The final fixture of this Premier League gameweek takes us to Old Trafford as Manchester United play host to a managerless Stoke who said goodbye to Mark Hughes after the Potters were knocked out of the F.A. Cup by Coventry just over a week ago.
The exit of Hughes means that he is denied the chance to return to the ground where he made his name as a player in the 80’s and 90’s and while his former Stoke charges make the trip to Manchester this evening knowing that a win would take them out of the bottom three at the expense of Southampton.
For Jose Mourinho’s United side it is an opportunity to pull clear of the teams below them as the race for second begins to identify, both Liverpool and Chelsea are on their heels now with Tottenham also just three points further back in fifth.
A win for United this evening would see them go clear in second place while in turn closing the gap to runaway league leaders Manchester City to a slightly more respectable 12 points after Pep Guardiola’s men were finally beaten in the Premier League this season.
It would have been quite the dichotomy for United fans yesterday as to who support what with Liverpool playing host to Manchester City at Anfield. Arguably for the very short term they would have been lending their support to the Merseyside outfit yesterday afternoon.
That win shows that Pep Guardiola’s men are human but now it is time for Jose Mourinho’s men to do their bit and take full advantage of yesterday’s result. On the one hand it has allowed United to edge slightly closer to the top on the other that win for Liverpool has contracted the race for the remaining Champions League places.
At one point yesterday Liverpool were just a solitary goal away from moving up to second such was the magnitude of their advantage, in the end they had a job just holding onto their win and that means that the Manchester duopoly is undisturbed once again.
It could still be if Stoke do the unthinkable and win by a three goal margin later tonight, that will probably be asking a bit too much although stranger things have happened in the Premier League and with the Mark Hughes era now at an end could they play with the shackles removed.
They will need to certainly improve on recent performances if they are to get anything out of this clash, they have failed to win any of their last three Premier League outing while also suffering that aforementioned cup upset to Coventry last weekend.
That was the final nail in the coffin for the former Wales manager with the Peter Coates’ patience finally coming to an end after giving what now must only be noted as the ‘dreaded vote of confidence’ back in December as the club owner then said there is no need to panic.
There is certainly the need to panic now though as they are very much in the midst of a relegation battle especially as West Brom and Swansea are also finally showing signs of improvement and not only that they are struggling to find a successor to take over the vacant managerial post at the Bet365 Stadium.
Quique Sanchez Flores was close to swapping Espanyol for Stoke put then the former Watford boss got cold feet, while Martin O’Neill’s idea of a Republic Of Ireland/Stoke job share was deemed as an unworkable suggestion and the former Leicester manager will not be returning to the Premier League anytime soon.
So managerless Stoke come here without much hope in all honesty but they also come here with little to lose, a free hit in every sense this evening. Unfortunately though for them I think it’s going to be a swing and a miss as United go on to earn all three points. Home win for me.