Stoke City’s reputation as a rugged, up-and-at-them outfit still precedes them, even if wingers like Jermaine Pennant, Matthew Etherington and Jonathan Walters can sometimes offer a more cultured variety of attack. Whatever the mix, every player picked by Potters boss Tony Pulis possesses a work ethic that Sir Alex readily admires.
“You know what Tony Pulis' teams are like, they're always the same with one hundred per cent commitment,” said the United manager. “They all get stuck in and you have to cope with that. I quite enjoy that.”
With Stoke now established as a familiar if unfashionable member of English football’s elite division, Sir Alex can draw parallels with Wimbledon – the so-called ‘Crazy Gang’ of the late 1980s and early 1990s who loved nothing more than upsetting the likes of Liverpool and United.
“When we used to play Wimbledon, at the beginning when they first came into our division, nobody looked forward to playing against them,” recalled Sir Alex. “But then I started and my team started to enjoy it because it was a challenge, a physical challenge in the way they played and a physical challenge in terms of trying to take control of the possession and play your football.
“Stoke are a different team altogether from Wimbledon, obviously, but they still have the same quality of never giving in, they keep going, so it's a good challenge for us.”
The Potters prepared for Old Trafford by winning 2-0 at Derby County on Saturday in their 14th cup tie of the season so far, with the guarantee of at