It's been nearly a year since Manchester United won four Premier League games in row. On 28th December 2013, David Moyes' Moysey Boys downed Norwich City 1-0 away to rise to sixth in the table and a little bit of optimism began to creep into hearts and minds ... at which point, everything started to fall apart.
Still, football fans are nothing if not suckers, and with Moyes in Spain, with Louis van Gaal in the dugout and with United in fourth, positivity is once again the order of the day, as United look to win four in a row again. Yes, there have been some shonky moments in defence, and yes, players are still picking up injuries with remarkable fervour, but still. There's a definite sense that things are starting to come together. And if nothing else, they're not a complete headache to look at any more. And that has to count for something.
Actually, we should probably pay some attention to those injuries. After pulling up against Hull City, Angel di Maria misses out this evening with an injury to (we think) his hamstrings. Fingers crossed that's not a serious one. Also missing is inspirational captain Wayne Rooney, who picked up a knock after banging into an advertising board late in the same game. You see where over-commercialisation gets you, Ed? In come Ander Herrara and James Wilson into an otherwise unchanged team. Whether it's an unchanged system remains to be seen.
Opposition tonight comes in the shape of Stoke City, who are having a weird season. Excellent away wins at Manchester City and Tottenham; miserable home losses to Burnley and Leicester are perhaps the low points. However, they come into the game on the back of a 1-0 loss at Liverpool that could, in truth, have been a draw or even a win: Stoke had the better of the chances, and it took an 85th minute stumbling header from Glen Johnson to undo them. With former United legend Mark Hughes in charge and former United myth Mame Biram Diouf up front, watch out for the immutable law of the ex.
Manchester United: David de Gea; Antonio Valencia, Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, Ashley Young; Michael Carrick; Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini; Juan Mata; Robin van Persie, James Wilson
Subs: Anders Lindegaard, Tyler Blackett, Paddy McNair, Darren Fletcher, Adnan Januzaj, Falcao, Will Keane
Stoke City: Begovic, Bardsley, Shawcross, Cameron, Pieters, Wilson, Nzonzi, Ireland, Assaidi, Bojan, Diouf
Subs: Butland, Muniesa, Palacios, Arnautovic, Adam, Crouch, Shenton