By Nathan Thomas.
1. Stoke reassert their presence as one of the league’s toughest away days
In fairness it didn’t really need reasserting but for those who have been living in solitary confinement for the past three years or any remaining Stoke sceptics the Potters proved that they are tough nut to crack. Their football may not be thrilling and their approach may rile some, namely Arsene Wenger, however they play to their strengths and I say fair play to them. They worked United, worked us very well, Chelsea came to Old Trafford and played extremely well however I would suffice that both tests, albeit very different were pretty much equal. Many other teams will come to Stoke this season and struggle; in fact some have already with Chelsea matching United’s score and Liverpool stumbling to a defeat. This game could have gone either way and some wayward finishing cost both teams three points. In particular Peter Crouch who, despite scoring Stoke’s only goal missed a good number of presentable chances and I have no idea what made ESPN pundits Kevin Keegan and Robbie Savage give him the Man of the Match award. Okay he led the line well but the purpose of a striker is to find the net consistently and for me, he didn’t do that. Anyway before I go off on a tangent it must be said that United and Stoke played out a great game of end to end football and a draw was, in the end, a fair result.
2. De Gea remains cool in a scorching Britannia atmosphere
This was his biggest test to date and as I see it, passed it with flying colours. One aspect of De Gea’s game that has never been in doubt was his distribution and the pinpoint accuracy of his passes were evident again at Stoke. However pleasingly this was not the stand out aspect of his performance, it was his shot stopping, two particular saves in the first half catching the eye. De Gea threw himself at an Andy Wilkinson shot and athletically tipped it on to the bar prompting warm praise from defender Rio Ferdinand and then shortly after he expertly tipped a John Walters shot wide of the post despite being un-sighted by Patrice Evra. De Gea was a large part of the reason that United went into the break ahead rather than level, or worse. Admittedly De Gea does have a tendency to look a bit ‘flappy’ on crosses but a more experienced goalkeeper would find life at Stoke tough given the physical nature of their play and the constant aerial bombardment. Even Edwin van der Sar admitted that it was the toughest place to go as a goalkeeper. De Gea can look on his performance with pride and despite not being able to keep a clean sheet he was blameless for the goal.
3. Fletcher’s form returns as Anderson’s seems to be slipping through his fingers
For the second Premier League match in a row Darren Fletcher and Anderson anchored the United midfield, their inclusion came as a surprise on my part as I half expected Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick to start after their good display against Leeds in the week and on the opposite side of the coin Fletcher’s and Anderson inconsistency against Chelsea last week. However Ferguson opted to stick with the two and although Anderson seemed to carry his patchy Chelsea form with him Fletcher looks more and more like his old self. The ‘Mr. Muscle’ slogan of ‘he does the hard work, so you don’t have to’ was made for Darren Fletcher, still edging towards full fitness after an extended lay off due to a virus the industrious Scot was a sheer work horse in United’s midfield, scrapping for every ball and making it very difficult for Stoke to break the United’s defensive line without resorting to their trade mark long ball. He may be an under-valued asset by some however Fletcher is a vital cog in the United machine in mopping up and feeding the attackers and had Anderson matched his partners form then perhaps we would be celebrating three points tonight than settling for just the one. Anderson is a peculiar case, brilliant in the first couple of games of this season he struggled against Chelsea and similarly today he found it difficult to impose himself on the game. His passes were also rather erratic, you do always get a certain amount of that with the Brazilian given the steel toe cap that appears to be lurking in his boots however his accuracy had seemed to have evened out in recent weeks however against Stoke it was too often that Anderson gave the ball away. Against Stoke keeping the ball on the ground and playing quick, slick, accurate football is crucial to break the Stoke ranks however with so many misplaced passes from the engine room this immediately prohibits progress. In fact I am an Anderson fan and although I am not going to jump on the ‘he’s not and never will be a Manchester United player’ band wagon Anderson must maintain a greater amount of consistency if he is to cement his place in the United XI. Bearing in mind Tom Cleverley is approaching a return and Darren Fletcher is making similar tracks toward peak form and fitness Anderson must regain that early season spark if he is to avoid spending more time on the bench.
4. Evra answers his critics
I’ve heard some murmurings lately on various social networking sites and forums questioning the form of United’s stand in captain Patrice Evra. Some have said he has not looked like the same player since France’s 2010 World Cup debacle however on a personal level I am stumped to see where their accusations are emerging from. Evra was utterly brilliant in 2009/10 season playing fifty plus games in an often injury beleaguered defence, leading the team in through its toughest periods and providing a constant attacking threat, undoubtedly the best left back in the world. However some were far from impressed with Evra’s form last season however I suspect that there was an eagerness to compare last season’s form with that of the year previous. It was always going to be a tough task for Evra to maintain that brilliant form especially after playing albeit briefly in a World Cup, on a personal note I didn’t witness that much of a dip in his performance and although he didn’t quite live up to the brilliance of 09/10 (there aren’t many who would) I still saw Patrice as a definite starter and valued asset to the team. Since the start of the season Evra, much like Rooney has looked refreshed and today at Stoke he coped excellently with the physicality of the Stoke attack and was a dangerous threat on the flank, one lofted ball into Giggs shortly after a corner, was a joy to behold. Even last week against Chelsea, marshalling an extremely inexperienced back five against one of the best teams in the league showed Evra’s leadership qualities and the way In which he nullified the threat of Chelsea’s new boy Romelu Lukaku despite him being a good foot taller than Evra showed that the real Evra, is back, but let me ask you this, did he ever go away?
5. United show their squad strength at early stage of the season
Upon an instant reaction some Man United fans may have looked upon the 1-1 draw at the Britannia Stadium as a poor result given the chances United spurned and a number of debatable refereeing decisions that may or may not have gone our way. However, United have started the season in excellent form and it is important to take stock of the United side that scrapped to a draw against Stoke on Saturday evening. United were missing talisman Wayne Rooney, captain Nemanja Vidic, in form wonder-kid Tom Cleverley, Jonny Evans pulled out in the warm up and Javier Hernandez was injured before the ten minute mark. There would be few in the league that could go to Stoke without their equivalent of the aforementioned players and challenge for victory. United may have dropped points but in this 1-1 draw we showed the terrific strength in depth of this current team, Antonio Valencia impressing again at right-back and even despite all these changes United were still able to bring on fresh talent in the calibre of Ryan Giggs and Danny Welbeck to try and turn the game in United’s favour. Although United could not find the elusive second goal on another day these substitutions would have been the difference. So, although 1-1 against Stoke was not the result we wanted and subsequently we are now only top on goal difference the fact remains we are still top and the immense power and strength of our squad has been showcased and there aren’t many who can match it.