Manchester United vs. Stoke City: 6 Things We Learned
Premier League champions Manchester United overcame Stoke City 3-2 at Old Trafford on Saturday afternoon in an absolute thriller, with the home side recovering from trailing 2-1 at halftime to win the match thanks to late headers from Wayne Rooney and substitute Javier Hernandez.
And the victory will have come as a huge relief to under-pressure Red Devils manager David Moyes after watching his side drop points in both of their previous two league fixtures at the Theatre of Dreams.
However, for Potters boss Mark Hughes, who was returning to his old club, the narrow loss to United was his team’s sixth top-flight encounter without a win, which is a worrying stat for the Welshman to contemplate.
But, what exactly did we learn from this five-goal affair in the North West?
Simply Papering over the Cracks
Moyes’ men were more than a little fortunate to take all three points, and if the champions are struggling to get the better of teams such as the Potters, Southampton and West Bromwich Albion at home, then what on earth is going to happen when they come up against rivals competing with them for the title?
And, with no side in the history of the Premier League having ever recovered from an eight-point deficit to win the championship, the Red Devils are not about to rewrite the record books this season.
Still Ever so Reliant on Robin
Moyes was forced to spend much of his pre-match press conference on Friday vehemently denying stories in Holland that key striker Robin Van Persie and he had fallen out over the Scot’s reportedly overly physical training regimen.
However, whatever the truth is behind those rumours, United’s manager will just be delighted that the 30-year-old recovered in time from injury to take his usual place up front against Stoke.
Without the Netherlands international’s fifth Premier League goal in just his eighth match so far this season, one wonders whether the champions would have been able to get the better of the Potters on Saturday.
Be Careful What You Wish for
Stoke’s boss had taken the brave step pre-match to question whether United now had the same aura about them this season under their new manager as they had when Sir Alex Ferguson was still in charge at Old Trafford, before then going on to suggest that Saturday was the perfect time to be playing the champions.
Now, while there was much truth to what Hughes had said in his press briefing on Friday afternoon, perhaps he may have been wiser just to keep his thoughts to himself and his players, as you can guarantee that his opposite number used his words to form the basis of his pre-match team talk.
All Hail the Comeback Kings
It may not have been pretty, it may not have been vintage United and it may not have been convincing either, but one thing Saturday’s vital come-from-behind win proved to everyone was that this group of players still have that never-say-die attitude running through their veins that Ferguson had instilled in them.
Trailing 2-1 with only 12 minutes remaining and facing the daunting prospect of a third consecutive Premier League home match without a victory for the first time since 2007, Moyes’ men showed great heart, determination and, above all, character to get the job done no matter how.
And do not forget, either, that the pressure was really on the home team and their new coach, as failure to beat Stoke would have, as Hughes had kindly reminded his old team pre-match, all but ended any hope that United had of retaining their title just two months into the season.
Just Not Tight Enough at the Back
In the absence of injured first-choice central defenders Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, Moyes opted to once again go with a centre-back pairing of Jonny Evans and Phil Jones to deal with the inevitable aerial threat posed by the visitors.
However, once again the duo were far from convincing at the heart of the champions’ back four, with the Northern Ireland international badly at fault for Stoke’s early opener. Worryingly, United have now gone five Premier League games without a clean sheet.
Consequently, the Scot must be praying that the pair return to the Red Devils' defence sooner rather than later. Although, perhaps it is now time to take the painful decision to stop relying on the injury-ravaged veterans and instead start planning for life at Old Trafford without the two.
Saturday’s painful defeat against his old side means that Hughes has now overseen a poor recent run of no wins from Stoke’s previous six top-flight fixtures, after what had seemingly been a bright start to his managerial career at the Britannia stadium.
However, there were still a hatful of positives to take from his side’s harsh loss at the Theatre of Dreams for the ex-United forward, and lets’ face it, did anyone really expect the visitors to come away with anything from Old Trafford after going 37 years without a win in the North West, a run that includes 10 successive reverses at United?