Manchester United 4-2 Stoke City – Post match thoughts: Slow start, defence and Rooney

by Sam Peoples
Manchester United 4 (Rooney, Rooney, van Persie, Welbeck) Stoke City 2 (Rooney OG, Kightly)

1. Defensive frailties exposed once again. It is, unfortunately, shaping up to be our story this season but our defence was once again left lacking today.

It was always going to be a tough challenge up against one of the biggest teams in Europe but it is no excuse for the poor showing by our defence again. On multiple occasions, we found ourselves stretched and invited Stoke to run at our back line with the central midfield pairing of Scholes and Carrick providing little cover through the middle.

Unsurprisingly, Stoke scored their first goal from a set piece after Rooney dipped his head and steered into his own net. We have been woefully weak defending aerial balls ever since Vidic has been out of the team and with him being sidelined for at least two more months, it is something that could really damage us as the season continues.

Hopefully the return of Smalling, Jones and Vidic can change that.

2. Start slow, finish fast. Once again, we conceded the first goal in the match. We have only scored first against Wigan and Newcastle so far this season.

“It was really slack play at the beginning of the match but once we got going and we got the equaliser we certainly played some great football.” Sir Alex Ferguson

It is becoming very worrying, especially at Old Trafford. Teams used to look at a fixture away to United with dread – they would be cursed with inferiority complex before the match even started. But, that isn’t the case any more (look no further than the results to Blackburn and Tottenham in the past 12 months).

Every team that comes to Old Trafford believes they can get something from the match now, but our second half performance quashed any hope of a point for Stoke.

Within a minute of the restart, Welbeck’s beautiful diving header gave us a two goal cushion and despite Kightly’s goal, we always looked comfortable.

Sir Alex’s half time team talks must work wonders but what we really need to do is come out firing from the start, especially in matches at Old Trafford.

3. 200 and counting. Ten years ago this week, Wayne Rooney burst onto the scene with that volley against Arsenal at the tender age of 16. Today, he netted his first Premier League goal of the season and his 200th club career goal.

It has been an extremely stop start season so far for Wayne but I think today was where he stamped his start to the season. Two goals and two fabulous assists (as well as an own goal – that counts right?) capped a fantastic performance.

While his passing was a bit off, it was atypical of Rooney to recover from scoring an own goal to playing a part in all four of ours.

The superb start to Robin van Persie’s season has made a lot of fans forget just how important Rooney is to United – myself included – but an on song Rooney makes such a difference.

At 26, he is now reaching his mature years. If footballing science is adhered to, the next three years will be his peak as a professional and with him likely to be dropping deeper into his more effective, natural number ten role, I’d be surprised if we didn’t see a magnificent season from Rooney this year.

4. Switching formations causing confusion. 4-4-2 or 4-1-2-1-2 diamond? What formation are we looking to play most this season?

Today, on quite a few occasions, I saw confusion amongst the players. Take an attacking move that saw Robin van Persie on the edge of the box – he had Welbeck just in front of him and Valencia out wide in acres of space, but he chose to attempt the neat ball down the middle and we lost possession.

Another time Wayne Rooney played a short pass to Welbeck but he had already ran further up the pitch and the ball was played to nobody.

All four of our goals today came from crosses, so the width worked against Stoke (surprisingly) but switching between 4-4-2 and a 4-1-2-1-2 diamond could prove difficult to do. Obviously, without Cleverley and Kagawa today we were never going to be playing the diamond shape but if we switch between them too often, I feel that it will be difficult for us to perfect either.

5. Goalkeeping stability. David de Gea now needs a run of games under his belt. Today, everyone was expecting him to flap at crosses and be a liability for United at the back – but he wasn’t.

Not at fault for Stoke’s first goal, he had a pretty good shift. A very smart save from Charlie Adam’s disguised shot kept us from going two behind and kept us in the half. Although, I do think he could of done a bit more for Kightly’s goal if he got down that little bit faster but in the context of the fixture, it wasn’t important anyway.

His distribution was markedly improved and he seemed very vocal today, something that we haven’t seen that much from the Spaniard.

With our next four fixtures being SC Braga, Chelsea, Chelsea and Arsenal, it is a crunch time in the season – and David de Gea is ready for the challenge. His moment of the season came in the enthralling 3-3 draw at Stamford Bridge last year and he will be hungry to emulate those performances again.

Anders Lindegaard might be a very good goalkeeper but David de Gea is our #1.

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