Without a win in six outings in all competitions, Manchester United will be desperate for a Boxing Day win at Stoke City to help ease the increasing pressure on manager Louis van Gaal.
The hosts are becoming increasingly enigmatic themselves having suffered a frustrating home defeat at the hands of Crystal Palace last weekend despite creating the majority of the chances and territory. It was a stunning late strike which beat them in the end, but that they ended up having 26 attempts on goal with only five on target tells its own story, even more so when considering the goal they did score came from the penalty spot.
For all their recent good defensive work it was a display that left few to wonder why the Potters have the joint worst scoring record in the Premier League along with lowly Aston Villa. And that is simply not good enough, given the number of quality attacking players they are able to pick from. They are undoubtedly strong enough to overcome a vulnerable and ailing Man Utd side here, but if anything the club in its current state is underachieving at present.
In spite of all of that, Stoke’s frustrations are nothing compared to the woes that United have been going through of late, and van Gaal’s very position is now under significant pressure to the extent that another bad result here – in what is a very tricky game – may push him to the brink. The team is clearly playing within itself, and they were again an impotent force at home to Norwich City in a match which resulted in a sorry defeat, greeted by a chorus of boos at the final whistle.
One thing the Red Devils have deserved praise for this season is the quality of their defending, but they totally shot themselves in foot in that respect against Norwich, where the lack of an experienced back four could not have been cited as an excuse. But in the case of Phil Jones it was possibly a lack of match sharpness as he endured an abysmal return to the starting XI, being caught badly out of position for both goals. That said, alongside him Chris Smalling did not have the best afternoon of his career either.
Geoff Cameron is still unavailable for Stoke, as are Peter Crouch, Stephen Ireland and Marc Muniesa.
For United, Bastian Schweinsteiger completes a three-match ban, while Matteo Darmian is unlikely to be risked as he recovers from a hamstring problem.