1. Ahead of kick-off I said that Stoke at home was a fixture United had to be winning, particularly with Chelsea making light work of the likes of Arsenal and Spurs away already this season. To have lost two games already is fairly disappointing but thankfully Chelsea are the only side to make us pay for this, so far. At the start of the season if you had told me we had this good a chance to win the title, I’d have taken those odds, regardless of where they were being placed.
2. I’m wondering if maybe at the start of our next game we should just boot the ball in to our own net from kick-off just to get it out of the way. Saturday was the seventh time out of eleven games that we had fallen behind this season and the fourth time (third time at home) we have conceded twice. That is a shocking defensive record. After going a goal down after Wayne Rooney scored an own goal (why Rooney, at 5ft 9in was marking Ryan Shawcross, 6ft 3in, is beyond me), David de Gea kept us in the game with an excellent near post stop from a Charlie Adam shot and again from Walters, who probably should have done better. Defensively we looked shaky whenever we were attacked and that has got to be a real concern. If a midfield as weak as Stoke’s have no problem getting the ball from the half way line to our penalty area at Old Trafford, what will happen when we face a side of real quality? Their second goal put them back in the game for a while and that is a ridiculous position to be in if you’ve scored three goals at home against Stoke. Evra lost possession when attacking and Michael Kightly just ran through our defence. We’ll be facing the likes of Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla soon enough. Frightening.
3. On the attack we are looking good though and whilst we shouldn’t need to score three or four times to beat Stoke, it’s nice to see all our strikers getting a goal. Robin van Persie provided a wicked cross for Rooney’s first and delivered the corner for his second. A few weeks ago Van Persie claimed he wanted to be doing more for the team, not just scoring goals, so it’s great to see him providing as well as scoring. With United playing without wingers more regularly than ever before, it’s encouraging to see our strikers putting in decent crosses. Rooney put in the ball for Danny Welbeck’s header, where he managed to get out from between three Stoke defenders to get a touch on it. That doesn’t change the fact Welbz should have had a hattrick again, with chances being put on a plate for him, and him still managing to scuff one and blast the other miles over the bar. This is then contrasted with an excellent effort from 20 yards out which he curled just on to the wrong side of the cross bar. He needs more confidence in front of goal but you’d hope training alongside Van Persie and Rooney will bring that out of him.
4. The Stoke fans still managed to add to the list of reasons to dislike them when one of their loudest moments of the game came after Van Persie was floored with a head injury. They were actually cheering and jumping up and down as he lay on the deck, holding his head, after being clattered. The same reaction no doubt would have been brought out if any of our players had been hurt. You’ve got to wonder what goes through the head of these small-minded people.
5. Paul Scholes had yet another quietly brilliant game, getting on with his business without much fuss, and spraying the ball about. Tom Cleverley had two games during the International break which probably lead to his exclusion for Stoke. Cleverley will play midweek, as well as Kagawa, and you imagine Scholes will return to partner Carrick for next weekend’s trip to Stamford Bridge.
6. Patrice Evra has been improving over recent weeks and Rafael continued to play as well as he has done all season. It’s great to see them getting forward and helping with the attack. Evra running forward with the ball occurred in the lead up to two of the goals. It would be nice to see a bit more urgency from him to get back when he is tackled further up the pitch but I still enjoy seeing our full backs getting forward. There were opportunities for both Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand to support the attack on Saturday too and the former was unlucky not to score in the second half.
7. All in all, a good enough three points, although the message to Ferguson should be loud and clear. There needs to be better protection for our defence and that needs to be addressed. Eight clubs have a better defensive record than us this season and that includes the likes of West Ham, West Brom and Sunderland. Alarm bells should be ringing. Thankfully, we’ve scored more goals than anyone else this season but we can’t keep relying on outscoring the opposition once we’ve conceded a goal or two. Things need to tighten up at the back and quickly. A defeat to Chelsea at the weekend would see us fall seven points behind and whilst nothing is insurmountable at this stage in the season, I’d rather we didn’t have such a mountain to climb by the end of October.
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