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Fergie's 'giant' killers

Alex Ferguson is preparing to roll the welcome mat out for Stoke's "jolly green giants", insisting they hold no fears for Manchester United.

The statistics back up Ferguson's belief. In eight games since Stoke returned to the top flight in 2008, the Potteries outfit have collected just a single point against United.

Only Chelsea (two in nine) have enjoyed similar success, with Stoke taking eight points from nine games with both Arsenal and Manchester City, and 11 off Liverpool from a similar number of fixtures.

The key, according to Ferguson, as it used to be when facing Bolton and Wimbledon before them, is in the mind.

"We've got the jolly green giants coming to play against us tomorrow," said Ferguson

"The biggest team in Europe. You can get yourself in a tangle about that because they are a handful at set-piece plays and long throw-ins, but you can't make a terror for yourself."

Ferguson has plenty of time for Tony Pulis, who has transformed Stoke's fortunes since his arrival at the club in 2006. He has no truck with those who believe Stoke's robust style has no place in the refined arena of the Premier League.

"Tony has done a fantastic job," said Ferguson. "I can see progress every year, right from the foundations of the club in terms of youth players breaking through into the first team. Continuity brings consistency and they are a formidable outfit now."



Odd

Yet it is undeniable Pulis prefers taller players, so it seems slightly odd he should be the one who snapped up Michael Owen after his United contract expired in the summer.

The 32-year-old has been limited to a couple of substitute appearances so far, which in itself is a positive given the amount of time he spent on the sidelines in his three years with the Red Devils.

"Michael is not allowed to play unless he brings ladders," joked Ferguson.

"He is a fantastic player. But we had the opportunity to sign Robin van Persie; Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck were improving and developing as players, Wayne Rooney was there of course, and then with young strikers like (Federico) Macheda, Will Keane, Josh King and Bebe it was difficult to hold on to Michael.

"But he's a brilliant professional and a top man. I was disappointed to let him go."

Stoke have had a strange season. Although they have lost just once, a single-goal defeat at Chelsea last month, they have recorded only one win -- against Swansea -- and are wedged firmly in mid-table.

United, in contrast, remain in second spot, but needing to bounce back at home following that surprise defeat by Tottenham.

Ferguson has major selection dilemmas in attack, which will not be made easier by the return of Ashley Young.

The 27-year-old made an excellent start to his United career, only to be stalled by an injury at Fulham last December, after which his form never truly recovered.

Young then endured a poor Euro 2012 before suffering a knee injury in the Old Trafford meeting with Fulham two months ago that condemned him to spend another couple of months on the sidelines.

In his absence, Ferguson has implemented a new diamond formation, without orthodox wide men, which in theory puts Young's place at risk.

However, the Scot believes Young will have spent much of his time out thinking about what might have been.

And that should drive him forward in the weeks ahead.

"The opportunities are there for him," said Ferguson.



Thinking

"Ashley has the opportunity to win things here. I don't think that's lost on him.

"I'm sure during the time he's been out he's been thinking about that.

"That's what players do when they've been out, they start thinking about what should have been and what can be for them.

"That will hopefully surface as the season goes on."


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