United ready for struggling Stoke

 Manchester United's Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho at the football match between Manchester United and Zorya Luhansk at Old Trafford stadium in Manchester, north-west England on Sept 29, 2016.
Manchester United's Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho at the football match between Manchester United and Zorya Luhansk at Old Trafford stadium in Manchester, north-west England on Sept 29, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON • Manchester United appear to have averted the crisis that was developing in the wake of a recent run of three successive defeats, but there is still plenty of room for improvement.

Jose Mourinho questioned the personality of his players after they lost 1-3 at Watford two weekends ago and the Portuguese displayed some of the haunted look that characterised his fateful last few months at Chelsea.

However, three straight wins across three competitions since have gone some way to lightening the mood and last weekend's 4-1 Premier League win over Leicester City was particularly emphatic.

It means United sit in the top six as they host winless Stoke City today.

While Thursday's 1-0 Europa League group-stage win over Ukrainian minnows Zorya Luhansk was not very impressive, it at least demonstrate that Mourinho's ability to dig out scrappy victories appears to have returned.

An ability to grind out positive results under pressure may be vital, given that United have testing league trips to Liverpool and Chelsea this month, as well as a Europa League clash with Turkish club Fenerbahce.

"Every game is massive," Mourinho said on Friday. "Every game for me is important and we have some big opponents in October. I need time to see players in different circumstances."

The biggest question Mourinho has faced since taking charge at Old Trafford in May is what to do about Wayne Rooney.

There is little doubt that the United captain's performances this season have been poor and Mourinho has responded by using Rooney only as a substitute for the last two matches.

Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford have taken the three attacking roles behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and may well be selected again to face Stoke, although Anthony Martial is a contender.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan is back in training after a thigh problem and Luke Shaw will be assessed again following a bout of illness.

Stoke have taken only two points from six Premier League games to languish second from the bottom of the table.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 02, 2016, with the headline 'United ready for struggling Stoke'. Print Edition | Subscribe