Following the match report, we take a deeper look at the defeat to Stoke City...
The match United had the majority of possession in the early stages with the howling gale at their backs, while Stoke’s tactic of pumping the ball upfield high into the wind came to nothing. But the Reds paid for failing to capitalise on their dominance when Charlie Adam’s free-kick – questionably won by Jonathan Walters against Chris Smalling – put Stoke ahead against the run of play. Robin van Persie’s equaliser was quickly overturned by a screamer from Adam, and the hosts stayed on the front foot until a late siege on Asmir Begovic’s goal, with the Stoke keeper pulling off an incredible save to push Wayne Rooney’s free-kick onto his post.
The goals Adam used his nous to keep his free-kick low, but it is difficult to legislate for a deflection like the one that saw the ball cannon off Michael Carrick’s right knee to wrong-foot David De Gea. The Reds redressed the balance early in the second half when Juan Mata’s perfectly-weighted, first-time pass allowed van Persie to steady himself before placing the ball past Begovic. But if Adam’s first goal was lucky, the Scot’s second – a thunderous left-footed shot that tore past a helpless De Gea – was a great strike, although he was fortunate that poor control from Marko Arnautovic gave him his chance.
Star man Ashley Young used the conditions well on the left flank at times in the first half, putting in a couple of teasing crosses with the wind behind him. Mata pulled the strings throughout, but as the Reds became desperate for a second equaliser, the Spanish playmaker was forced to go deeper and deeper in search of the ball. Chris Smalling coped well with being shunted into central defence following the early injury to Evans.
Sub-plots How United would shape up with Mata, Rooney and van Persie in the same team had been the hottest of hot topics since the Spain international’s record-breaking move a week earlier. Mata was initially on the right of midfield, but United’s attacking options were fluid and the new boy began to pop up all over the place. But Jones’ sickening injury forced a reshuffle that saw Rooney drop back into midfield, so we have yet to truly see how this trio will influence the course of an entire match.
Opposition Before their goal, Stoke struggled to cope with the conditions when they did have the ball – failing to pressurise a reshuffled United back four or the keeper – but when without the ball they stopped the Reds from hitting their straps with a committed, physical approach. They opened up after Adam’s second, but after