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Match Preview: Stoke City vs. Manchester United

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Manchester United take on Stoke on Boxing Day. Just how bad will things get?

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Ho, ho and indeed ho. For those of you spending your Christmas Day perusing a bitter and pessimistic Stoke City match preview: respect. Manchester United will look to gift their supporters a belated Christmas present with a defeat away to the Potters on Saturday, as it would surely mean Louis van Gaal's position would become officially untenable. A victory, on the other hand, would merely delay José Mourinho's inevitable and glorious arrival at Old Trafford.

Stoke have good reason to fancy their chances against United: not only are we utterly hopeless, but they're not at all bad. Mark Hughes' slow and sporadic enhancement of their notoriously robust playing style has been greatly aided by the arrivals of Bojan, Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautović over the last few seasons, and Potters are now a very real threat with the ball on the ground as well as in the air. It's going to be a very tough game.

Team news

United will be without Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia, Marcos Rojo, Matteo Darmian and Jesse Lingard through injuries, while Bastian Schweinsteiger will serve the last of his three-match ban. Morgan Schneiderlin could be involved if he recovers from his recent injury woes in time to pass a late fitness test.

Stoke also have several players out: goalkeeper Shay Given, defenders Marc Muniesa and Geoff Cameron, midfielder Stephen Ireland and strikers Peter Crouch and Peter Odemwingie are all injured.

Tactics

Stoke's midfield of Glenn Whelan and Charlie Adam may well be one of the crudest in the entire Premier League, but don't be fooled: their attack can be lethal. Whelan and Adam are largely tasked with sitting deep and shielding the defence, winning the ball back and passing it off to one of the front four as quickly as possible. The trio of Arnautović, Bojan and Shaqiri is thrillingly fluid, with both wingers tending to drift towards Bojan in the centre of the pitch. The result is a number of passing combinations in the final third that can slice through disorganised defences.

However, Stoke's other real strength lies in keeping teams from scoring. Only United, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal have conceded fewer goals than the Potters in the Premier League this season, with industriousness across the field characterising their play. Hughes is still trying to find the balance between defensive muscle and attacking flair, but he's not far off. They're extremely hard working, and it's hard to see a real weakness that this impotent United side could target.

For their part, Stoke are almost certain to attempt to do what will henceforth be known as 'a Norwich'. They're not a team that generally dominate possession, having averaged only 47% of the ball at the Britannia Stadium so far this season. Their front four have sufficient pace and skill to be a serious threat on the counter-attack, and this United side seem one-dimensional enough that they'll waltz straight into the Stoke trap, passing impotently across the midfield before being sucker-punched on the break. What fun.

Predicted lineups

Stoke City (4-2-3-1): Jack Butland; Erik Pieters, Philipp Wollscheid, Ryan Shawcross, Glen Johnson; Glenn Whelan, Charlie Adam; Marko Marko Arnautović, Bojan, Xherdan Shaqiri; Mame Biram Diouf.

Manchester United (4-2-3-1): David de Gea; Daley Blind, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Ashley Young; Ander Herrera, Michael Carrick; Memphis Depay, Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata; Anthony Martial.