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Manchester United 2-1 Stoke City – Spotlight Match Review

Old Trafford hosted the midweek Premier League duel between Manchester United and visiting Stoke City. United have been soaring, tied with crosstown City with two games in hand, and they haven’t experienced a defeat this season. Stoke had won two of the last three matches and started the day in 8th place, looking to prove themselves against the league leaders.

Man United v Stoke Starting Form

Manchester United employed a 4-4-2 formation throughout the match, with Wayne Rooney getting the evening off. Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernandez led the attack, with wing support from Ryan Giggs and Nani.

Tony Pulis set Stoke’s lineup as a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Kenwyne Jones as the front striker. Tuncay played as a sunken striker, holing up behind Jones. If Pulis was hoping that Tuncay would serve as a connection between the midfield and Jones, it took a long time to materialize. The first half saw little offensive push from the Potters. United backup keeper Tomas Kuszczak was untested in the first half by a Stoke team that only managed two shots, and both of those were from long range and poorly taken.

United carried most of the play, often pushing forward 7 or 8 players into the final third in the buildup of play. They broke through in the 27th minute, as Nani delivered a cross from the right edge of the area. The ball was flicked into the net by Hernandez, while being tightly marked by Ryan Shawcross. This put United up 1-0, but they had several other opportunities in the half to open their lead even further. In the games I’ve seen Hernandez play, his entry has brought a different energy to the team, and perhaps some of that gets highlighted further when paired with Berbatov who carries himself a bit lazy at times. The half finished with United holding firm to a 1-0 lead, and you wondered when their domination would overwhelm the visitors.

But the teams returned from the half break, and it was evident that there was some talk from Pulis to his team. Stoke came out with urgency. In the 51st minute, their extra work brought results. Tuncay took a left wing pass, worked around Rafael, and crossed the ball into the box. Whitehead was left unmarked, a failure in communication between Nemanja Vidic and Evra. Whitehead’s header snuck into the far post to equalize the match.

The goal served as a wakeup for United. They began to methodically take control of the match again, and at the 62nd minute, a brilliant left foot by Nani from 18 yards emphatically wrested control of the match back to the Red Devils at 2-1. The assist went to Hernandez, who worked free in the middle outside the area in order to get the ball to Nani.

Stoke made three changes between the 69th and 76th minutes, but to me those changes were disappointingly neutral. Etherington and Rory Delap were refreshed with Jermaine Pennant and Jonathan Walters, respectively. Jones was also removed for Ricardo Fuller. Aside from the 10 minutes that began the second half, the Potters showed little offensive blend in the match. While their tempo was fast, it seemed like they could have had time to work with the ball. Instead they forced themselves into poor passes and lost possessions. Granted, Jones and Fuller are two large front men, and they have the bulk to fight with United’s center halves. But I thought they could have taken a more patient approach, and put pressure on Smalling and Vidic who at times looked shaky in this match. Jones had a decent aerial game, but almost all of his opportunities came outside the area, and he didn’t get a chance to direct any towards goal.

Manchester United finished off the game well, and Stoke simply couldn’t generate the opportunities to earn a second goal. The Red Devils controlled possession and shots. United compiled yet another victory at Old Trafford, closing out the game 2-1 in a defeat that could be characterized as thorough if disregarding the score. They have now pulled into sole possession of first place, though Manchester City will have a chance to join them again at the top if they can defeat Arsenal tomorrow.

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  1. Football Souvenirs

    January 5, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    Stoke’s one up front offered nothing as an attacking threat. I know they were at Old Trafford but they should have had more of an attempt to win the game

    • Troy

      January 5, 2011 at 4:11 pm

      I agree. Which makes it so frustrating for Utd that they even put one on the board. Hell, it was their first goal in 30 yrs at OT. I thought for sure the Potters would have pulled a Rangers and put 10 men behind the ball for the final 30 mins, but typical Utd (meaning: you have to put their asses on the line to get a response) came through.

  2. Troy

    January 5, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    A couple of thoughts… every time I watch Hernandez, I feel he’s going to put the ball in the net one way or the other. Many people in the Utd camp have already compared him to the legendary Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Which, with the way he’s going, seems appropriate.

    Nani and Giggsy really added the width that Utd lacked against WBA over the weekend. I know that Giggsy doesn’t have the legs to run down the sideline anymore, but he is doing a hell of a job wrecking havoc right outside the box and forcing defenders to move forward.

    This was the first match this season that Vidic has looked shaky.

    Smalling has a lot of Rio in him.

    I think this was Fletcher’s best match in a while. He played very well in the holding MF role (I think the team width helped considering the Stoke defense didn’t have a chance to bear down on the MF).

    I know that many Utd fans would argue that Berba or Vidic have been the most valuable players thus far (and rightfully so), however, I think Rafael deserves some recognition. The boy has really come a loooong way and will soon become one of the premier fullbacks in the EPL. With him, Erva, Vidic, and a healthy Rio, the back line is nearly as fearsome as when Utd set the goal-less record a few seasons ago. Raf has played in big games this season and is fearless against top players (getting in Tevez’s face @ Eastlands) and in challenges.

    • Troy

      January 5, 2011 at 2:25 pm


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