Nani expects United to get rough ride from Stoke
Manchester United winger Nani is expecting a physical confrontation with Stoke when Sir Alex Ferguson’s team returns to Old Trafford for the first time since their surprising loss to Tottenham.
Beaten twice already in their opening seven Premier League games of the season, United know there is little margin for error against Tony Pulis’ side after their surprising 3-2 home reverse to Spurs late last month.
But Nani is also aware that Stoke — who may have only won one game this season but have also only lost one match, by a solitary goal at league leaders Chelsea — present a difficult fixture on the return from the international break.
“It is always hard to play against Stoke because they play a different kind of football to most teams in the Premier League,” Nani told the club’s in-house broadcaster MUTV.
“They are very physical and have very strong players. It is also difficult because most of the game is in the air. We need to be strong and try to play our game.
“We are playing at home and we have to believe we can win the three points. It is very important because when you play at home, you have a good chance to win these games.” With international fixtures behind them for the foreseeable future, United face a potentially pivotal period of seven league games in five weeks which could make or break their attempts to wrestle the league title away from local rivals Manchester City, especially as their next league game comes at current leaders Chelsea.
“It is a good time for us,” said Nani. “We had a very good result last time against Newcastle before the international break so we are confident and it is a good time to start to believe.
“But we do not set long-term targets — our only target is to always win the game and to finish on top.” United boss Sir Alex Ferguson is still without skipper Nemanja Vidic (knee) and fellow defender Phil Jones (knee).
However, Chris Smalling could return to the defence after recovering from a metatarsal fracture which has kept him out of action since last season.
Ashley Young is also in contention to make a return following a knee injury while Ferguson is likely to start with Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie together after both strikers scored for their respective countries during the international break.
Rooney has netted three times for England since he last wore a United shirt in the 3-0 win at Newcastle on October 7 and van Persie scored his 31st goal for the Netherlands on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Stoke’s French midfielder Steven Nzonzi is looking to take inspiration from a shock win at United last season when his team attempt to end a nightmare eight-match Old Trafford losing run in the league.
The Stoke player was part of the Blackburn side that, despite eventually suffering relegation, sentenced United to a shock 3-2 defeat in front of their own fans on December 31.
“It is one game, and people may not give us much chance on Saturday, but similarly nobody gave Blackburn a chance when we went there last season, and look what happened that day,” Nzonzi said.
“We have performed well this season and picked up points from games where people may not have thought we would get anything. We are moving in the right direction and I am really enjoying being a part of it all.”