Manchester United really cannot afford to lose to Stoke City this weekend.
Forget the speculation around Louis van Gaal’s future – who is likely to be sacked if his side are beaten – the Red Devils are already nine points off the top of the Premier League table and they will have no chance of a title challenge if they fall any further behind.
Injuries remain an issue for United, with Matteo Darmian, Antonio Valencia, Luke Shaw, Jesse Lingard and Marcos Rojo all ruled out.
Meanwhile, Bastian Schweinsteiger is also unavailable, as he completes the final part of his three-match ban.
Without a win in six games in all competitions, Van Gaal must be tempted to ring the changes, but he will need an experienced core to be able to cope against Stoke at one of the most intimidating stadiums in world football.
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The spine of United’s defence is likely to be David de Gea, Chris Smalling and Daley Blind – all of whom have been brilliant this season.
Smalling and Blind have excelled as United’s centre-halves this season, but the versatile Dutchman was moved to left-back last weekend, with Phil Jones brought in to the middle.
United’s backline looked significantly weakened as they lost 2-1 at home to Norwich City. As a result, Smalling and Blind are likely to be reunited, with Jones pushed out the right-back and Ashley Young on the left.
Michael Carrick’s composed passing in front of the back four will be vital, while Van Gaal could bring back Morgan Schneiderlin in place of Marouane Fellaini.
Despite their poor scoring record this term, United’s front four pick themselves right now due to a lack of options. Captain Wayne Rooney will support Golden Boy Anthony Martial, with Juan Mata and Memphis Depay also looking to threaten Stoke’s goal from deep.