Nemanja Vidic does not expect Stoke to bring an end to Manchester United's impressive home form this season, suggesting that the easy way to negate Tony Pulis' long-ball tactics is simply to make the pitch bigger.
Though United have not dropped a point to Stoke since the Potters' promotion in 2008, they have found their approach substantially more challenging at the Britannia Stadium than at Old Trafford. Alex Ferguson's team have swatted aside tonight's guests 4-0 and 5-0 at home in the last two years, but managed only narrow victories on their trips to the Potteries.
To Vidic, that discrepancy is down to the fact that Pulis' agrarian approach does not function well away from the narrow confines of the Britannia Stadium and on a larger pitch.
"It's totally different when we play at Old Trafford to when we play them at the Britannia," said the Serb. "The Old Trafford pitch is very big and we won't have that many long balls to deal with like we would at Stoke."
That, the defender believes, is reason enough for confidence that United's fine run at Old Trafford -- where they have not lost in the Premier League since April -- will not come to an end tonight, despite doubts over Wayne Rooney's fitness. The striker picked up an ankle injury against West Brom on Saturday and, though he trained yesterday, may yet be rested.
"We have a good record this season at Old Trafford," said Vidic. "The only disappointing result was the draw with West Brom, and we have won all of our other home games. It is our fortress."
It is the certainty of their ability to challenge for the title which characterises United and which, according to Vidic's team-mate Darren Fletcher, may separate them from their closest challengers as the championship race reaches its climax.
"Manchester City are right there with us at the top of the league and they're winning games and looking solid defensively," said Fletcher.
"When you've got that much money to spend and you sign that many quality players, you're always going to be a threat.
"But I think maybe the team spirit and the togetherness is still to come. We've been there before and we've experienced what it takes in a title run-in."
Meanwhile, Sampdoria yesterday confirmed the capture of United's 19-year-old Italian striker Federico Macheda on loan for the rest of the season. (© Daily Telegraph, London)