1. The whispers that United had lost their bottle following the unjust defeat at the hands of Real Madrid have become louder and louder as the weeks have gone on. We went 2-0 up against Chelsea in the FA Cup, only to go on to be grateful to force a replay following an abysmal second half. Then we endured an unconvincing 1-0 win at home against Reading, who are at the bottom off the league, before beating Sunderland away thanks to an off target Robin van Persie shot being deflected in off Titus Bramble. We then bowed out of the FA Cup after a 1-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge before losing 2-1 at home on derby day. All in all, it hasn’t been a very good few weeks for United so it was understandable that plenty of fans felt nervous ahead of our trip to the Britannia. Stoke are really struggling this season and may very well go down but we’re usually given a tough game by them at their place. The relief of coming away with all three points and a fifteen point lead, for now at least, is huge. Well done lads.
2. Whilst I imagine the fans will vote Robin van Persie as the player of the season, it wouldn’t be too surprising if the players deem Michael Carrick worthy of the award, and I genuinely hope that is the way they vote. His popularity amongst the supporters has grown massively this season and that is largely thanks to his ability to drag us through games when our other central midfielders are struggling for form. Paul Scholes has been injured for months, whilst Tom Cleverley and Anderson have rarely managed to play well in consecutive games. Carrick has played at a consistently high level though and always looks so composed. If you enjoy stats, there’s evidence to support the controlling influence he has on the game too. He has attempted 100 passes on six occasions this season, a record only Arteta betters with nine. When looking at Europe’s top five leagues, Carrick features amongst the players with the most average passes per game, with Xavi on 98.9, Arteta on 85.5, Pirlo on 80.4, Yaya Toure on 80.3, Busquets on 79.1 and Carrick on 76.2. So, it was rather fitting that Carrick, who has been so important for us this season, scored the opening goal in such a crucial game. Stoke failed to deal with a Van Persie corner and Carrick managed to get a toe to it to take some of the pressure off early on. It won’t be winning any awards for it’s quality but it is certainly one of our more important goals this season.
3. Whilst it is Carrick that usually dominates our passing, he was rivalled by a new midfield partner yesterday in Wayne Rooney. Gary Neville named Wazza as our man of the match, which despite me not agreeing with I can certainly understand, as he adjusted to the new role with ease. Upon hearing the starting line-up, with Van Persie, Rooney, Chicharito and Kagawa all familiar with more forward roles, you had to wonder what position they would all be playing in. Rooney’s passing range means he is more than capable of playing this position, as his willingness to work hard for the team and get involved defensively. He attempted and completed more passes than anyone else on the pitch (66, with a passing accuracy of 82%) and also completed more final third passes than any of our other players (13). It is clear he would be more comfortable with a more attacking role but he showed he was a good option for us in this position.
4. Following a great display against City in the centre of defence, Phil Jones was my man of the match at right back yesterday. He’s starting to produce some of the displays that made him so popular with our fans when he first joined and that is great to see. He’s only just turned 21-years-old and has a great future ahead of him.
5. The game was put to bed with 25 minutes left to play when a great attack lead by Jones, Valencia and Rooney resulted in Van Persie winning a stonewall penalty. With so much being made of how long our Dutchman has gone without a goal the pressure was on him but he had no problems from the spot. You could see how much the goal, his 20th league goal of the season, meant to him when he wheeled off in celebration. I’m struggling to recall a time when a player has dashed over to the hug the manager after scoring. It’s certainly something none of the players in this team do. He didn’t stop there though, celebrating with the coaching staff and bench too. It’s a joy to see a player who is just so happy to be at your club and so willing to do well. If we win our games against West Ham and Villa, and if City drop a point against Wigan, Spurs or West Ham, it would mean we would go to the Emirates as champions, with Van Persie receiving a guard of honour from his former team mates on his first visit to North London since joining us. Fingers crossed.
6. During the 15th minute of the game Stoke fans started a minute’s applause. It seemed as though they were the only ones that knew what it was for though. Something to do with Maggie Thatcher who died last week? Something to do with Steven N’Zonzi, who wears their #15 shirt? It was only after a bit of Googling that I came across an article on 14-year-old Stoke fan Kameron Bourne who sadly passed away last weekend. Apparently the minute’s applause was for him, but the commentators were left as puzzled as our away fans. “What the fucking hell was that?” our fans chanted when they were finished, which lead to Stoke fans singing Munich songs and doing their aeroplane impressions. It was all very odd. It should have been expected though, considering they were taking pictures of themselves outside the local boozer ahead of kick-off with “Munich bastard” banners.
7. The difference a strong defence makes to our team is huge. It’s great to see Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic starting more regularly, particularly against tall and physical sides like Stoke. David de Gea was left with little to do as our defence warded off any danger. It is this foundation we need to work from in the remaining few games so hopefully we can avoid any more injuries at the back.
8. United didn’t set the world alight with the performance but they got the job done, which is a huge relief. Following weeks of substandard performances and results, to leave the Britannia with all three points, a ground where City, Arsenal and Everton all drew, felt brilliant. We’ve now had 18 different goalscorers and 17 different players with assists this season; both league-highs. We needed to stop the rot and kill any possible hopes City might have of retaining the title. This trophy is ours and the momentum is with our players now. The sooner we get it wrapped up the better.