Stoke’s brawn holds no fears for Ferguson

Alex Ferguson is preparing to roll the welcome mat out for Stoke’s “jolly green giants”, insisting they hold no fears for Manchester United.

In eight games since the Potters returned to the top flight in 2008, they have collected just a single point against United.

Only Chelsea (two in nine) have enjoyed similar success, with Stoke taking eight points from nine games with both Arsenal and Manchester City, and 11 off Liverpool from a similar number of fixtures.

The key, according to Ferguson, as it used to be with Bolton and Wimbledon before that, is in the mind.

“We’ve got the jolly green giants coming to play against us,” said Ferguson. “The biggest team in Europe. You can get yourself in a tangle about that but you can’t make a terror for yourself.”

Ferguson has plenty of time for Tony Pulis, who has transformed Stoke’s fortunes since his arrival at the club in 2006.

And he has no truck with those who believe Stoke’s robust style has no place in the Premier League.

Maybe that is why United have never looked particularly daunted in facing Stoke’s battery of six footers.

“You cannot pick your opponents,” said Ferguson.

“I admire everything Tony has done. He is a real professional who makes the best of what he has got.

“We know they are going to get set pieces. They are going to put long throws into our box and they are going to play long balls up to Crouch.

“But it has never got to a degree where it intimidated us. You can over-worry these things. Let’s play our game.”

It is undeniable Pulis prefers taller players, so it seems odd he snapped up Michael Owen after his United contract expired. The 32-year-old has been limited to a couple of substitute appearances so far, which in itself is a positive given the amount of time he spent on the sidelines in three years at United.

“Michael is not allowed to play unless he brings ladders,” Ferguson joked.

“He is a fantastic player. But we had the opportunity to sign Robin van Persie, Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck were improving and developing as players, Wayne Rooney was there of course, and then with young strikers like (Federico) Macheda, Will Keane, Josh King and Bebe. It was difficult to hold on to Michael.’’

Although his defensive resources remain stretched, the return of Ashley Young after two months out with a knee injury gives Ferguson another selection headache.

For his part, Pulis feels his side can only “do their best” when they take on big guns like United, claiming it is “not a level playing field” for such contests.

“We have had good periods in games up there, but they have always managed to get goals at the right time.

“The most important thing is that you go out there and do your best, but it is not a level playing field when you are playing against the top six or seven sides — you just look at the players they have, the money they spent and their turnover compared to other clubs in the Premier League,” said Pulis, who rates Glenn Whelan as “50-50” to recover from the hamstring injury suffered playing for Ireland against Germany. “United are one of those sides, but we will go up there and do our best.”

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