Stoke-on-Trent (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Manchester United’s visit to Stoke on Saturday offers the chance to exorcise some bad memories as Jose Mourinho’s side look to reel in the Premier League’s top four.
United’s lowest point of last season came in this fixture when, amid fevered speculation about Louis van Gaal’s future as manager, they performed woefully and slipped to a 2-0 Boxing Day defeat.
Van Gaal, as it turned out, held on to his job for another five months before he was sacked to make way for current United boss Mourinho.
United are actually one place lower in the Premier League now than they were at the end of last season, but they are on the rise at the moment, having gone 16 matches unbeaten in all competitions.
Despite that run, United have remained in sixth place for more than two months, but having been nine points adrift of the top four in early December, that gap has been reduced to four.
It would have been just two points had Mourinho’s side managed to beat Liverpool last Sunday, but having trailed for much of the game, they had reason to be satisfied with the 1-1 draw secured by Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s header.
United, who have won their last four away games, have more or less a full squad to choose from, with the only significant absentee being defender Eric Bailly, who is at the Africa Cup of Nations with Ivory Coast.
Mourinho is content enough with the size of his squad to be willing to sanction the imminent sale of winger Memphis Depay to Lyon.
With a glut of cup fixtures to come over the next month, United may well have found use for Depay, but there was acknowledgement from the club that the player needed to start afresh.
– Murmurs of discontent –
Depay has made only four substitute appearances for United this season, one of which was when Stoke earned a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in October – a match in which Mourinho’s side paid for failing to take their chances.
United midfielder Michael Carrick says that fixture is a warning that they must not be caught out again.
“Stoke have got some very good players and we know it’s probably not the same going there now as it was seven or eight years ago,” Carrick said.
“I think Mark Hughes has come away from the sort of long throw-ins and set-plays that put you constantly under pressure in your own box.