5 Things We Learned: Stoke City 2-1 Manchester United


By Matthew Jones

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.

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  1. Avatar

    how can a professional footballer not know how to kick a ball a side foot for everything Tom Cleverley lacks aggression,passion and drive why is he there he doesn’t want to score he doesn’t want to put a tackle on cant shoot he can play a 5 yard pass since was that a key attribute

  2. Avatar

    I don’t think I’ve laughed so much in my entire life. Totally biased view from someone who didn’t even attend the game. Not bitter much are you Matthew? Man Utd were absolutely dreadful, possession without purpose and the best effort to grab a late equaliser was Rooney’s free kick. Says it all really! Stoke were comfortable winners!

    By the way, Stoke have got the same amount of points from their home games this season as Man Utd have at Old Trafford. Stoke have lost less games as well. Do your homework first Matthew! Clueless!

  3. Avatar

    Am tired of smalling…not worth being a united player atal,none of the best 7 teams in europe get his type…lack confidence and dint get any kind of shape on the ball,cuz use freekick 4 d opponent..what a dubious subs bringing in welbeck…when fletcher is fit…infact i dont think we need any of those england players in the team…they are just average of nonsense,causin havoc 4 d team

  4. Avatar

    Actually no, I’m not bitter at all pal.

    I’m not biased and I didn’t say Stoke weren’t the better team and that United were, I just said I personally didn’t think United were as bad as planet Twitter seemed to think we were.

    No I didn’t attend the game, but I do have eyes and watched it on TV. Why, was there a different game being played on TV to the one people inside the stadium watched?! I saw what I did and I commented.

    It’s all well and good sitting behind a computer screen and being a keyboard warrior, but to me it looks as if you’re simply posting to gratify your dissatisfaction at my opinion. Any homework I’ve done, I’ve posted. For example the possession stat. For the most part it’s opinion on what I saw. I haven’t mentioned anything about home points for either teams, all I said was before yesterday, Stoke gained one point from six games. I don’t see what your point is.

    The score was also 2-1 and Stoke had their backs against the wall for the last 10 minutes and any time they touched the ball it was hoofed into United’s half. The one goal victory looked anything but comfortable.

  5. Avatar

    Am becoming tired of my team. The fact is that we don’t have somebody on the pitch who can lead and pressure other team mates. Defending is very poor. No training on penalties.

    Mata should play centre to give room for Januzaj on the left and Valencia on right. Then play both Van Persie and Rooney will cost us because they want to show each other that he can score. I hope we will do better next match.

  6. Avatar

    I agree. Great read. What makes things all the more frustrating is 6 of the 8 league defeats have all been by 1 goal.just as it was yesterday the opposition seem to take the lead frequently,we equalise and then go concede again.

    Teams are seeing it’s easy tactics to stop us in attack by simply working hard and giving us no time on the ball.
    With european teams not playing like that is the reason we”ve done well in CL so far.

    I know Januzai deserves a rest after so many games but he’s young and can handle it.playing Mata without januzai still playing is 1 great player in and 1 out. We need to see vp,rooney, mata & januzai all together.

    Only my opinion. Can’t afford to go to see em much but goto see the youth team in the cup.

    After 20 years of great times (excluding the few very painful moments) I suppose there was going to be a hangover. Just hoping can get going again.

  7. Avatar

    RE: Your response

    “but to me it looks as if you’re simply posting to gratify your dissatisfaction at my opinion.”

    If you can’t take criticism of your article then don’t put it on the internet and don’t put a HYS on it.

    “Any homework I’ve done, I’ve posted.”

    Please see below.

    RE: Your article

    “The Britannia is not the fortress it used to be”

    My point on my initial post proves you are wrong. Stoke have only lost 2 games at home all season.

    “they are not the once uncomfortable fixture the big teams used to dread.”

    Stoke have beat CFC at home, beat Man Utd at home, drew with Man City and drew with Everton. Liverpool are the only top team to comfortably beat Stoke at the Britannia.

    You do realise that the game is not all about possession? Stoke may have had their backs against the wall for the last 10 minutes but they were still comfortable. Man Utd – possession without purpose.

