5 Things We Learned: Stoke City 2-1 Manchester United
1. Juan Mata is not the solution
The signing of Juan Mata is not going to magically fix our problems – I think most intelligent United fans know this.
We know additions to the forward line are not our most pressing concerns. Midfield, full backs, centre backs and widemen are where we could do with new additions.
Nevertheless, in a season of major transition, patchy form and historically unwanted defeats, the signing of Mata was a masterstroke by Moyes. Ahead of the last week’s game against Cardiff City, the atmosphere around Old Trafford was buzzing. Fans, while we know there remain deep seated issues, were smiling and positive; the depression surrounding the club for much of this season had lifted with the simple swish of a fountain pen.
Having said that, confidence took a severe dent after yesterday’s loss and the doom and gloom has returned.
Despite yesterday’s defeat and the rather uninspiring win over Cardiff though, we should take note that the diminutive little Spaniard is already stamping his mark on the club, even though he’s not had what you would call a brilliant game. He is already having an influence. We may have lost yesterday and Mata was fleeting in the win over Cardiff, but you can’t ignore the fact he’s been involved in the three goals we’ve scored since his arrival, directly assisting two.
As Moyes said after securing the former Chelsea man, the hope is that Mata represents the future of the club under him and is just a taster for what’s to come in the summer.
2. A tricky fixture no more
Stoke used to be a tricky away fixture but United don’t have that excuse anymore.
Mark Hughes’ men are not the long ball merchants of old and the team is not littered with the giant bullies that Tony Pulis first unleashed on the Premier League several years ago, while their secret weapon in those early days, Rory Delap, is now longer employed by the Potters. They can certainly play football but at the same time, they are not the once uncomfortable fixture the big teams used to dread.
United, in particular, although they have a good record at the Britannia, have endured testing times there over recent years, and we’ve been indebted to late winners from Javier Hernandez and Carlos Tevez in tense games – but Stoke are no longer that threat. After all, we’d just beaten them fairly convincingly in the quarter-final of the Capital One Cup in December.
They’re also in wretched form, having previously gained a solitary point in their last six games. If we’d won yesterday, they would have plummeted into the bottom three because of West Ham and Sunderland’s wins. The Britannia is not the fortress it used to be and last season’s United would have won here easily yesterday.
3. Injuries are not helping Moyes
United have been dreadful this season and I don’t want to make this sound like an excuse but it’ll be hard for it to read as anything else.
This does not take away from the fact, however, that we have had our fair share of injuries this season.
Add to this list Jonny Evans and Phil Jones from yesterday’s game. Neither injury is thought to be serious or keep either player out for too long. Evans went off with a calf strain, although it is yet another niggling concern in what has been a stuttering season for the Northern Irishman. Jones’ injury looked very nasty and he was taken to hospital, but it’s been reported that he suffered only mild concussion.
We’ve attracted enough criticism for our shoddy defending this season but it’s been extremely difficult for Moyes to put out a regular back four. Add to this the fact that Evans and Jones’ withdrawals forced Moyes to switch Michael Carrick to centre back, which in turn led to Wayne Rooney being dropped into midfield.
Speaking of injuries, Rooney is just returning from a month out, which may explain somewhat his off day yesterday, while Robin van Persie is coming back from an even longer lay off, and was substituted yesterday, as planned.
A lot of positivity surrounded Juan Mata’s signing and how exciting a prospect him linking up with Rooney, Van Persie and Adnan Januzaj could be. It will be, I have no doubt, but with our two star strikers just back and Mata lacking match fitness too, it’s not going to be instant.
Our issues go deeper than injuries of course, but with our only two (arguably) world class players having spent substantial periods of time on the sidelines, in addition to Rafael, Evans, Jones, Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Ashley Young and Nani having all been out of action at times this campaign, it’s perhaps not surprising that United have lacked rhythm.
4. Were we that bad?
I’m sure I’ll be lambasted by some for this statement, but were we really that bad yesterday?
Alright, so we lost, against a relegation threatened team, but when I watched the full match replayed on Match Choice on Sky, I didn’t think we were atrocious.
As I write this next sentence, I instantly want to take a drink of something strong, but I’ve seen us play worse this season, on more than one occasion.
When I was loitering around Twitter after the final whistle, I was greeted with a mix of strong opinions expressing how bad we were; a tirade of abuse directed at Tom Cleverley and the predictable #MoyesOut hashtags.
To me, I think it can be put down to a bad day at the office.
Charlie Adam’s outstanding winner was all that separated the teams. Stoke’s first goal was a lucky deflection and came from a soft free kick that really shouldn’t have been given.
Apart from those goals, Oussama Assaidi’s shot, well saved by David de Gea, who had a quiet game, was Stoke’s next best effort, while Begovic had to be at his very best to somehow turn a Rooney free kick onto the post as United pressed late on.
We had 62 per cent of the possession, but as they say, possession is nine tenths of the law, and the one thing that has blighted us most this season is being unable to convert possession
into goals, and particularly picking holes in defences in and around the box. Hopefully the addition of Mata will rectify this flaw.
I’m not naïve enough to think there aren’t huge issues at the club, but honestly, I didn’t think yesterday United were as poor as everyone else seems to think.
What is abundantly clear though is that we have now lost A THIRD of our league games this season – now that is atrocious and perhaps an eighth loss in a season getting worse by the game is justifiably something to get annoyed and upset about.
5. Tom Cleverley
When I read the continued abuse of scapegoat Cleverley on Twitter following the Stoke loss, I feared the worst and assumed he must have had an absolute stinker.
In reality, I couldn’t see that he’d put a foot wrong.
He wasn’t sparkling by any means and didn’t really have stamp his authority on the game, and maybe that there is precisely the young man’s problem – he doesn’t really influence games.
He’s neat, he’s tidy, he passes nicely, but what does he really bring to United?
Cleverley showed huge promise during loan spells at Watford and Wigan a few years ago and he was someone I was eager to see promoted to the first team.
United fans have certainly not seen consistency from him during his Reds career, that’s for sure, but I really don’t believe he’s a bad player. It’s hardly his fault that he’s deployed in a position that the current or the former manager haven’t or didn’t address.
He had a decent long range shot that needed saving by Asmir Begovic and I also noted one or two intricate passes in the final third, one sublime little ball opened the Stoke defence and slipped Patrice Evra in the left hand channel in the second half.
Of course, we need to see more from him and as I’ve already mentioned, consistency is the key. He’s certainly not a player that I would like to see leave the club though, particularly being a youth product.
I do think he is someone who would benefit by learning from and playing alongside a midfielder of experience and genuine world class ability though.
When you think about the amount of time Anderson was given to forge a place in the team, it’s hardly fair to already call time on Cleverley’s Old Trafford career. I only hope that he has the attitude and character to rise above the constant derision he attracts week to week.
Like Stretford End Arising on Facebook CLICK HERE.
Register with SEA’s forum CLICK HERE.