Weblog: The football punter

Sinking Stoke unlikely to shock ruthless United

Sky Sports Premier League, 8pm Monday

Managerless Stoke have had difficulty finding a suitable candidate who is up for a Premier League relegation battle and whoever replaces Mark Hughes could see the daunting challenge laid out in all its misery against Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Gary Rowett, amid reports of interest from Stoke, earned himself a new contract at Derby before Quique Sanchez Flores surprisingly chose to stay at Espanyol rather than return to the Premier League, leaving Martin O'Neill and Slaven Bilic as the bookmakers' two front-runners for the Potters vacancy.

Hughes had to go after the FA Cup exit at Coventry but whoever comes in faces a tough task. Stoke are in the bottom three and it's not just because Sparky had gone stale at the bet365 Stadium.

"We shouldn't be fighting relegation," said striker Peter Crouch in his Daily Mail column, yet Stoke spent nearly half of last season in the drop zone so why the big surprise that it's happening again?

The first task for caretaker manager Eddie Niedzwiecki and youth team boss Kevin Russell is to ensure a spirited performance - something that has disappeared against the elite clubs.

Stoke held Manchester United at home and beat Arsenal much earlier in the campaign, although since then they have lost 4-0 and 3-0 to Chelsea and Liverpool at home respectively as well as facing crushing defeats at Manchester City (7-2), Chelsea (5-0) and Tottenham (5-1).

The lack of focus in the squad was highlighted by Saido Berahino turning up 24 hours early for this match, believing it was on Sunday. That provided a humorous interlude on the Stoke players' social media but their predicament is no laughing matter.

United fully deserve to be considered long odds-on favourites at home and they should come out firing having just returned from a warm-weather training camp in Dubai.

Worthwhile bets are never easy with such strong market leaders but a bet on the hosts to win to nil could be the pick of the prices seeing as only Manchester City, Burnley and Newcastle have scored at Old Trafford in the Premier League this campaign.

Seven of United's 11 Premier League home games finished in wins to nil and assuming they maintain their concentration levels there should be enough in Jose Mourinho's attack to land a comprehensive victory.

Romelu Lukaku returned with a goal in the 2-0 cup win over Derby and Jesse Lingard maintained his excellent recent scoring prowess.

Lingard has eight goals in his last ten outings and so do Stoke.

Man Utd to win to nil

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Match in Focus

19:45 TODAY BT2

Real Madrid v Liverpool

Home Win Draw Away Win
Key stats
  • Real have won just one of their last four Champions League meetings against English opposition
Expert verdict
Real Madrid have lifted the Champions League in three of the past four seasons but they could struggle to retain their crown against a lively Liverpool. Real have been the dominant force in Europe, with last year’s 4-1 thumping of Juventus in the final in Cardiff showcasing their superiority. However, Zinedine Zidane’s men have not bumped into a front three like the Reds’ often - Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have netted 29 of their 40 Champions League goals this season - and they are vulnerable to the counter-attack.