Manchester United’s magnificent 100% winning start to the season was brought to a screeching halt, as Stoke City held them to a 2-2 draw at the Bet365 stadium. A brace from new signing Choupo-Moting alongside goals from Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku proved to be the deciding factors of an incredibly tight affair.
Here, we look at five talking points from the game.
5. Mkhitaryan A Bigger Threat As A Number 10
If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it. That’s exactly what Jose Mourinho tried to do here though, as he opted to bring Ander Herrera back into the side, and hence, Paul Pogba was made to play more centrally. Mkhitaryan was pushed out to the right of midfield – a position he occupied for a majority of the games he played in last season – and it clearly didn’t work out.
The Armenian had been magnificent in the opening three games of the season, picking up a stunning total of five assists, all while playing as a number 10. To put that into a clearer perspective, 10 assists is the most a player in a United shirt has managed in a single campaign since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement (Wayne Rooney in the 2013-14 season and Angel di Maria in the very next one).
Last season, Ander Herrera had the highest amount of assists with 6. In just four games of the new season, Mkhitaryan has already bagged 5. However, when he plays on the wing, he hardly gets to have the ball much and is very ineffective. He struggled here against Stoke, but he did provide the exceptional through ball that was finished off by Romelu Lukaku, and it came from a more central area around the box. Pogba is an all-action midfielder and is capable of performing a number of roles on the pitch, but Mkhitaryan is clearly thriving when played as a no.10, and it would only be logical for Mourinho to restore him to his favored position.
4. Hughes Delivers On His Promise
Many a manager has faced off against United claiming they had worked out a way to stop them, but often ended up rather red-faced after the game. Stoke boss Mark Hughes – who is a legend at Old Trafford – did the same in the press conference building up to the game.
‘United have areas that are a little loose, positionally, and we’ll try to exploit it,’ he said. ‘The best way is to get about them and ask questions.’
After the incredible start the Red Devils had made to the season, it seemed very likely that he would wish he hadn’t made such bold claims at the end of the game. However, his words were justified, as his side put up a terrific performance at the Bet365 Stadium. The Potters were bold, confident and put up a solid display of attacking football that saw them score twice past a team that hadn’t conceded even once since a 2-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur back in May. Their resilience brought an end to United’s magnificent winning start to the season, and it is fair to say that Hughes knew what he was talking about when he said he had noted some weaknesses in Mourinho’s side.
3. The Hand Shake Controversy
Mourinho is known for turning a blind eye to the managers in the opposing dugout if something they do during the course of the game bothers him. Hughes, too, is the same. In fact, just last week, the Stoke boss refused to shake Tony Pulis’ hand, and it is starting to become a trend.
Mourinho appeared unhappy at several stages of the game thanks to the Welsh boss constantly hassling the referee, and then, even encroaching into his rival manager’s technical area. At the end of the game, the 54-year-old United boss went straight to the Potters’ assistant managers and coaches, completing ignoring Hughes.
When questioned about it later, Hughes simply laughed it off, but Mourinho snapped at the reporter who asked the question. For a man whose demeanor has been ice cool since the start of the season, this was an uncharacteristically surprising move from Mourinho.
2. New Signings Light Up For Stoke
For obvious reasons, clubs like Manchester United, and the rest of the ‘elite’ clubs in Europe, will always be the main focus of every transfer column, and while the Red Devils did have a brilliant summer window this year, it is Stoke who deserve to receive their share of the plaudits for all the work they have put in before deadline day.
Kevin Wimmer, Bruno Martins Indi, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Jese Rodriguez, Kurt Zouma, Darren Fletcher and Josh Tymon have all signed for the Potters this summer, and already look to be having a massively positive impact on the squad.
Against United, it was Choupo-Moting that shone brightest. His purposeful running and attacking threat brought confidence into the way Stoke pressed forward, and he was a nightmare to handle for the defense. It will only serve as an added boost to him that his first ever goals for the club were against a club the size of United, who incidentally happened to be on a streak of consecutive clean sheets.
Former United man Darren Fletcher also starred, pulling the strings from midfield, while Chelsea loanee Kurt Zouma was always alert to cut out any impending danger. Mark Hughes will hope that this will only be a sign of better things to come.
1. Two Incredible Keepers, Two Game Changing Saves
They say that goalkeeping is a dying art, but in the likes of David de Gea and Jack Butland, they may just have found their messiahs. The two of them were absolutely jaw-dropping once more against each other, and had it not been for one or the other, their respective teams would have definitely been left licking their wounds in defeat. Instead, both sides came away from the game with a point, and they only have their keepers to thank.
Butland was on hand in the dying moments of the game to save a shot that deflected off Kurt Zouma and was destined for the back of the net, while De Gea made an insane reflex stop to keep out Jese. The two saves proved to be defining moments at crucial times in the game, and displayed just how talented these two men really are. De Gea has already staked his claim as one of the best keepers in the world, but if Butland keeps performing like this, it won’t be long before one of Europe’s elite clubs come calling.
Manchester United fan, Wayne Rooney is his role model. Passionate writer who has written for several sites in the past. He’s also an aspiring pianist and creates background music for BlameFootball’s Youtube channel.