Louis van Gaal must stop moaning about fixtures and focus on a tough New Year's Day test at Stoke, says Jamie Redknapp.
I reckon Manchester United will finish in the top four this season – but they can’t take any chances at Stoke on New Year’s Day.
Mark Hughes’ side have beaten Manchester City at the Etihad this year but the Britannia has been a real graveyard for top teams in recent campaigns.
If United don’t qualify for the Champions League from this position that will be a huge disappointment for them.
Arsenal were the latest side to fall there, losing 3-2 earlier in December, so this is a tough, tough fixture for United.
Chelsea showed you have to be physically strong against Stoke at their place but it’s unfair to say they will just batter you and hit long balls all game. Yes, they are physically strong and are good at set pieces but with players such as Bojan Krkic and Mame Biram Diouf in their line-up there’s now more subtlety to their play and they are able to open opposition defences up.
Stoke’s lack of consistency this season must frustrate Hughes – as well as beating champions Man City they’ve also lost to strugglers Burnley and Leicester – but in a big game like this, with a good home crowd behind them, they will be confident of causing an upset on Thursday.
As a result, Louis van Gaal can’t underestimate Stoke and needs to field his strongest team.
The United boss named an unchanged XI against Tottenham on Sunday - the first time United had done that in 85 Premier League games – and then had the cheek to moan about fixture congestion after they were held to a 0-0 at White Hart Lane.
I had to laugh when I heard that. As a manager it’s your duty to know who is fresh and who isn’t and if you have the most expensive squad in the country then you rotate when players are tired. You don’t name an unchanged XI and then complain about fatigue. It didn’t make sense as an argument.
Maybe it was a little bit of frustration at United missing a number of good chances. United were excellent in that first half at Spurs; there was some great movement, they created good opportunities and if they’d scored that opener then they would have gone on to get all three points.
But it drives me up the wall when managers come to this country and moan about what we do. You know what you’re buying into. This is the Premier League. Don’t come over here and try to change our history.
If you’ve got a problem with the busy fixture schedule change some players. Everybody is in the same boat, it’s not like United are playing lots of games while other teams are resting.
United play Yeovil in the FA Cup on Sunday and that’s an opportunity to change things – but they can’t afford to take risks at Stoke.
I’m predicting United will win this one 2-1 but, make no mistake, it’s a real test for them.
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Three points will maintain their third-place in the Premier League and if they don’t qualify for the Champions League from this position that will be a huge disappointment for them.
The battle for that fourth and final spot behind them is wide open, though.
Liverpool have thrown themselves into the equation by finding some form, a system that works and have Daniel Sturridge to return in the New Year, and I can see it coming down to a shootout between them, Arsenal and maybe Tottenham for that final qualifying spot.
It should be a fascinating battle in 2015 – but first United need to make sure they get their New Year off to a good start at the Britannia.
Watch Stoke v Manchester United live on Sky Sports 1 HD on Thursday from 12.30pm