Wayne Rooney (ankle) is believed to be a doubt for this game after sustaining an injury recently, while John O’Shea (calf) and Paul Scholes (groin) are both still some way from fitness. Antonio Valencia (ankle) remains a long-term absentee, and is expected to return only next month.
Nani missed the recent game against West Bromwich Albion owing to a hip injury, but is expected to be back in time for this encounter. Park Ji-Sung is unavailable as he is on international duty, playing for South Korea in the Asian Cup.
Possible starting line-up: Van der Sar; Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Fletcher, Anderson, Carrick, Nani; Rooney, Berbatov.
Mamady Sidibe (Achilles) remains sidelined following the injury he sustained against Tottenham Hotspur earlier in the season. It had initially been thought that the 31-year-old forward could be out for the remainder of the campaign, but recent reports pointed towards an early return during the festive period. However, the former Mali international is yet to make his comeback.
Possible starting line-up: Begovic; Wilkinson, Shawcross, Huth, Collins; Pennant, Whitehead, Delap, Etherington; Walters, Jones.
Manchester United have played 19 games and accumulated 41 points, which puts them currently at the top of the table.
But form may be a slight concern ahead of this game, since the Red Devils arguably did not deserve to register a victory over West Brom in their last game. It was a match that saw the league leaders struggle for long periods as the Baggies looked like carving out what would have been a well deserved draw, only for a goal from Javier Hernandez to take that all away.
However, it represents one important character of a big team, which is to continue getting the right result even when the performance may be under par.
But the encouraging part of that game came in the form of the opening goal, as striker Wayne Rooney managed to grab his first goal from open play this season. It has been a rollercoaster period in the forward’s career, as he made headlines for all the wrong reasons, hit a poor patch of form, and wanted to leave the club before a sudden u-turn saw him commit his long-term future to the Old Trafford outfit.
United will no doubt want three points from this game, as they have difficult games against Liverpool and Tottenham coming up.
Playing their part at the Theatre of Dreams
Stoke City may be forgiven for viewing the atmospheric Old Trafford as a ‘Theatre of Tragedy’, since they have not beaten United in their own backyard in 34 years. Moreover, five clashes against Sir Alex Ferguson’s men since promotion have bore no fruit, as they have resulted in nothing more than five losses.
But the Potters have been very good this season, and are sitting pretty at eighth place in the Premier League. It marks a very positive period for the club, as they have been improving all the time since their promotion to the top-flight in 2008.
And as things stand, a little more consistency could see Tony Pulis’ men come in with a real shout of obtaining a European run next season. As it stands, the Potters remain only three points away from sixth placed Sunderland.
But just as easily, three points lesser than their current tally of 27, and it would have put them in 14th place instead of their respectable residence top half.
Things could very easily move either way, and Pulis will undoubtedly want his charges to take something out of this game to maintain some form of a push in the positive direction.