MANCHESTER UNITED have come out of the blocks flying this season.
Jose Mourinho, taking charge of his second season at Old Trafford, has seen his side score ten goals on their way to three wins in the Premier League and are yet to concede.
The bet365 Stadium is never an easy place to go – just ask Arsenal – and United failed to win there last season.
But United will be expected to make it four wins from four with victory over Stoke and continue another step in the right direction for the Portuguese coach.
Here Football Whispers preview Saturday evening’s clash and where it will be won and lost.
The Potters have enjoyed a mixed started to the season.
Defeat at Everton was followed up by an excellent home win over the Gunners and an emphatic 4-0 victory over Rochdale in the Carabao Cup, while picking up a point away at West Brom should be seen as a positive also.
Mark Hughes’ side finished the transfer window well, signing Kevin Wimmer from Tottenham, adding to the additions of Jese on loan from Paris Saint-Germain and the return of Bruno Martins Indi.
With Romelu Lukaku leading the attack and Paul Pogba looking much more confident with Nemanja Matic beside him, the Red Devils are a much more terrifying prospect than in recent years.
Both new signings have not only started well, but improved the balance of the team and the players around them.
Key Battle: Kurt Zouma vs Marcus Rashford
Joining on loan from Chelsea, this is Kurt Zouma’s chance to shine in the Premier League.
Playing on the right of Hughes’ back-three, he will be up against Marcus Rashford, with the forward constantly making runs down the left-flank.
The Frenchman was caught out of position for Everton’s goal on the opening day, but is improving game-by-game.
He has the pace to keep up with the 19-year-old, and the physicality to battle aerially against both him and Lukaku.
Rashford, although he didn’t score against Swansea, constantly made dangerous runs, pulling the defence out of position and testing the opposition’s discipline.
He will be able to do the same on Saturday, and Zouma will need help from Geoff Cameron.
These are the matches where you need your big-time players to step up.
Jese did it against Arsenal, scoring on his debut, but if you want to jump from just a mid-table side to a Europa League contender, you need consistency.
For that to happen, Xherdan Shaqiri has to show he can become a leader and a game-winner.
Last season, in 21 league appearances he provided just four goals and two assists.
Stoke need more from the Swiss magician and Saturday would be the perfect time to start.
He will test Matic and Pogba’s defensive partnership, finding space between them and the back-four.
Shaqiri has all the quality to create something from nothing, and Stoke will need him to find his shooting boots this weekend.
Hughes’ side will be well-organised and tough to break down and to do that United will need the deep passes of Paul Pogba to penetrate the home side’s defence.
Mourinho’s side are bigger and stronger, with Matic and Lukaku, but only Burnley (24.3) have won more aerial duels than Stoke this season.
They may be technical and gifted in the final third, but the back five are a tough physical challenge.
This will be the biggest and physically strongest side United have faced; to beat them they will need some finesse and that’s what their French talisman Pogba can bring.
Now that he is no longer weighed down by his transfer fee, you can see the 24-year-old beginning to flourish.
Mark Hughes is expected to stick with the 3-4-2-1 formation.
It allows him to get the most out of his impressive defensive options, while still opting to give players like Jese and Shaqiri space to roam and create.
For the Potters it really is the best of both worlds.
Moving away from the 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1, Mourinho has added Matic beside Pogba, but taken away another central midfielder.
Playing both Mkhitaryan and Mata adds guile and movement through the middle, both can swap roles and create issues for any defence.
Predicted Stoke XI
Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting has picked up a knock playing for Cameroon and is a doubt for the match, with Saido Berahino the obvious choice to make the starting XI.
Kevin Wimmer is set to make his debut for the Potters, but he will need to replace Bruno Martins Indi on the left of the back three.
Both are new signings, but the Dutch defender knows the team and system more so it will be a tough call for Hughes to make.
Predicted Man United XI
United are flying and without any new injuries, Mourinho has options.
One of those is potentially bringing Rashford into the line-up on the left of the attack at the expense of Anthony Martial after the young Englishman’s impressive cameo and goal in the win over Leicester.
But with the Red Devils flying high, there is little need to change much else for Mourinho, although he may have one eye on the Champions League tie with Basel three days later.
Following the introduction of the Premier League, it took Stoke until the seventh attempt to beat Man United on home soil as they lost 11 of 12 league games, before Charlie Adam scored twice in a 2-1 win in 2014.
However, the Potters have a good record against United recently and the away side haven’t taken three points away from the bet365 Stadium since 2013.
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