United to fight fire with fire

Manchester United have warned Stoke City that they are ready to fight fire with fire in order to get their Premier League title bid back on track on Saturday.

United, beaten by Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in their last league outing, have fallen eight points behind joint leaders Chelsea and Liverpool. And Stoke arrive at Old Trafford this weekend having already taken a point off Liverpool at Anfield, before beating Arsenal at the Britannia Stadium earlier this month.

Tony Pulis's team have developed a reputation as a physical and direct outfit this term, with Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger hugely critical of their tough-tackling approach during the 2-1 defeat against the promoted outfit. But United midfielder Darren Fletcher, fit again after a brief knee injury lay-off, insists that Sir Alex Ferguson's players will not be fazed by the prospect of taking Stoke on.

Fletcher said: "We know it could be physical on Saturday, but we can handle it. There were suggestions after our game at Everton earlier this season that we couldn't cope when teams got stuck in. On that occasion, they managed to equalise and get a point and some suggested it was all down to their physical approach. But we were right up for it that day, just like we're always up for a physical challenge.

"The philosophy here has always been to get the ball down and play the right way, but it's not our God-given right and sometimes we have to win a few battles first. Some teams have been upset by Stoke, but I think that's only because they've lost to them. Nobody likes to lose, so you can see why they might get riled."

United's defeat at Arsenal was their second of the season, having also lost 2-1 at Liverpool in September. But Korea Republic midfielder Park Ji-Sung insists that United remain firmly in the hunt for the title, despite the early setbacks.

Park said: "We lost against Arsenal, which was obviously not good, but we're still in the season and there are many matches ahead, so I'm not worried."

Despite an impressive home record this term, Stoke have picked up just two points away from the Britannia Stadium, but Jamaican striker Ricardo Fuller insists that the squad has what it takes to improve on that record.

Fuller said: "We've beaten Arsenal and drawn at Liverpool, so when you're performing in those games it's ideal for building confidence. If you take your chances when they come, you can beat anybody. We did it against Arsenal, and Arsenal managed it against United last weekend."

Fuller claims that criticism directed at Stoke since their victory over Arsenal has been unfair and wide of the mark. He said: "We're not dirty, we're definitely fair. What has happened in the last few weeks with Arsenal is done and dusted. If they had got three points, they wouldn't have spoken about it. But that happens in football, people try to deflect what the real topic should be about."