Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has urged his side to recover from defeat in the Manchester derby and wrap up the Premier League title, starting with Sunday’s trip to Stoke.
The 2-1 loss to Manchester City on Monday cut United’s gap at the top of the table to 12 points with seven games remaining. While a 20th championship should still be a formality, after losing an eight point lead in the final weeks of last season, Ferguson is keen for focus from his players.
"We have a job to do," Ferguson said, according to Manchester United’s official website. "The incentives are there for ourselves in the sense that we've only got seven games left.
"I don't think we should look at our position in terms of being 12 points clear,” he added. “What matters is winning on Sunday and we need to do that. As we always do, we should just try to do our best. We have a job to do on Sunday and we need to do it."
Ferguson is again not expecting to be able to call upon the services of captain Nemanja Vidic, who is nearing a return from injury that has ruled him out of the past two matches. Fellow defender Chris Smalling is definitely still out, but Jonny Evans looks set to be available.
While Stoke have only lost three games at the Britannia Stadium this season, Tony Pulis’ side are on a wretched run of form having taken just a solitary point from the last 18 available.
That run has dragged Stoke firmly into the relegation battle, just three points above the drop zone. There is also increasing unhappiness with Pulis from some Stoke fans as, without good results, his unchanged style of play has been called into question.
Pulis will have to wait to check on the fitness of winger Matthew Etherington and defender Marc Wilson. Glenn Whelan has returned to fitness after a back problem.
Stoke City (probable)
D: Cameron, Shawcross, Huth, Wilson
M: Shotton, N’Zonzi, Whelan, Etherington
Manchester United (probable)
G: De Gea
D: Rafael, Ferdinand, Jones, Evra
M: Carrick, Cleverley
Valencia, Kagawa,, Rooney
F: Van Persie
Prediction: The Manchester derby continued United’s poor performances since exiting the Champions League to Real Madrid early last month. Robin van Persie is one player that looks in need of a rest to refresh, but Ferguson is likely to persevere with the Dutchman despite his scoring drought.
While not being at their best, Untied have been able to do enough to beat lesser sides recently and that could well continue against a Stoke team looking in real danger of ending their time in the Premier League.
Stoke 0-1 Manchester United
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick-off at 9.05 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel. A live stream, which you view at your own discretion, will be available here.