Date: 4th January 2011 at 5:19pm
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Tonight’s game against Stoke is the last of  a supposedly tough festive season.

With maximum points secured against Sunderland and West Brom and a draw at St. Andrews after the ref allowed what proved to be an illegal goal,  the results do not belie the reality of the games.

Although we were worth our money against Sunderland and could have ran out with a much better score, our performances against Birmingham and West Brom weren’t the best .

Squad rotation as well as a change in tactics saw us turn in less than spectacular performances but tonight against Stoke we may see an improved display.

Playing at against a team that hasn’t beaten us in 35 years inspires confidence but this season anything goes so here are a few key things that may impact on the game from a United stand point.

’s return:

has been absent from the team since the game with a hip injury as well as flu and it has told. Our play has been  narrower, attempting to go through the middle rather than the wings, something that United have done for years.

It was thought Nani would return for the West Brom game but he didn’t. In that game whilst his performance was poor Obertan saw a lot of the ball out wide and you can only imagine the havoc Nani would have caused had it been him.

Resting of players/Squad Changes:

With visiting on Sunday for the FA Cup we may see further squad rotation in order to play our strongest team for their visit. Gibson has been used twice in some capacity in the past 2 games and may see some playing time tonight. Anderson for his resurgence has lacked his usual presence both against Birmingham and West Brom so may be rested in order to spruce him up. Having been rested against West Brom and seeing our lack of width may be recalled to the team but I would expect and prefer him to be saved for Liverpool. came in for some serious flack following his performance against West Brom so a return to the starting line up for Rafael may be on the cards.

Whether Rooney will play is still up in the air as it has been claimed he may and may not have recovered from the knock he picked up in the dying moments of the West Brom game after Chris Brunt aimed to slow down a United break. Having just scored his first goal from open play in donkey’s many had hoped the flood gates would open but he can’t score if he isn’t playing (thank you Captain Obvious!) If he doesn’t Javier Hernandez is likely to step into the fray, having put Stoke to the sword already this season and coming off scoring the winning goal on Saturday, the Mexican isn’t a bad replacement.

Stoke -Long throws, physicality:

Stoke are renowned for their physical style of play. will be the first to make you aware of this but against United they will not be facing any shrinking violets. We are well equipped with players up for the fight if Stoke do decide to go down that path.

Rory Delap’s long throws have been the scourge of many a team, they are designed to cause havoc in the box and inevitable do. Stoke aren’t a tiny team so will flood the box when he gets within range but Van Der Sar and Vidic both offer aerial protection whilst the likes of Ferdinand is no slouch and Rafael and Evra, despite not being the tallest, both have great leaps.

Form:

Stoke’s form has been up and down of late, in their last 5 games they are WLWLD but looking specifically at their away form, of their 9 away games stoke have lost 5.That would suggest that they aren’t the best travellers but you will have to go back to November 6th to find the last away game they lost, 2-0 at the Stadium of Light and in their last 3 they have 2 wins and a draw.

That said none of those teams were Manchester United!

Vs Stoke this season: A Javier Hernandez brace (1 of which being a spectacular backwards header) saw United pick up the first 3 points on the road in a 2-1 victory.

This fixture last season: With the title more or less wrapped up down at the Bridge, United hammered a sorry Stoke side 4-0

I’m going with a United win for this one, how comfortably depends on personnel namely Nani. We are a lot better at than on the road and I don’t think Stoke will be the team to come here and upset us.