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Preview: Manchester United vs. Stoke City

Sports Mole previews Tuesday's Premier League clash between Manchester United and Stoke City at Old Trafford.

The spotlight will once again be on Louis van Gaal on Tuesday night when his Manchester United team welcome Stoke City to Old Trafford in the Premier League.

Defeat at home to Southampton last time out has left the Red Devils five points off the top four and they will face a Stoke side that have only lost one of their last four meetings with the 20-time English champions.

Man United

Louis van Gaal and Ryan Giggs look on prior to during the FA Cup fourth-round match between Derby County and Manchester United at iPro Stadium on January 29, 2016© Getty Images

It was widely reported that Van Gaal would lose his job at Man United if his team were beaten at Stoke in the Premier League on Boxing Day. That was indeed the case as the Potters triumphed 2-0 on home soil, but more than one month later, the Dutchman still holds the managerial post at Old Trafford despite what has been a poor campaign thus far.

Man United were eliminated from both the League Cup and Champions League before the business end of the season, while they are now facing a real battle to finish in the top four in the Premier League. As it stands, the Red Devils sit fifth on 37 points, some five points off fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur. The start of 2016 was actually quite positive, but a 1-0 home defeat to Southampton last time out in the league raised more questions.

The pressure was eased somewhat with a confident 3-1 win at Derby County in the FA Cup on Friday night, but with Chelsea to come in the league at the weekend, Man United just cannot afford to drop more points. That said, despite their struggles this season, they are actually only 10 points off league leaders Leicester City with 15 games to play.

Stoke might have won two of the last four meetings between the two sides, but the Potters have lost on all seven of their Premier League trips to Old Trafford and in total, have lost 11 of their 15 Premier League games with the Reds.

Man United might have only conceded five goals in their 11 home league games this season, but they have only scored 28 in total, which is their lowest goal tally at this stage of a campaign since the 1989-90 season. Their skipper Wayne Rooney has found some form in 2016, however, and the Englishman has netted three times in his last two Premier League appearances against Stoke at Old Trafford.

Another damning statistic for Van Gaal is that the Dutchman has a lower Premier League win ratio (49.2%) than David Moyes (50%), who was heavily criticised during his time at Old Trafford. Manchester City will have Pep Guardiola in the dugout next season, and a large section of the Old Trafford support believe that Jose Mourinho should be the coach to return Man United to former glories.

Recent form: LDWDWL
Recent form (all competitions): WWDWLW


Marko Arnautovic celebrates scoring during the League Cup match between Liverpool and Stoke City on January 26, 2016© Getty Images

Stoke have drawn plaudits for their performances throughout the season, but the Potters will enter this match off the back of three consecutive defeats, although two of those were in the cup and they did pick up a win at Liverpool - eventually being knocked out in the League Cup semi-finals on penalties.

A 1-0 defeat at Crystal Palace at the weekend saw Mark Hughes's side exit the FA Cup in the fourth round, but the Stoke hierarchy will not see that elimination as too much of an issue. Hughes can now focus all of his attention on the league as he attempts to secure another top-half finish. At the moment, Stoke are well placed inside the top half, with a total of 33 points from their 23 matches leaving them in ninth.

Incredibly, Stoke are actually only four points off Man United and depending on other results, could move level with sixth-placed West Ham United if they record a win at Old Trafford. As mentioned, the Potters have lost all seven Premier League games at Old Trafford, but they have only lost one of their last four against the Red Devils in all competitions and will have taken a lot of confidence from their 2-0 win when the two teams last met.

Tuesday's fixture will also be Hughes's 100th Premier League match in charge of Stoke and he has a record of 37 wins, 26 draws and 36 defeats. However, the former Manchester United forward has lost on his last eight visits to Old Trafford as a manager.

Stoke have only lost two of their last six in the league, but they were well beaten at Leicester City in their last league match and have been inconsistent on the road, losing three of their last five and only winning once. There is no question that they have changed from the style under Tony Pulis, but Hughes has instilled a sense of belief that the Potters are capable of finishing in a European position.

Recent form: WWLWDL
Recent form (all competitions): WWDLLL

Team News

Michael Carrick of Manchester United in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Newcastle United at Old Trafford on August 22, 2015 in Manchester, United Kingdom.© Getty Images

Man United had hoped to have Bastian Schweinsteiger back from a knee problem, but it is understood that the German international will miss out once again alongside Matteo Darmian, Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones.

Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young remain long-term absentees as Van Gaal struggles to put a defence together, but Michael Carrick should return to the starting XI after overcoming a knee problem.

Memphis Depay is also pushing for a start after struggling for football in recent weeks, and the Dutchman could replace Jesse Lingard in the starting XI. Elsewhere, Van Gaal will once again pick between Ander Herrera and Juan Mata for the number 10 position.

As for Stoke, former Man United defender Ryan Shawcross is still out with a back problem, while fellow defender Marc Wilson is facing three months on the sidelines with knee ligament damage.

Charlie Adam, Marko Arnautovic and Geoff Cameron are also doubts, although Arnautovic has been given the best chance of featuring, while Jonathan Walters and Glen Johnson should both be fit for selection.

Man United possible starting lineup:
De Gea; Varela, Smalling, Blind, Borthwick-Jackson; Carrick, Schneiderlin; Depay, Mata, Martial; Rooney

Stoke possible starting lineup:
Rutland; Johnson, Wollscheid, Muniesa, Pieters; Whelan, Ireland; Arnautovic, Bojan, Shaqiri; Joselu

Head To Head

Stoke have been beaten on all seven of their Premier League trips to Old Trafford, but the Potters have only lost one of their last four against the Red Devils and were victorious in the reverse league match at the Britannia.

Stoke have also only ever beaten Man United on two occasions in the Premier League, but both of those victories have come in the last four meetings between the two teams.

The corresponding league match last season ended in a 2-1 home win, with Mata scoring the winner for Man United.

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We say: Man United 2-1 Stoke

It would not be a surprise if this ended in the spoils being shared, but Man United were better against Derby last time out and they should have enough to claim all the points on home soil.

Stoke will again be physical and difficult to beat, but we are backing the hosts to claim a narrow win.

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Matteo Darmian of Manchester United on the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Sunderland at Old Trafford on September 26, 2015 in Manchester, United Kingdom.
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