Frustration ruled at Old Trafford in the ealry game on Sunday between Stoke City and Manchester United, as a late defensive error allowed Joe Allen to equalise for the visitors and cancel out Anthony Martial’s 69th minute strike. United picked up where they left off against Leicester last week, but were unable to capitalise on their dominance. With less than 10 minutes left in the game, they were made to pay for it.
Criticism will return in force and the hyperbole surrounding the result will be severe, but the actuality remains that the team missed chances they’d normally take. United took apart Stoke in the early intervals of the game, but title contenders find a way. United did not today.
Chances Missed Cost Dearly
The Red Devils totalled eleven shots in the first half, with free flowing football and interplay that delighted the home fans. Unfortunately it was to no avail, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba missed chances they should have put away. The Swede couldn’t beat Lee Grant as he chose to try and surprise the keeper at the near post.
Pogba was then played in by a smart team move, but he snatched at the chance and pulled it wide. The looks on both players faces showed they knew how important those misses could be. No players are immune from criticism, and the big money both players are on mean they should be putting away those kinds of opportunities. Jesse Lingard was also denied from a fine Grant stop after a clever diagonal run across the penalty area.
Jose Mourinho was certainly aware of what had been missed, but wasn’t ready to throw out the baby with the bath water quite yet.
“We had chances where we could have been better, but I am not critical. We should be not just with three points but with a fat result.
Everyone is really disappointed. At half-time, they were already disappointed. The message from me then was that if we play like this then we’ll have three, four chances and score a couple of goals.”
Scars of Last Season Remain, But They Are Healing
A 1-1 draw at home against a poor and struggling Stoke City (winless this season) reeks of the stink Louis Van Gaal left on the club after two bland seasons in charge. However this was nothing like the draws of yesteryear. United arguably produced their best football in open play in the first half, and although it didn’t have the set piece mastery of last week there was more clever interplay and movement between the players.
The pessimism that has grown in the fanbase certainly returned during an abject result, and with an International Break looming it will be a while before the club can reconcile the result and put concerns at ease. However if there is worry, there shouldn’t be any. Frustration is fair, but the team is on the right track. Results went their way overnight and they are not falling too far behind, but the fanbase will want them to start righting the ship and not dropping any more points in their quest to climb back up the Premier League table.
Mourinho remained positive, and hopefully his attitude will pass onto the fanbase. He got his selection and tactics right, and there was seemingly nothing else he could of done. The players just couldn’t get it done.
“I am very happy with the performance but, when the result should be us scoring five or six and it’s 1-1, then happiness disappears and frustration with the result comes. It was our best performance in terms of football played. We started in the first minute with a big chance [when Ibrahimovic was denied by a double save from Lee Grant] and finished with another one [when Pogba hit the bar with a header]. In between, we had four, five, six, seven.
The first chance is beautiful football. The chance Paul missed is also beautiful football. There was a great attitude after the score was 1-0. They wanted to kill the game. But by magic, they [Stoke] scored a goal, which was very unfair for us.”
Fixtures To Come The Real Test
The end of the International Break will bring serious tests for United, with Liverpool at Anfield, Fenerbahçe at home, Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and an EFL Cup clash at home with Manchester City the first four fixtures straight out of the break in two weeks time. Four very tough games in nine days will be a serious test of how much the club has progressed under Jose Mourinho.
United currently sit sixth on the table, ahead of Chelsea on goal difference but behind Everton (1 point), Liverpool and Arsenal (3 points), Tottenham (4 points) and Manchester City (5 points). That doesn’t seem that bad until it’s considered what lies ahead. If they can get through those fixtures with a couple of wins, the situation will still be relatively under control. If they can’t, a lot more trouble may come their way.
Defensive Mistakes More Than Costly
David De Gea returned to 2011 form with a spill that allowed Joe Allen to equalise after Daley Blind mishit a ball that conceded possession to the Potters in the first place. United were also wasteful with set pieces, and Wayne Rooney’s poor free kick from a dangerous position gave Stoke the ball prior to the goal. These two things are not immediately related, but it’s an example of why taking advantage of these opportunities can be so costly.
Unfortunately the inability this summer to add experience and class to the defence means there is not quite enough solidarity down back that Mourinho would like, and this has shown itself a couple of times in tense moments. Antonio Valencia for all his endeavour is not an optimal choice as first choice right back, and Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling would both benefit from a more experienced partner alongside them. However Bailly was mostly terrific in a commanding display.
Herrera, Mata & Martial Impress
Anthony Martial returned to the scoresheet with an impressive finish after the ball fell fortunately when Wayne Rooney was dispossessed. It seems his new haircut has brought new confidence, and the goal gave him immediate new belief and he was very lively throughout which was a relief after Marcus Rashford appeared to struggle all day and was tired throughout. Stoke were very keen to get two players across to him every time he had the ball.
Juan Mata was once again impressive in the number ten role, creating from his preferred role and seemingly at the centre of everything good United were doing. His influence did fade before his substitution but he’s developing a good understanding with the players around him. Ander Herrera continued to make the midfield berth his own with another great display, with his tactical discipline, positioning, ball winning and passing far more impressive than the man he replaced in the first XI in Marouane Fellaini.
United move onto the International Break, with lots of work to do before a very tough run. After that it’s likely everyone will know where the club really is at in their new era under Jose Mourinho.