Ferguson defends Stoke, talks striking options
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has no intention of joining the army of critics who have followed the Stoke City bandwagon since it arrived in the Premier League four seasons ago.
Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool and Manchester City have all struggled against the Potters, but that form is in marked contrast to the Red Devils, who have secured six straight victories against the Britannia Stadium side. Little wonder Ferguson is unfazed by Stoke's style of play, not that he feels there is a problem with it anyway.
"I've never criticised it," he said. "It's never been a problem for us. Everyone plays to their strengths. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. You see the progress the team is making. They have signed two or three players, they are playing European football and having a right go.
"They have a great attitude and their support is brilliant. I love the atmosphere there. If you don't attend to that you just get engulfed."
It promises to be the biggest test of United's 100 per cent start to the season so far, and rookie goalkeeper David De Gea can expect a searching examination of his ability under the high ball, which has not always looked to be completely secure.
Ferguson will have to get his team selection right and to that end, he is pleased to have Javier Hernandez available quite so quickly. The Mexican scored both United goals in the corresponding fixture last term, but his hopes of being involved this weekend appeared slim when he limped out of Sunday's win over Chelsea. Thankfully, the damage has not proved to be too serious and Hernandez is in contention to partner Wayne Rooney.
"Hernandez is very lucky," Ferguson said. "At the time he had no feeling in the leg. There was numbness and we thought there might have been some nerve damage. But he trained very well yesterday and is available."
With Danny Welbeck returning from a hamstring injury in Tuesday's win at Leeds United, Ferguson's striking options are well stocked once more. Little wonder Michael Owen reacted with such caution in midweek when asked whether his brace at Elland Road would lead to a further outing at Stoke.
As Owen himself said, he scored a hat-trick against Wolfsburg two years ago and still did not start the game afterwards. Ferguson acknowledges that with so many choices in an attack, and Wayne Rooney always likely to feature for the biggest games when fit, Owen tends to get squeezed out.
"We are perfectly happy with Michael," said Ferguson. "He is in one of these unfortunate positions because the form of Rooney and Hernandez has been fantastic.
"It's the same situation for [Dimitar] Berbatov. He was top goalscorer up to Christmas but Hernandez then started performing the way he did. There is nothing you can do about that.
"We are delighted with Michael's contributions. In 12 starts that was his 11th goal - the other night he was absolutely first class. There's no doubt in anyone's mind what a great finisher he is. He's always had that instinct round about the goalmouth."
Fergie pleased by Rio recovery
Nemanja Vidic is no nearer a recovery from the calf injury sustained in the opening-day win at West Bromwich Albion, and with Chris Smalling doubtful with a groin strain, Ferguson is glad to have Rio Ferdinand's presence. The England centre-back has missed three games after suffering a calf strain at Bolton Wanderers.
Clearly, it is not the greatest fitness record. However, Ferguson still views the 32-year-old as an essential component of his squad.
"Rio's experience away from home in a game like this is always important," said the United boss. "If he is back we are well covered."