This may come across as an Arsenal Fan TV bootleg Manchester United edition but if you have been reading my previous United articles you’ll know that this is what I have been saying would happen throughout all of the wins to start this season.
The clean sheet record was eventually going to go. I was suprised it lasted three games considering that on our day we only really have one decent centre half.
The result was very disappointing for two reasons. First of all Stoke are a team we need to be beating if we are to challenge for the league. We cannot slip up against these types of teams when, in my opinion, we will be slaughtered by the bigger teams in the months to come. United don’t have defenders that are up to the task when it comes to the depth of a squad needed when competing on all fronts. We need to get points on the board now. Secondly, it was completely avoidable.
Stoke City’s first goal was a defensive shambles. Phil Jones stepped up and left a huge gap for Choupo-Moting to run into. Eric Bailly jogged back but was completely oblivious to the striker who popped out ahead of him to score the opener.
Bailly had a poor day also. He was all over the shop. At one point he tried to play the ball out from the back only to have the ball stolen inside his own 18 yard box. Schoolboy stuff. Panic stations.
But the worst of the lot in terms of defensive calamities was yet to come. Phil Jones gets the ball as United are under pressure on the edge of the box. He just needed to clear it. He just needed to aim his hoof and swing it as hard as he could. His attempted clearance falls straight to an opposing player. After a mad scramble to recover the ball it takes a wonder save from De Gea to stop the danger…for a moment. From the resulting corner Jones somehow managed to lose his man so badly that he fell backwards when trying to jump and fell right on his face as Choupo-Moting nods home a free header at the back post. Absolute shambles. Peak Jonesy. We basically took the game from Stoke and gave it right back to them.
Lukaku had another one of those days where he wasted chance after chance. As I have mentioned every week on these recaps I think he has a lot of work to do to prove the doubters wrong. Saturdays performance won’t do that, despite scoring. That sitter from the Valencia pass is haunting my dreams as is the one-on-one at the end that he carefully placed into the Goalkeeper’s hands. His finishing leaves a lot to be desired but overall he plays well. It’s a strange situation. Hopefully he can improve his finishing. If he does he will be every part the £75m player we paid for.
I don’t want to seem overly critical of him but he’s not at Everton anymore. United strikers are expected to put these chances away. He will get there, the growing pains are hard to watch though.
One thing that really annoyed me was the aftermath of Rashford’s effort in the first half. He drilled in a low hopeful shot which ended up being parried out by the Goalkeeper but Lukaku was asleep at the wheel. It was an easy tap-in gone to waste. Allow me to draw comparisons to that chance and the Spurs game this weekend.
Dele Alli picks the ball up on the right side as Eriksen makes a run into space. Alli over hits the cross and Eriksen is visibly annoyed that he didn’t receive the pass. The wayward cross falls to their left back, Davies, who drills a shot in and it is parried out. Eriksen switches back on and taps it home. That’s the difference between 1st/2nd place and 6th.
If that was United with Valencia on the right he would spend decades standing up the defender waiting for Cantona to arrive in the box before drilling it low in a field of giants which would lead to a corner. Blind would hit the first man at the edge of the 18 yard box from that corner leaving us to rush back and defend the counter attack. It happens ten times a game. Spurs gambled in a nothing position and it paid off. United on the right side is like watching paint dry and just as predictable.
Of all the calamities the worst one was the last minute corner. The ball is played in and Jones makes the leap. He does everything right, gets above the defender and has his eyes on the ball. Then, inexplicably, he puts his head down and closes his eyes and completely misses the ball. I think Stoke City’s centre half Zouma felt sorry for him and tried to score an own goal but that too was saved.
Jones has had worse games than this. It’s hard to believe that, I know, but it’s true. It amazes me every time I see his name on the teamsheet. Three different managers have failed to boot Jones and his pal Smalling out of the club and it has cost us so many times. We have signed two central defenders since Fergie left, Bailly and Lindelof. Both in the last 12 months. That badly needs to change. The entire back line needs to be reviewed in January. Hopefully this is a sobering reminder to Jose that Jones and Smalling cannot be relied on. They are squad players at best.
I find it hard to draw many positives from that game. It was two easy points dropped and a warning of what is to come. Don’t believe the hype just yet.