    I can discuss where Man Utd went wrong all day but I believe that you are not so forthcoming with criticism.

  8. Avatar

    People go on a lot about the midfield, and it is a problem in some games. But there are plenty of games, like yesterday’s, where it wasn’t about the midfield at all. We had loads of possession but just couldn’t convert. Also, there are the games we have narrowly lost because of poor defending – if we can’t sort out the defence due to injuries an obvious solution is to score more at the other end.

    The midfield is the one thing that has not changed since last season. It was mediocre and it still is. What we have to do is get back the fluent attacking play that we expect from United. Maybe Mata can be the answer to this.

    One more point – Mata’s signing means Moyes can rest Januzaj more but he shouldn’t be a doing this until Mata, Rooney and van Persie are properly match fit.

  9. Avatar

    You should see the graph on Cleverleys work against Stoke. He basically hid in the middle of the park and stayed there, no ball in his own final 3rd an definitely non in the oppositions.. He has perfected the art of decent stats without bringing anything to the game..Midfielders are there to create and defend(tackle) he does neither and therefore is pointless and a waste of a shirt. He’s no worse than Welbeck min who is equally pointless.. The sky pundits will have to think of new titles for players of their ilk. I’d suggest charlatan, left sided, centre or right, it matters little. United wee awful there i son excuse for Moyes continually changing the team and playing world class players out of position.. If only one of these so call red Journos could ask him why Welbeck is playing number 10. He couldn’t get into my a sunday morning team playing that position..

  10. Avatar
    Alan Parkinson on

    Were we that bad? Imagine Manchester City conceding a goal to a team of Stoke’s calibre. They’d reply by scoring at least 4. That’s what Manchester United were capable of doing not so long ago. Remember that 1999 final against Bayern? That’s the spirit of MUFC. Unfortunately I couldn’t see that yesterday. So no we weren’t bad, we were atrocious. If the football was pleasant and we still ended up losing I wouldn’t feel too bad really. But it was a poor display and we deserved to lose. It’s not poor refereeing, bad luck or an inconvenient fixtures calendar. It’s not even the wind (why on earth were they playing aerial balls with a wind like that???) It’s Moyes. That guy will find a way to lose with Messi and CR7 on his team, and since he’s shameless as well as clueless he’ll try to put the blame elsewhere. PHEW that rant felt good.

  11. Avatar

    there was a time Man U had a midfielder who would have taken Adam on and beaten him in the real battles. We miss someone like Keane who is able to control that part of the pitch. I was surprised Moyes did not include Fletcher in the starting eleven knowing what style of football he was facing from Stoke C.

  12. Avatar

    I also didn’t think we played *that* bad yesterday and, during Fergie’s reign, we would have put it down to a “bad day at the office”, put it behind us and look forward to the next match to put it right.

    The problem for Moyes this season is that these “bad days” are rapidly becoming “normal days”. That’s the worry.

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    Franzh – If you’re being genuine, I can kind of see your point on Smalling, although he has been deployed largely at right back this season when we all know he is a centre back, and a promising one at that. But as for your ‘no England players should be played’ idea, I think you’re a little mental. Welbeck’s really stepped up this season and added goals to his game. He hasn’t shone all the time but then he’s had to lead the line in the absence of RVP and Rooney and at a time when United are struggling. Our plight just shows why RVP and Roo are first choices when fit.

    Benjamin – I understand your frustration and it is kind of depressing and upsetting watching United at the moment, but ‘getting tird of my team’. Jesus man. The whole idea of being a football fan is to support it through the good times and bad. United fans have been spoilt over the last two decades and younger fans are not used to struggling. I’m of the age where all I remember is Fergie, but those fans who want to jump ship at the first sign of struggle in years can jump and drown for all I care. Our team needs us, now is the time to be a proper fan

  14. Avatar

    Bratwurst – Our main issues with Cleverley are not that he isn’t a good footballer because I’ve seen plenty of games, even in a United shirt (yes actually in a Manchester United shirt!) where he’s proved that he has talent.

