to Sky Sports.

[ MORE: No China for Costa ]

Primarily a left winger, Perisic moved to Inter from Wolfsburg at the start of the 2015-16 season. He scored 10 goals and added nine assists in Serie A play this season, and has kept up his production pace since moving from the Bundesliga to Italy.

United needs stars and depth for its Champions League campaign, and Perisic would buttress an attack with Marcus Rashford, Henrikh Mkhitaryan amongst others. He was a difference maker for Croatia at EURO 2016, and can do the same at Old Trafford.

Celtic secures trophy treble, ends Scottish season unbeaten

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GLASGOW, Scotland (AP) Celtic completed a trophy treble in Scottish soccer and finished the domestic season undefeated after beating Aberdeen 2-1 in the Scottish Cup final thanks to an injury-time goal on Saturday.

Midfielder Tom Rogic scored from an acute angle in the second minute of stoppage time at Hampden Park to ensure Celtic added the cup to the Scottish Premiership and the Scottish League Cup.

[ MORE: No China for Costa ]

Brendan Rodgers became the third manager, after Jock Stein (1967, 1969) and Martin O’Neill (2001), to lead Celtic to a treble of domestic titles.

Celtic hasn’t lost any of its 47 games across in the league and both cups, and is the first team to go through the whole of a Scottish domestic season unbeaten.

No China for Costa: It’ll be Chelsea or Atletico Madrid

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Blues striker Diego Costa offered some insight into his future following Chelsea’s FA Cup Final loss to Arsenal on Saturday.

The combustible striker was subject to a head-turning bid from the Chinese Super League this winter, but is only looking at two European locations for his future.

Those are his current club, Chelsea, as well as former home at Atletico Madrid.

[ JPW: Poignant FA Cup Final reflects English mood ]

The 28-year-old Costa has kept his scoring pace level since arriving in the Premier League. He scored 64 goals in 134 matches for Atleti, and has notched 58 goals for Chelsea in 120 appearances.

Costa reportedly said, “No, no, no” when asked about China, as well as the following: