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Preview: Man Utd v Stoke
06 May 2010 - 13:47:16
Manchester United must beat Stoke City at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon and hope Chelsea slip up against Wigan Athletic if they are to secure a record-breaking fourth successive Premier League title, but the odds are definitely stacked against Sir Alex Ferguson's men.
Last month's 2-1 home loss to Carlo Ancelotti's team was always going to be a pivotal game and so it has proved with United going into the final weekend of the season just one point behind the Blues.
It looks increasingly likely that United will have to settle for just the Carling Cup in their trophy cabinet this season though, but it has been another enjoyable campaign for most United fans with Wayne Rooney coming to the fore in the post-Cristiano Ronaldo era.
However, the fortnight in late March and early April which saw them slump to Champions League defeat against Bayern Munich and draw with Blackburn as well as lose to Chelsea in the Premier League appears to have been crucial.
It has been another memorable season for Stoke who have secured a second successive mid-table finish following their promotion at the end of the 2007-08 campaign.
However, there have been signs of dissension within the ranks recently with James Beattie, Tuncay and Dave Kitson all publicly rebuked by boss Tony Pulis. All three players look set to be plying their trade away from the Britannia Stadium next term.
The recent 7-0 capitulation at Chelsea hinted that some Potters players may already have one eye on their summer holidays and the goals have certainly dried up since Pulis' side secured successive victories over West Ham United and Hull City just over a month ago, although they did win 1-0 at Fulham on Wednesday.
Gary Neville (calf), Danny Welbeck (knee), Michael Owen (hamstring) and Anderson (cruciate knee ligaments) are all sidelined for United, while Stoke will be without Amady Faye (groin) and goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen (arm). Amir Begovic is once again expected to deputise for the Danish shot-stopper.
Stoke have won seven of their 44 matches at United but were hammered 5-0 at Old Trafford last season with Ronaldo scoring twice while Michael Carrick, Dimitar Berbatov and Welbeck were also on the scoresheet.
At the Britannia Stadium earlier this season, Ferguson's side returned to Manchester with all three points after a 2-0 win that came courtesy of goals by Bertbatov and John O'Shea.