Manchester United-Stoke City Preview
By JEFF FLETCHER
STATS European Editor
(AP) -- There is a new sense of optimism in the Manchester United camp ahead of Saturday's match at Stoke City.
Tuesday evening's 2-0 win against Cardiff City at Old Trafford not only earned the Red Devils a welcome victory - only their second in seven league and cup outings - the match also featured an impressive debut by club record signing Juan Mata, plus the return of star strikers Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney from lingering injuries.
Spain midfielder Mata, who moved to United from Premier League rivals Chelsea last weekend for a club-record fee of 37.1 million pounds ($61.2 million), was applauded off the pitch on Tuesday after being substituted after 85 minutes.
Netherlands striker Van Persie, who missed 11 matches due to a thigh problem, started against Cardiff and headed United in front after only six minutes. England forward Rooney came on as a 63rd-minute replacement for Van Persie after a five-match absence with groin trouble.
Ashley Young scored a second for United just after the hour mark.
United manager David Moyes was pleased with the three points against Cardiff but thought his side's overall performance could have been better.
"At 1-0, I was hoping that we would get a second goal earlier and gone on to finish the game off," Moyes told MUTV. "Even when it was 2-0, I wanted us to get a third goal. But it was good to get the goal early on and we started the game quite well.
"I was hoping for it to be much better, I am hoping for our play to be better but I thought there were some good signs. Obviously, we have got Robin back who is not totally fully fit yet. It was great to have him back. We have got Wayne back and Juan made his debut, so all in all it was a good night."
Manchester United (12-4-7) are seventh in the table on 40 points and trail Premier League leaders Manchester City by 13 points.
Stoke (5-7-11) have lost five of their last six matches in the Premier League and slipped to 16th on 22 points, only three points above the relegation places.
The Potters were defeated 1-0 at Sunderland on Wednesday after having midfielder Steven Nzonzi sent off early in the second half for a second yellow card.
Stoke manager Mark Hughes, a former United striker and Old Trafford favourite, felt his side deserved more from the match at the Stadium of Light and criticised referee Robert Madley over Nzonzi's dismissal.
"We're disappointed that a performance of real character, desire, determination and no little skill has gone unrewarded," Hughes told stokecityfc.com. "Unfortunately on too many occasions this season we've been hurt by refereeing decisions that have had a marked effect on the outcome of the game - and we're once again talking about a situation that I feel was a poor decision from the referee."
Nzonzi and Manchester United captain Nemanja Vidic will miss Saturday's match at the Britannia Stadium due to suspension.
United had to come from behind to beat Stoke 3-2 at Old Trafford in October. Peter Crouch put the Potters ahead after four minutes, but Van Persie equalised two minutes before the break. Marko Arnautovic restored Stoke's lead on 45 minutes, and they held the edge until 12 minutes from time, when Rooney leveled the match. Javier Hernandez scored the winner two minutes later for United.
There were eight yellow cards shown - six to Stoke - but nobody was sent off. United held 67 percent of the ball and outshot Stoke 19-10.
Man Utd have won 11 of their last 12 games against Stoke in all competitions and have never lost to the Potters in the Premier League, going 10-1-0 in those matches.
Updated January 30, 2014