It’s always a contentious argument as to whether it’s better to face a team after they’ve had a good result or a bad one. If you’re opponents come into a game after a good result, confidence will be high, or so the argument goes. On the other hand, if they’ve just suffered a poor result, they’ll be bursting to put things right. Of course we’re just talking about normal teams here; teams that is with ‘normal’ managers. Unfortunately for Stoke City when they take the field against Manchester United on Sunday, that circumstance won’t apply.
If there’s a team primed for a performance full of vim, vigour and vengeance, it’s Manchester United.
following a defeat, and a bit of the Ferguson hair-dryer treatment. United’s performance in losing to City was not the stuff that their manager will be purring over – and that sets aside the fact of the result. Losing out to the neighbours never goes down well. Expect therefore that there’ll be no ‘pipe and slippers’ performance or ‘already on the beach’ demeanour amongst the United players, despite their apparent canter to the league title.
Although it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise in the world if wholesale changes were to be apparent in the starting eleven, neither would it be the case if the same players were sent out to ‘put things straight.’ Turning up fit for the battle will be the order of the day.
From Stoke’s perspective, their home defeat to Villa last week brought their league predicament into sharp focus. Any self-delusion that they weren’t fully involved in a battle against relegation was cruelly dismissed by the Birmingham outfit. Make no mistake, with their position seemingly in free-fall, and games running out, a minimum of a draw will be required on Sunday, and manager Tony Pullis’ ability to enthuse his team with the same desire that Ferguson will have drilled into his players will be tested to the utmost.
Over the past few seasons, a visit to Stoke has been looked on as one of those awkward games. One in which you may get something out of it, but you’ll have earned it if you do. Latterly however, the Potteries ‘house of pain’ has resembled a more sedate setting, and results have reflected that. Whilst the support is still fiery, a seeming attempt to develop the squad may have led to them losing that very essence of desire and defiance. Their ability to recapture this may be the deciding factor in their fight for premier League status.
It’s difficult to look beyond a victory for a fully firing United, but should Stoke manage to keep a clean sheet for the first thirty minutes or so, all things become possible. If Stoke can reproduce that bustling belligerent style of old, it could be that there’ll be a hair dryer on full blast awaiting in the dressing room for the United players’ return. I wouldn’t bet on it, but you never know.