    The two main problems are that a) he’s a confidence player and obviously with the form the team is in and the criticism he’s attracting, it can’t be doing him any good. That’s not to say it’s a proper excuse for playing poorly and don’t get me wrong, he’s had his fair share of poor games too.

    And b) Moyes (and Fergie) for that matter played/are playing him as a deep lying/holding midfielder, which I don’t think he is. At Watford, Wigan and in many of the games where he has shone for United, he’s been an attacking midfielder or at least played with more attacking purpose.
    At the moment, when he plays with Carrick, they’re too similar and he’s not built to be a foraging player who breaks up attacks and puts tackles in.
    I think he’d be better deployed at the top of a diamond formation just behind a No10. I think if Moyes brings players in in the summer and United improve, Cleverley will learn and develop and while he may prove to never be an established starter, I think he’s talented enough to be a good squad player.

    Maybe ultimately, a career at United will prove to be beyond Cleverley, but I think he’d shine out from underneath the Old Trafford spotlight. I’m certainly not ready to give up on him yet.

  15. Avatar

    ChrisW – I agree with your point about the defence Chris. Of course midfield is the main talking point because of a lack of depth in there and the fact Fergie neglected it for so many years.

    I never really thought of defence as a problem but with the declining powers of Ferdinand and Vidic and the fact Evans, Smalling and Jones are all picking up niggling injuries or being played out of position, their development is stuttering and they’re not quite at the level where they’re automatic choices to take over the mantle of Rio/Vida.

  16. Avatar

    For Real – Once again, I’m not bitter, nor got a problem with criticism. You have an opinion just like me so feel free to air it. Just because you disagree though, doesn’t make you correct.

    I can say I don’t think United played that badly and many Utd fans have and will disagree. The fact that we’ve looked so meek and lost games so tamely this season shows how far we’ve fallen, so even when I say we didn’t play that badly and only lost by a goal (a trait of several losses this season), we’re still going to attract criticism because in the last two decades we could play badly yet still grind out results, and that is what we have not been good at achieving this season.

    Last season, for example, away at the Britannia, we were not especially brilliant, but we still scraped to a 2-0 win. Essentially, I think my point about not playing badly on Saturday stands, hence the narrow margin of victory for Stoke.

    United’s standards have slipped, obviously. The main talking point to emerge from the loss, and again a trait of many similar situations this season (against West Brom/Southampton/Newcastle/Everton/Swansea at home and Cardiff/Norwich away), is that we look a shadow of our former selves in our inability to get back into the game.

    And while that is something that fans are finding hard to deal with, the fact remains that we have not been hammered by teams, except City and Chelsea. It may not be very flattering that United are not able to even beat teams we should be cruising past, but my point is that we weren’t THAT bad on Saturday, which the scoreline suggests.

    I’m impressed with your stats on Stoke’s home record this season, which do fly in the face of my ‘the Britannia is not the fortress it used to be’ statement.
    Essentially though, what I meant when I wrote that is that under Mark Hughes, and to be fair increasingly more so towards the end of the Pulis regime too, Stoke were/are moving away from the rugged, long ball ploy they used when they first got promoted, and are actually employing more of an attractive style.

    You can’t argue that they’ve come a long way from the 2008/09 season when Rory Delap fed the likes of Seyi Olofinjana/Mamady Sidibe/Dave Kitson/Ryan Shawcross/Amdy Faye/Abdoulaye Faye from the long throws.

    Teams used to hate going to the Britannia, especially Arsenal and Arsene Wenger who could never resist complaining about their physical style, because his players never looked up for it.

    It’s impressive that Stoke, in their own transition, have remained strong at home, but I don’t think that the big teams fear going there as much as they used to, when I think it was an absolute fortress (in terms of an intimidating atmosphere and the fact they knew to expect a physical battle on the pitch).

    They’ve done well to beat or get good results against the big teams this season. My point is that teams go there these days expecting more of a football match than a physical battle and will be more confident of winning. it’s testament to Stoke that they can now mix it with skill and craft as opposed to previous years of tough tackling and graft.

    The big teams I believe, although it hasn’t proved to be the case this season, will go to Stoke confident that in an actual 90 minutes of getting the ball down and playing, they’ll be the better team.

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