Following a few days of warm weather training in Dubai having endured a hectic festive fixture schedule, Manchester United return to action on Monday night when they welcome managerless Stoke City to Old Trafford. Jose Mourinho’s men have made a perfect start to the new year with two consecutive 2-0 victories, away to Everton and at home to Derby County and will be hoping to put the struggling Potters to the sword, next. United legend Mark Hughes became the Premier League’s latest managerial casualty, having dragged Stoke down to 18th place in the league standings, whilst they also suffered an embarrassing elimination from the FA Cup third round at the hands of League Two outfit Coventry City.
Mourinho is likely to make a number of changes to the side that overcame a stubborn Derby side last Friday, most notably in goal, where David de Gea should replace Sergio Romero between the sticks having been rested for the visit of the Rams. Ashley Young, who has made the left-back spot his own this season, is once again unavailable for selection as he sits out the final match of his three-game ban for violent conduct. However, first-choice right-back Antonio Valencia could make his much-awaited return from injury, having been out of action since the 2-1 victory away to West Bromwich Albion back in mid-December.
In midfield, Marouane Fellaini is likely to be an option from the bench, having played out the final 10 minutes of the Derby match following more than six weeks on the sidelines. Summer signing Nemanja Matic is likely to be reinstated alongside Paul Pogba in the middle of the park, whilst Jesse Lingard, currently in the form of his life with eight goals from his last 10 United appearances, could expect to retain his place in the starting line-up.
Currently without a goal since the derby defeat to Manchester City at the start of last month, local hero Marcus Rashford was unfortunate not to find the back of the net against Gary Rowett’s men and it will be interesting to see whether Mourinho keeps faith with the 20-year-old or opts to start Anthony Martial instead. Up front, Romelu Lukaku, whose head injury in the last game of 2017 saw him sit out the trip to former club Everton, is likely to lead the line for the home side on Monday night, after coming off the bench against Derby to score United’s second and wrap up their progress to the fourth round of the FA Cup.
Stoke, meanwhile, have won just one of their last five league outings and find themselves embroiled in a relegation battle. There will be a number of familiar faces at Old Trafford on Monday night, as former Reds Ryan Shawcross and Mame Biram Diouf return to a place they once called home. Darren Fletcher, who spent 12 hugely successful years at United, where he became a pivotal part of various title-winning sides, will also be back at the Theatre of Dreams and will undoubtedly be given a fantastic reception by the home fans.
With league leaders Manchester City facing a tricky trip to in-form Liverpool on Sunday afternoon, United could go into their clash with the Potters either with the chance of closing the gap between them and their arch-rivals or looking to keep the distance at 15 points. Either way, the onus will be on United to continue their positive start to the new year and chalk up another victory.