United continues its Stoke struggles
The Britannia (excuse me, bet365) Stadium has long been a tricky venue for the Premier League elite. In Manchester United’s case, they haven’t tasted victory at Stoke since a cup match in 2013. For the last league win, you’d have to go all the way back to the Sir Alex days.
Romelu Lukaku’s go-ahead 57th minute goal seemed set to change all of that. This optimism, though, lasted all of seven minutes. Maxim Choupo-Moting capped off his brace and forced United to once again share the spoils with Stoke. Most disappointingly, this was a match the club should have won, if not for a few moments of madness in defense. Yes, Manchester United remains atop the Premier League table — albeit sharing the perch with its noisy neighbors — but this still feels a most disappointing result.
Mourinho gets his wish
Following his team’s 4-0 victory away to Swansea City last month, Jose Mourinho expressed a rather odd hope for his football team — to be losing. He explained, “The thing I want to happen is for the team to be losing, so I can see the way we react emotionally.” It took a few weeks, but he finally got his wish.
In the 43rd minute, Choupo-Moting emphatically turned in a cross to give Stoke the 1-0 advantage. It was a shocking defensive breakdown as Matteo Darmian lost his man on the flank, allowing Mame Biram Diouf plenty of time to swing the ball into the box. Eric Bailly let Choupo-Moting get behind him and the club’s perfect defensive record was no more.
Rather than hang their heads, United grabbed the initiative and a quick equalizer. From a corner kick, Paul Pogba headed the ball off of Marcus Rashford and into the net. Rashford knew nothing of it, but has been officially credited with the goal. To Mourinho, though, the only thing that matters is that his players showed great spirit in rallying back from their first deficit.
An international break hangover
Before the quick succession of goals right in front of the halftime whistle, this very much looked like the first game back from an international break. Wayward passing, uncertainty in defense, and crosses with no end product all combined for an ineffective half of football. Manchester United’s players had barely trained together in the past fortnight — seventeen left on international duty — and it showed.
Even in this post-break malaise, United still managed to control the game and must feel unlucky to not return home with all three points. Unfortunately, the cutting edge that they so often showed in August seems to have gone missing on this side of the international break.
De Gea to the (momentary) rescue
While still clinging to a 2-1 lead in the second half, David De Gea pulled off one of the more mind-boggling saves in recent memory. New Stoke forward Jesé’s powerful volley looked destined for the roof of the net, until De Gea’s strong right hand redirected it over the bar. Few goalkeepers in the world possess both the reflexes and strength needed to fend off this shot.
Of course, shambolic defending on the resulting corner rendered De Gea’s heroics irrelevant. This is a save that will headline the De Gea highlight reel for many years and deserved to be remembered as a match-winner.
One eye on FC Basel?
In his prematch press conference, Mourinho once again praised his squad’s depth — promising that September would bring with it more opportunities for those on the bench. Saturday saw the manager follow through on his pledge, lightly rotating the team ahead of this week’s Champions League opener versus FC Basel.
Darmian and Ander Herrera earned their first starts of the season, with Daley Blind and Juan Mata dropping to the bench. Rashford also replaced Anthony Martial on the wing. No wholesale changes here, but just enough to ensure fresh players for a time when matches will come thick and fast.
Interestingly, this rotation policy did not include Victor Lindelöf. With Phil Jones and Eric Bailly still serving UEFA suspensions, Lindelöf looks a virtual certainty to start in central defense on Tuesday. Some had speculated that he might make the bench — possibly even receiving a substitute appearance — ahead of the Basel match. Mourinho, though, opted against this approach, leaving Lindelöf a bit of a question mark ahead of Tuesday’s game.