Sir Alex favoured experience and physical presence over Brazilian flair, handing club captain Gary Neville his 600th United appearance at right-back – instead of Rafael – and picking John O’Shea at left-back with Patrice Evra pushed up to wide midfield. Nani started on the right, Darren Fletcher and Paul Scholes were paired in the middle and in the absence of Rooney – unable to play on his 25th birthday because of an injury rather than any fall-out from the past dramatic week – United's attack comprised Chicharito and Dimitar Berbatov.
The Bulgarian’s first sight of goal came when Fletcher threaded a pass to him on the edge of the area. Stoke keeper Thomas Sorensen was swiftly off his line to intervene. Moments later, Berbatov led a three-on-two break and fed Nani to his right. When the Portuguese picked out Chicharito at the far post and the Mexican could only head back into the middle for Stoke to clear, Berbatov was evidently incensed. At the other end, Rory Delap slashed a long-range effort wide after van der Sar had left his net gaping with a poor kick from close to his right-hand corner flag.