Ahead of United’s home tie against Stoke City in their 8th game of the season, we talked to Ross from SCFCRoss about their start of the season, Stoke’s footballing approach and Jermaine Pennant.
8 points from 7 games: good or bad start?
In my eyes, an excellent start to the season, but for a handful of fans it’s been fairly average. We’ve lost just one game this season and that was a narrow 1-0 loss away to Chelsea where a late goal was needed, but the performances of the team since the arrival of Geoff Cameron, Steven N’Zonzi & Charlie Adam have massively improved. The squad looks to be coming along very well and the formation is slightly altered giving us a brand new lease of life. You could look at the start we’ve made negatively and say that we have also only won one game, but playing Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea & now Manchester United within 6 games is very tough for any team, and we’ve performed admirably so far.
Admittedly your last 4 games haven’t been the easiest (Liverpool, Swansea, Chelsea and Manchester City) yet you have managed to pick up the majority of your points in this run, beating Swansea and drawing to Manchester City and Liverpool. Surely this can only be promising?
It is indeed very promising. The likes of Geoff Cameron, Steven N’Zonzi, Ryan Shawcross, Asmir Begovic and Peter Crouch have been excellent this season and it’s a fantastic mark of our improvement that after such a tough set of games, we’re competing in mid-table. After this weekend’s game we have a couple of arguably easier games; games we should look to win. Those sort of fixtures are just as important as the ones against tougher opponents & it will be a much more accurate view of our season if we can win those games.
Everyone knows Stoke City’s no-nonsense approach to football games with many opponents calling your tactics “thuggish”. What are your views on this?
Personally, I think Stoke are physical, but not thuggish. Yes it may sound biased but if you watch a game for 90 minutes without the precedent that the team is thuggish, you’ll see that the team is simply strong. It’s always been part of the Tony Pulis mentality to get at the opponent and not allow them time on the ball, but people seem to take this totally out of proportion and claim it’s a lot worse than it is. Take the Huth incident a couple of weeks ago with Suarez. All afternoon Huth was clearly given the task of bullying Suarez out of the game and letting him know who was boss. That sort of attitude is very old-school but it’s successful and I wouldn’t change that style for the world.
Manchester United’s keeper situation is something that is driving many fans up the wall. Do you think that Pulis will have a particular plan in mind to target this current weakness in the Manchester United squad?
I would assume so, yes. The team and individually Crouch obviously possess a pretty understandable aerial threat, so set pieces will be one of the few chances we will get to score from. No longer is the long throw a threat though. We still have that weapon in our armour with Geoff Cameron, but it’s not at all a vital part of our game, so watch out for Charlie Adam set pieces being swung in all afternoon. Fingers crossed one of them flies in past whichever keeper starts for United.
Talking about Manchester United players, you recently signed an ex-Red Devil in Michael Owen. How pleased are you with this free transfer?
As a player, I think he has perhaps 2 seasons maximum left at the top level. He’s yet to make an impact on the first eleven, but as a person I think it shows the progress the club is making. If you were a young striker choosing between a handful of clubs, why wouldn’t you choose to join a club with Crouch & Owen at the club? His signing isn’t just great as a player but it’s also great for the club and the future.
Your views on Manchester United’s start to the season
Pre-season, I was pretty impressed with the signings the club had made. Kagawa and Van Persie were certainly notable players and the club has looked fairly solid so far this season. Typically, United finish the season stronger than they start, so I still have faith that they’ll challenge for the title again, but with the strength of Manchester City, it could very well go down to the last day again. Saturday will be perhaps the toughest fixture possible.
A few days ago, Stoke City announced that Jermaine Pennant has been loaned out to Wolverhampton on a short-term deal. Being one of the few “explosive” and creative players in your squad, will this hinder your goal scoring ability?
Pennant hasn’t really played much this season or towards the end of the last due to one thing or another, and when he has featured, he’s unfortunately been disappointing. He’s currently the 4th choice winger, and the loan will do him the world of good. We still have Etherington, Walters and Kightly to rely on and the competition for places is much stronger this year and helping all three players improve their game.
How do you think Stoke City will approach the game?
We’ve lined up in the same way all season against big teams, and I think we’ll play very similarly to how we did against Liverpool, and hope that a resolute defence and strong counter attack is enough to create an opportunity whilst also keeping out the opposition.
Predicted line-up and score?
Stoke haven’t even earned a point at Old Trafford in 32 years, so it’s tough to predict anything more than another loss on Saturday, but the last two fixtures at Old Trafford haven’t been too bad and the team have started well this year, so I honestly think we will see either a very narrow loss or a draw. A draw would be incredible and give us a fantastic platform to build on for the rest of the season. We will almost definitely line-up like this:
Cameron, Shawcross, Huth, Wilson
Walters, N’Zonzi, Adam, Whelan, Kightly
N’Zonzi and Whelan will drop deep and play just in front of the defence in the ‘cage’ whilst Adam will play the role of advanced playmaker just behind Crouch. This is how we have started for the majority of this season. I boldly predict a very tough 1-1.
Thanks to Ross from SCFCRoss for taking the time to answer our questions. Follow him on Twitter @SCFCRoss