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.

The halted World Cup flip-throw heard around the world (video)

AP Photo/Sergei Grits
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Milad Mohammadi knew the time was right for something special, but special isn’t always good.

And good is a subjective term. Cause to us this is very good, Milad.

The Iranian national team defender failed with a flip-throw bid in the final moments of a 1-0 loss to Spain on Wednesday at the World Cup in Russia.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

And this wasn’t like he illegally flipped or broke some other rule. No, like a kid trying an audacious jump into the deep end, Akhmat Grozny star Mohammadi just bailed and climbed in from the side (so to speak).

The kiss, the look skyward, the headbutt… all integral parts of a wonderful World Cup moment.

Renard, Morocco “very proud” of its unlucky national team

AP Photo/Antonio Calanni
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If you would’ve told Morocco fans or their manager, Herve Renard, that they’d outshoot and outpossess both Iran and Portugal at World Cup, their next question would probably be, “So do we need to do against Spain to win Group B?”

Alas, Morocco lost a pair of 1-0 decisions to become the first team knocked out of the 2018 World Cup.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The Lions of Atlas fell to Iran in their opener on a stoppage time own goal after carrying 64 percent possession and a 13-8 advantage in shot attempts, then lost to a Cristiano Ronaldo fourth minute goal on Wednesday despite a 16-10 shot advantage and 53 percent of the ball.

“I’m very proud of the performance and I am very proud of my players, I’m very proud of this country,” Renard said.

With no hope of advancing to the next round, the manager is finding the experience bittersweet. From RTE:

“What I am sure of at this moment is that the entire Moroccan people is proud of this team. Of course it’s easier to play with a player who has one chance and he puts it away. But we are in Morocco.

“We have quality players. Despite the ups and downs of the game, we should have been more effective. Because, like in the first game, we had plenty of chances. I won’t blame anyone. That’s football. It’s always those who know how to be present in the box, the most gifted players, who make the difference. We took a lot of risks and we didn’t get our reward.”

It’s unlikely Morocco will hold either of those statistical advantages against Spain, especially a Spanish side yet to qualify, but there is plenty to like from the tournament aside from poor finishing quality.

But the performances of 19-year-olds Amine Harit (Schalke) and Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid) — not to mention Hakim Ziyech (25, Ajax) — seem to hint at a promise for 2022. And Renard’s men can still play spoiler for Spain, which is no small shockwave.

Queiroz: Iran has one “match point” left in World Cup group stage

AP Photo/Sergei Grits
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Iran manager Carlos Queiroz isn’t going to let his tournament be defined by one win or one loss, especially with a massive moment on the horizon.

Iran fell 1-0 to Spain on Wednesday, days after defeating Morocco in its World Cup opener. Team Melli was denied its equalizer despite VAR review thanks to an offside, and failed in several other bids to level the score.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Now Queiroz and his men need a win over Portugal to qualify for the first knockout stage in its five World Cup history.

“We showed that we were ready to suffer and ready to compete. I felt we deserved a better result. There’s no doubt Spain play wonderful, stylish football but I thought we deserved more for the way we played.

“But congratulations to Fernando Hierro and Spain. We will learn a lot from this game. If you think of it like tennis, we had one match point today and we will have another against Portugal. Everything is still open. We are still alive and still dreaming.”

What chance do you give Iran of getting over on Portugal, who only topped a dominant Morocco side via a terrific designed play executed to perfection by Cristiano Ronaldo?

The odds are in Portugal’s favor, if only for its experience in tight games on massive stages. Well, perhaps the better “if only” would be to say if only for Ronaldo. Either way…

Spain gets win after Iran sees equalizer ruled out

AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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  • Spain goal: Costa (54′)
  • Iranian goal disallowed
  • Next: Spain-Morocco, Portugal-Iran

Iran had an equalizer taken away via Video Assistant Referee and Spain picked up its first win of the 2018 World Cup with a 1-0 win in Kazan on Wednesday.

Diego Costa scored Spain’s goal, as La Furia Roja joined Portugal atop Group B on four points. Iran has three, while eliminated Morocco has yet to get a result.

Team Melli lost their chance to sit atop the group when Saeid Ezatolahi rebound was ruled to have come after an offside touch from a teammate.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Spain certainly had its chances in the first half hour, capped off by an attempted overhead kick from David Silva.

Man City’s 32-year-old attacker had a great deal of chances in the contest, and would see a deflected rip bound wide of the goal during three minutes of first half stoppag time.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

After Gerard Pique missed an in-tight chance to start the second half, Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand made an outstanding punch save on Isco before punching away the rebound bid.

Iran found its first true chance of the match in the 53rd minute, with Karim Ansarifard lashing into a shot from 15 yards that tore into the outside of the goal.

It was moments later that Spain went ahead, Costa getting a goal when a clearance bounding off his shin and into the net.

Mehdi Taremi flicked a header wide of the goal, and Iran thought it had an equalizer through Saeid Ezatolahi only for VAR to step in and call offside on the previous Iranian to touch the ball.

It was off, but only just.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

Beiranvand was again on the scene for a 70th minute goal mouth scramble following a drawn-up corner kick by Spain.

Taremi pounded a header over the goal after a Vahid Amiri nutmeg of Pique led to a back post cross.