Stoke and Manchester United shared the spoils at the bet365 Stadium as Wayne Rooney’s late equaliser cancelled out Juan Mata’s first-half own goal.
Going into the game as favourites, Manchester United failed to control proceedings and dropped two key points in their quest for a top-four berth and a far-fetched title challenge.
They got off to the worst possible start as Juan Mata slotted the ball past his own keeper to give the Potters a priceless lead. The hosts held on to their slender advantage until Wayne Rooney stepped up to the party to score an all important equaliser in the dying stages.
Manchester United fail to pick up three points in yet another must-win encounter
Before going into the game, the Red Devils witnessed league and top four rivals Liverpool drop three points at home. A grueling encounter between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur was to follow – which would see one of the two teams certainly drop points.
The ball was, thus, in Manchester United’s court to narrow the gap and establish their legitimate claims towards a top four berth. However, that did not happen as they faltered throughout the game and their attack seemed toothless, to say the least.
Despite being on a seventeen game unbeaten run in all competitions, inability to pick up points will certainly not go down well with the fans as the club are failing to make the most of the undoings of the other sides around them on the table.
Wayne Rooney’s record-breaking goal spares Red Devils the blushes
The Manchester United captain did not start the game, but impacted the final scoreline coming on as a substitute. With the clock running down and chances of a comeback appearing to be slim, the 30-year-old fired home from a dead-ball situation to snatch a crucial point for the Red Devils.
With this strike, Rooney reached 250 goals for the Manchester club – making him the highest goal-scorer in history for the side. The Englishman equaled Sir Bobby Charlton’s tally of 249 against Reading, but his goal against Stoke meant he now holds the sole honour of being the most prolific striker in Manchester United folklore.
Mark Hughes almost gets the win against his former side
Going into the game with his side as clear underdogs, former Manchester United striker and now Stoke manager got his tactics perfect and almost guided his team over the line. If not for Rooney’s free-kick, the bet365 stadium would have erupted come the full-time whistle.
Following his general mannerisms during big games, he got bodies behind the ball and gave the United attackers a hard time to find gaps in between the defenders. His full-backs were mainly restricted to defensive duties, while the central midfielders often dropped deep to form a second-line of defence. The Potters did not concede from open play throughout the match and plenty of positives can be taken for them.
Jose Mourinho was spot on with his substitutions once again
The Special One made the right decisions with his substitutions as he opted to bring on Marcus Rashford for Marouane Fellaini. Mourinho thought about going for a more direct approach with Fellaini in the side, but looking at the Belgian’s minimal impact, he decided to withdraw him for a faster and more potent goal-scoring option.
Wayne Rooney and Jesse Lingard were next in line to come in and they replaced the under-performing duo of Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The new additions brought a bit of spark to the United attack as they started to look more menacing and hungry going forward.
The Red Devils literally camped the Stoke half in the final half an hour or so, and were finally rewarded late on, albeit via a direct free kick. This was the second game in a row that Mourinho’s substitutions have saved the day for the Manchester club.
Juan Mata has one of his worst performances in a United jersey
The Spaniard’s future was in doubt ever since Mourinho walked through the door at Old Trafford. After letting go of the attacking midfielder at Chelsea, the Portuguese was expected to do the same with Mata at Manchester United.
In spite of rumours linking him with a move away, he stayed put at Old Trafford, and has now become a key player for the team. While he may not start in every game, his performances have certainly warranted him of a place in the manager’s first-team plans.
However, the game against Stoke was a disappointing outing for the otherwise flamboyant magician. He played a pivotal role in the Potters taking the initiative as he deflected a cross straight into his own goal, leaving David de Gea with virtually no chance of stopping it from going in.
He then failed to convert a sitter from a Zlatan Ibrahimovic pass as he skied the ball rather than placing it into an open net. He was deservedly brought off in the second half, and needs to put the performance behind him and turn a new leaf for United’s next few matches.