Maxim Choupo-Moting’s double ended Manchester United’s winning start to the Premier League as Stoke emerged with a creditable 2-2 draw against Jose Mourinho’s men.
Three wins, 10 goals and a hat-trick of clean sheets had given the Old Trafford giants a strong start to the season, yet City boss Mark Hughes spoke of weaknesses in his former club’s armoury ahead of Saturday evening’s encounter.
Choupo-Moting gave credence to his manager’s claim during an entertaining game at the bet365 Stadium, where Stoke’s summer signing opened the scoring and would later secure a point after Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku scored for United.
September is the cruelest month
Mourinho’s first season in charge had seen a similar August with three wins in three, but the title challenge began on the road to ruin in a dreary September as he saw his team whimper and lose twice in succession. They never recovered. Combining that with the notoriety of the Britannia, newly christened bet365 after Stoke’s illustrious sponsor, in the post-Ferguson era, history would have been festering in the back of his mind. Another added wrinkle was the international travails of last weekend for most on his roster.
During Ferguson’s era, Stoke had managed only one draw and a win (both at home) in 12 meetings. Post that it has been a more levelled field – especially at home where the Red Devils have managed no smiles in the Premier League.
While there were signs of improvement from United, Mourinho wouldn’t have been too impressed with some of the things he saw – as a third successive draw against these opponents was finally settled on. The bogeyman stories continued.
Fight or flight!
There were troubling signs early on for Manchester United as despite their possession, the defense was frequently being caught out especially on the left flank. Mame Diouf, formerly of United, repeatedly managed to get behind left back Mattheo Darmian and one such transgression led to the opener for the hosts with the first half winding down, as Maxim Choupo-Moting got his first Premier League goal. Coming off an impressive win against Arsenal, Mark Hughes had proven once again to be a master tactician in seeing the weak spots of ‘big teams’. But Paul Pogba made that joy short-lived as on the other side, a corner and Marcus Rashford being in the right place at the right time ensured Stoke City’s net got disturbed at home for the first time this season.
Rashford had threatened early with his signature runs but an alert Kurt Zouma had managed to snuffle out his efforts repeatedly. The second half saw Stoke with more possession – but that led to serious problems as Joe Allen momentarily lost focus and the ball, and United’s counterattack by Darmian and Henrikh Mkhitaryan ensured Romelu Lukaku scored in a one-on-one situation with the goalkeeper through a rebound after Jack Butland had saved the initial effort. Just like last match, he hadn’t been much involved but when needed – he was there to clinically finish it.
One more twist
The familiar problems at the back from United were again brought to light, as Matic failed to be his usual perfect self and that left Jones and Bailly ruffled. De Gea managed an incredible reflex save from close quarters but had no answer to Choupo Mouting’s header from the ensuring corner – mainly because the man marking him, Phil Jones was less than alert to the dangers lurking behind him. A freebie, and Mourinho was left furious.
There was one last throw of the dice for United, but it came from a mistake by Zouma as he redirected the ball from the corner into his own net, only to see Butland’s right hand come in the way of an embarrassing end to what had been a brilliant evening’s work for the defender. Manchester United had to be content staying ahead of the pack on goal difference alone, as the winning streak was broken. September had truly arrived.
Man of The Match
Kurt Zouma. Despite Stoke City conceding two goals, it was French centre-back’s alert watch at the heart of the defense that ensured Lukaku remained anonymous for most of the match, while Rashford didn’t get much of a look at the Stoke City goal despite his piercing runs. He almost conceded an own goal at the end, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that he was the glue that kept a relatively new and makeshift Stoke defense intact against a barrage of United attacks. On loan from Chelsea this season, he is being positioned as the leader of the backline by Mark Hughes and based on this performance, he fits the bill.
Stoke City continue their impressive start to the season, having taken four points off Arsenal and Manchester United at home. Their away form needs better work, but after a disappointing last season and their home ground’s terror as a graveyard for visiting teams fading – this has been a welcome scene. Most of their new signings, especially in the attacking positions, have shown good mentality and finishing, while the defense with Zouma in the center is becoming a force to reckon with. Manchester United on the other hand lost their 100% winning record but Mourinho knows Stoke City was as much a mental fight for his players as it was physical (especially after international assignment) and they came out it relatively well. The defense is still a concern and Phil Jones needs to prove he’s ready to lead the team’s back four like Vidic before him. The attack seems to be in safe hands, but the players need to take the chances offered to them especially Lukaku who had a glaring miss near the end of the match. The Fortress at Stoke City remains one to the Red Devils – and for now they have to look forward to a busy month as the fight across formats start in earnest.
A History Lesson
- Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting scored his first two premier league goals against Manchester United. He had managed three goals overall last season in the Bundesliga for Schalke 04.
- Stoke City’s first team of eleven had all distinct nationalities. Truly global!
- Mkhitaryan’s six Premier League assists this season equals the top league assists from Manchester United’s last season by Ander Herrera. Mkhitaryan himself had only one league assist last season
- Manchester United ended the night with their third successive draw against Stoke City under Jose Mourinho.
- Mark Hughes spent the major part of his player career with the Red Devils, appearing for them in over 340 matches over two spells. He has been Stoke City’s manager since May 2013.