Fergie not fazed by Stoke test
Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has hailed Stoke's progress under Tony Pulis and would never dream of criticising their style of play. Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has been a particular critic of Stoke in their three and a bit seasons in the Premier League, with the Gunners winning just one of their four trips to the Britannia Stadium. Chelsea and Liverpool have also had their struggles, as have Manchester City. Indeed, the former two have already dropped points against Tony Pulis' men this season. That form is in marked contrast to United, who have secured six straight wins since Stoke came back into the top flight. Little wonder Ferguson is not fazed by Stoke's unique threat, not that he feels there is a problem with it anyway. "I've never criticised it (Stoke's style of play). It's never been a problem for us. "Everyone plays to their strengths. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. "You see the progress the team is making. They have signed two or three players, they are playing European football and having a right go. "They have a great attitude and their support is brilliant. "I love the atmosphere there. If you don't attend to that you just get engulfed." It promises to be the biggest test of United's 100% start to the season so far and rookie goalkeeper David De Gea can expect a searching examination of his ability under the high ball, which has not always looked to be completely secure. Ferguson will have to get his team selection right and to that end, he is pleased to have Javier Hernandez available quite so quickly. The Mexican scored both United goals in the corresponding fixture last term but his hopes of being involved this weekend appeared slim when he limped out of Sunday's win over Chelsea following Ashley Cole's wild challenge. Thankfully, the damage has not proved to be too serious and Hernandez is in contention to partner Wayne Rooney. "Hernandez is very lucky," Ferguson said. "At the time he had no feeling in the leg. There was numbness and we thought there might have been some nerve damage. But he trained very well yesterday and is available." With Danny Welbeck returning from a hamstring injury in Tuesday's win at Leeds, Ferguson's striking options are well stocked once more. Little wonder Michael Owen reacted with such caution in midweek when asked whether his brace at Elland Road would lead to a further outing at Stoke. As Owen himself said, he scored a hat-trick against Wolfsburg two years ago and still did not start the game afterwards. Ferguson acknowledges that with so many choices in an attack, and Wayne Rooney always likely to feature for the biggest games when fit, Owen tends to get squeezed out. "We are perfectly happy with Michael," said Ferguson. "He is in one of these unfortunate positions because the form of Rooney and Hernandez has been fantastic. "It's the same situation for (Dimitar) Berbatov. He was top goalscorer up to Christmas but Hernandez then started performing the way he did. "There is nothing you can do about that. "We are delighted with Michael's contributions. In 12 starts that was his 11th goal - the other night he was absolutely first class. "There's no doubt in anyone's mind what a great finisher he is. He's always had that instinct round about the goalmouth." Nemanja Vidic is no nearer a recovery from the calf injury sustained in the opening-day win at West Brom and with Chris Smalling doubtful with a groin strain, Ferguson is glad to have Rio Ferdinand's presence. Ferdinand has missed three games after suffering a calf strain at Bolton, after sitting out two matches following a tweaked hamstring sustained at West Brom. Clearly, it is not the greatest fitness record. However, Ferguson still views the 32-year-old as an essential component of his squad. "Rio's experience away from home in a game like this is always important," said the United boss. "If he is back we are well covered."
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