Ferguson wary of Stoke physical onslaught

Sir Alex Ferguson believes Manchester United will have to prepare for a physical onslaught on Sunday even though Stoke are on such a poor run of form.

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United head to the Potteries to face opponents who have collected just six points from their last 13 games and slithered dangerously close to the drop zone.

Tony Pulis' men are now only three points in front of third-bottom Wigan, having played a game more, and last weekend were beaten on home soil by Aston Villa.

The normally rock-solid home support has started to turn against Pulis, whose style of play has started to attract more intense criticism from those who pay to watch it.

But Ferguson has no intention of being lured into thinking his side will have it easy.

"It's always a difficult place to go to," he said. "Ask any manager or player, you know you have to perform to get a result there.

"You have to stand up to the mark because they do present a challenge.

"They are strong physically, their set-piece play is good, their long throw-ins are legendary and I don't think you can quieten that crowd, it is probably one of the noisiest in the league.

"That is what we will face on Sunday and we have to deal with it."

United have won on three of their four visits to Stoke since Pulis brought them back to the top flight in 2008, so they should approach their task with a degree of confidence.

Certainly Stoke have never experienced a situation as grim as this one, even if the United boss expects them to survive.

"They are in a precarious situation because you don't pick up a lot of points down the bottom of that league," he said.

"I think they'll get enough to get out. They have QPR next week and Norwich after that. That's a big opportunity for them to get the points they need."

Yet Ferguson has his own problems following Monday's home defeat by Manchester City.

After a Champions League loss to Real Madrid and the FA Cup exit at Chelsea, it means United have suffered three defeats in games of consequence in the space of a month.

Little wonder winger Antonio Valencia has revealed an element of worry in the United camp and it is Ferguson's task to lift it, although he denies his squad are suffering an extended hangover from the unfortunate manner in which they went out of Europe.

"The disappointment of Real Madrid showed itself in the second half against Chelsea," he said.

"There was a draining effect, even from the supporters' point of view and our staff. It was one of those situations where you say to yourself 'this is just not fair' in regard to being knocked out that way.

"But that was a few weeks ago now - my experience of football is the disappointments disappear quite quickly because you always have so many things to look forward to."

That starts with the 18 points from seven games required to match Chelsea's record haul of 95 from 2005.

More immediately, United require one more goal to reach a century in all competitions which, no doubt, Robin van Persie would like to get given his barren streak now extends to 10 games.

And, of course, there is still a Premier League title to win given City only trimmed United's advantage to 12 points with their second successive Old Trafford triumph.

With a trip to West Ham looming next Wednesday, in theory United could wrap it all up when they take on Aston Villa on April 22. Not that Ferguson is assessing it that way.

"We shouldn't look at our position in terms of being 12 points clear - that doesn't matter," he said. "What matters is looking at the next game and winning and performing on Sunday.

"There are only seven games left and we'll whittle the games down.

"The challenge at the start of the season was to win the league back and at this moment in time our consistency has been brilliant.

"There is absolutely no other way you can look at it."



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