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Saturday 13 April 2013

Irwin: Manchester United must be brave against Stoke

Denis Irwin predicts tough away trip for Manchester United at Britannia Stadium on Sunday

  • Denis Irwin (right) was involved in plenty of hard-fought wins for Manchester United

  • Nani gives Manchester United the lead in this fixture last season

  • Peter Crouch is all smiles after scoring his equaliser for Stoke in the same match

Ahead of Manchester United's trip to Stoke City on Sunday, spoke to Denis Irwin, who knows all about the end-of-season run-in, having won seven Barclays Premier League titles in his 12 years with Sir Alex Ferguson's side.

"You know you’re going to face a battle that you have to deal with first"
Denis Irwin It’s Stoke away next, where United drew 1-1 last season. What sort of match do you anticipate?
It’ll be a tough one. I don’t think there are any surprises when you go to Stoke. You know you’re going to face a battle that you have to deal with first and then, hopefully, you’re football skills will take over. But Stoke haven’t been on a decent run lately, particularly the defeat by Aston Villa has put them right in the relegation mix, and they’ll be scrapping to get some points under their belt to try and get away from the relegation zone.

So you know you’re going to have to compete and deal with dead-ball situations. That’s the first thing you do and then hopefully you’re brave enough to get the ball down, pass it around and make use of the ball. The players know exactly what kind of game it’ll be.

United want to wrap up the title but is it harder to play teams who are battling to avoid relegation?
No matter who you are playing, everybody is playing for something. It’s very rare nowadays that you get a game this far out in which teams aren’t either vying for a European place or jockeying for some sort of position. Certainly with the money that’s in the Premier League now, two places can make a hell of a difference. You have to accept that there are no easy games. But whoever play United anyway are always up for it. It’s a big game – the big boys are coming to town.

Have man United hit a bump in the road?
United will want to get as many points under their belt as possible because the last month has been tough for them. Mentally, after the Real Madrid defeat it’s been tough, and physically it’s taken a lot out of them as well. The games since then, they beat Reading 1-0 at home, which was a bit of a struggle, they beat Sunderland 1-0 away, which was a tough one away from home, and they lost to Chelsea and Man City, so they’ve stumbled a bit.

"I don’t think it’s ever been an easy place for United to go. They make it difficult for you"
Denis Irwin

But they have still got a very healthy lead and they’ll be looking for some points at Stoke. They know it’s tough down there, it’s a tough place to go, but with seven games to go they’ve got to pick up as many points as possible because they play West Ham three days later away from home, which is another tough game.

Stoke, on the other hand, will be trying to get three points to get away from that relegation zone. I don’t know if they are lacking in confidence a bit because they haven’t been on a good run but it’ll be tough.

What do you think Sir Alex Ferguson will be saying to his players ahead of this match?
"Just keep going, keep trusting yourselves, keep playing your football," he’ll be telling them. “You have to battle first.” Because that’s the nature of the game when you play against Stoke. “You have to compete and then be brave enough to play your football," and hopefully that’ll win you the game.

I don’t think it’s ever been an easy place for United to go. I know Villa won there last time but there are not too many teams that go to Stoke and win. They make it difficult for you. The atmosphere down there is very, very good. That’s what he’ll be saying. “Keep trusting yourself, keep going, get another match out of the way, the clock’s always ticking and the games will soon run out so keep persevering.”

Denis Irwin will be playing for Manchester United Legends against Real Madrid Legends at Old Trafford on 2 June. For more information click here

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Key Points

  • Denis Irwin predicts tough Stoke trip for Manchester United
  • Former United left-back decribes difficult recent few weeks
  • Irwin gives insider's eye into Sir Alex Ferguson's man management