Ferguson: United have no problem with Stoke style

MANCHESTER UNITED manager Alex Ferguson has no intention of joining the army of critics who have followed the Stoke bandwagon since it arrived in the Premier League four seasons ago.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was aggrieved when young midfielder Aaron Ramsey had his leg broken in a meeting with the Potteries outfit while Chelsea and Liverpool have also had their struggles, as have Manchester City.

United, however, have secured six straight wins since Stoke came back into the top flight. Little wonder Ferguson is not fazed by Stoke’s unique threat.

“I’ve never criticised it (Stoke’s style of play). It’s never been a problem for us. Everyone plays to their strengths. There is nothing wrong with that. You see the progress the team is making. They have signed two or three players, they are playing European football and having a right go.”

Rookie goalkeeper David De Gea can expect a searching examination of his ability under the high ball, which has not always looked secure. Ferguson will have to get his team selection right and to that end, he is pleased to have Javier Hernandez available quite so quickly.

The Mexican scored both United goals in the corresponding fixture last term but limped out of Sunday’s win over Chelsea after Ashley Cole’s wild challenge.

“Hernandez is very lucky,” Ferguson said. “He trained very well yesterday and is available.”

With Danny Welbeck returning from a hamstring injury in Tuesday’s win at Leeds, Ferguson’s striking options are well stocked once more. Little wonder Michael Owen reacted with such caution in midweek when asked whether his brace at Elland Road would lead to a further outing at Stoke. As Owen himself said, he scored a hat-trick against Wolfsburg two years ago and still did not start the game afterwards. Ferguson acknowledges that with so many choices in an attack, and Wayne Rooney always likely to feature for the biggest games when fit, Owen gets squeezed out.

“We are perfectly happy with Michael,” said Ferguson. “He is in one of these unfortunate positions because the form of Rooney and Hernandez has been fantastic. It’s the same situation for (Dimitar) Berbatov. He was top goalscorer up to Christmas but Hernandez then started performing the way he did. There is nothing you can do about that.

“We are delighted with Michael’s contributions. In 12 starts that was his 11th goal — the other night he was absolutely first class. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind what a great finisher he is. He’s always had that instinct around about the goalmouth.”

Nemanja Vidic is no nearer a recovery from the calf injury sustained in the opening-day win at West Brom and with Chris Smalling doubtful with a groin strain, Ferguson is glad to have Rio Ferdinand back.

“Rio’s experience away from home in a game like this is always important,” said the United boss.

Meanwhile, Tony Pulis believes United are even better than Barcelona and have no equals at the moment.

“If you look at their team and the way they’ve started, I think United now have a better team than they had last year, and they won the Premier League title last year,” said the Potters boss.

“If they play to their maximum, they will beat any side in the world, and I put Barcelona in that.”

Stoke will be without striker Kenwyne Jones who damaged a hamstring in the penalty shootout win over Tottenham in the Carling Cup on Tuesday.

Salif Diao, Cameron Jerome and Jermaine Pennant have all been struggling with niggles while Danny Pugh has joined Leeds on loan.

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