Manchester United were held to a frustrating 2-2 draw at Stoke City. Things might have been different for Mourinho’s men if defensive errors were to be reduced. Stoke, on the other hand, did just enough to deserve a point. United haven’t won at Bet365 stadium since the departure of Sir Alex and so a point isn’t a bad result. This keeps them at the top of the table with 4 games in.
Mourinho made a slightly surprising decision to play Herrera in place of Mata. An extra defensive midfielder replacing a forward line player, which meant Pogba playing higher up behind Lukaku. A strange decision considering the fact that Stoke would happily concede possession and United would be needing extra guile in the final third. We will talk about this decision later.
Mark Hughes started with 3 at the back, having high wing-backs, especially Diouf playing higher to push Darmian back. Both teams played a high defensive line for most parts of the game resulting in runs in behind causing problems throughout.
The game began with both teams trying to play long balls, especially Stoke to catch United higher up the pitch. The visitors struggled early on but then having more possession and allowing fullbacks to push up meant Stoke were pinned in their own half. As the half progressed, United kept pushing the Potters back which made it difficult for them to breakdown. Probably choosing an extra midfielder deprived them of quality. Mata is one player who can pick a pass and unlock any defence who was not picked.
Stoke had possession in very few moments with Jese struggling to hold the ball. But, whenever they held it up, the long ball towards the wing-backs was always on especially Diouf who had the pace to beat Darmian one on one. Few minutes before half-time, that ploy worked for the home side.
As shown in the above image, Darmian unnecessarily pushed up to make Diouf offside. The ball was perfect from Fletcher over the top which took United’s midfield out of the equation. The wrong decision from the left-back enabled Diouf to have space and time to measure the cross. He then found Chupo-Moting and Stoke got themselves 1 up. Build-up was pretty good from the home side but Darmian has to do better on that occasion.
United’s equaliser was very instant when they got a corner and Stoke failed to defend that. The ball from Mkhitaryan was flicked on by Matic and then Allen just let Rashford free, Pogba was also free in the box which was surprising and the Frenchman heads the ball onto Rashford in the back of the net. Stoke have always been susceptible in set-pieces and there was another example of why. Marking was poor with almost everyone ball-watching throughout.
United then got themselves in front with a very clever goal created by Mkhitaryan. To add to that, it was expertly taken by Lukaku whose initial effort was well saved by Butland, the Belgian had the composure to slot it home in the second attempt. Stoke defence didn’t do much favours with that play and we will see to it why.
As shown in the above image, when Mkhitaryan had the ball, Fletcher was slow in getting back. Allen, who was dispossessed was clumsy not to get back and help his partner quickly. Now, both Martins Indi and Wimmer unnecessarily tried to push up and condense the play. In turn, it became easy for the United play-maker to find Lukaku at the edge of the box. Probably the lack of understanding between the two centre-backs cost Stoke there.
At this moment, many expected the away side to dominate and see out the game. But, it wasn’t the case, Stoke created a very good chance from the left side when Jese made a good run between Bailly and Jones. The resulting shot was splendidly saved by De Gea to keep United in the lead. Another moment of panic defending from Jose’s men not stopping the cross from Pieters and not picking up the run in the box.
United’s lead didn’t last long though, a corner from Shaqiri towards the far post was badly defended by Jones and Chupo-Moting was there to make it 2-2. Another moment of slack work from a United centre-back. Jones’ initial positioning was bad tracking the ball and never read the flight of that cross. In the end, he was caught underneath the flight of the ball.
Overall, one would have to say a point well-earned by Stoke City. United might say individual errors cost them and their 100% record vanishes. Although, we have to keep one thing in mind that playing away to Stoke and getting a result is not always easy. So, on that note, Jose and his men would be pleased. The only worry was defence looking shaky at times whenever tested with balls into the box.