- 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.
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.”
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.