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Five things we’ve learnt from United vs Stoke

Manchester-United-v-Stoke-City (2)Attacking football made a rare appearance at Old Trafford on Tuesday night, as Manchester United swept aside Stoke City, scoring three goals at home for the second consecutive game but only for the first time at home since they beat Sunderland by the same scoreline in September.

United carried on where they had left off at Derby, starting the game on the front foot and never allowed Stoke to settle, inspired by some wonderful individual performances from Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney, who both got on the scoresheet, and Juan Mata.

Here’s five things we’ve learnt from last night.

1) Attack, attack, attack

Having served up depressingly dull and dire football for the majority of the season, on Tuesday night United finally delivered the kind free-flowing football supporters have craved since Louis Van Gaal arrived at Old Trafford 18 months ago.

After failing to score a first half goal at Old Trafford in 11 attempts this season, United netted twice within the first half an hour, the first time they scored twice in the first 45 minutes of a Premier League game on home turf since they beat Manchester City 4-2 last season.

Welcome though they were, the goals only told part of the story, for United attacked with a verve and enterprise rarely seen this season, passing the ball with fluidity and moving into the right spaces at the right time.

For once, they looked like a side not afraid of venturing forward. For once, they had a plan in the final third of the pitch.

2) Martial law

Earlier on Tuesday, Anthony Martial admitted he’s not driven on by the prospect of personal accolades and that the team comes before any individual records. Imagine what would happen then, if the Frenchman was to become a little more selfish in front of goal over the next couple of seasons.

The 20-year-old looked unplayable against Stoke, even more so than he had done against Derby in the FA Cup on Friday, repeatedly taking his man on and injecting some much-needed pace into United’s attack.

Manchester-United-v-Stoke-City (3)

In the last two games Martial has justified Van Gaal’s decision to deploy him as a left-winger rather than as a traditional centre-forward, for the Frenchman’s pace makes him impossible to handle when United play the sort of quick football they displayed on Tuesday, which opens gaps for him to run into.

Martial’s wonderful curled finish to put his side 2-0 up was arguably United’s best goal of the season particularly as it capped a wonderful attacking move, but his assist for Rooney’s goal was just as brilliant. 

3) Rooney’s revival continues

On Boxing Day, as United traveled to the Britannia to face Tuesday night’s opponents, Wayne Rooney was left out of the starting XI after a series of dismal performances. It looked to be the beginning of the end for the United captain, instead it might just be turning out to be the pivotal moment in his season as Rooney has slowly rediscovered his form ever since.

The 30-year-old might no longer reach the heights of yesteryear but he’s scored seven goals in the last seven games in all competitions and looks a happier, hungrier player that the one who staggered around the pitch in the first half of the season.

Having Martial and Lingard out wide to provide pace and stretch Stoke’s defence allowed Mata and Rooney more time on the ball and one can only hope Van Gaal will not revert to type in the future.

Manchester-United-v-Stoke-City (1)

4) CBJ impresses yet again

United’s full-backs have suffered all sort of injuries this season, from Luke Shaw’s horrific broken leg, to a catalogue of fitness issues that have plagued Ashley Young, Matteo Darmian and Antonio Valencia.

However, amid all the doom and gloom, United look to have found a full-back for the future in Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, who was again very impressive at both ends of the pitch, as he delivered the assist for United’s opener and looked assured in his defensive third.

The youngster might have been handed his chance out of necessity rather than choice, but he’s seized it brilliantly so far and could develop into a fine player.

5) Will the real United please stand up?

Despite the criticism, despite the horrendously dire football and despite all the off pitch distractions, United are still within touching distance of a top four finish, which somewhat disappointingly has become their most realistic target for the season.


Should United play the way they did against Stoke, few would bet against them putting together a winning run, particularly in this most unpredictable of seasons, where Arsenal, everyone’s favourites until a couple of weeks ago, have now fallen to fourth, just five points clear of Van Gaal’s side.

However, United’s main problem this season has been an appalling lack of consistency, for they’ve never managed to generate momentum. Chelsea away on Sunday would be the perfect occasion to address that issue.

Dan ()



  1. colver

    February 3, 2016 at 10:28 am

    I think the most important thing is to build some rhythm, start scoring goals, start winning games and get the fans back on our side. December was our worst month in Premier League history destroying the confidence of the players and the manager. To our credit we picked ourselves up in January and ground out a few Premier League victories and won some easy FA Cup wins and stemmed the tide.

    As well as Rooney continuing his purple patch particularly positive for me was seeing Carrick in the team. Last season for me he was our second most important player next to De Gea with his ability to make possession count by launching attacks and seeing gaps. His absence I believe goes a long way towards explaining why we’ve created so few chances and scored so few goals this season. If Carrick stays fit and gets a run in the side it would be like having a new £50M signing.

    Tottenham look difficult to catch but they never learn and all it would take is a few injuries to derail their season and Arsenal also tend to fade away in the tail end of the season. Also Leicester will eventually run out of steam and I think if their luck runs out and they start losing a few games having no experience of being in this position before they could implode.

    I think the players realize Van Gaal is staying till the end of the season and they have to get behind him. I think they also feel a lot of sympathy for the way he’s been crucified by the media and feel some responsibility for that. In turn I think Van Gaal realizes he needs the players onside and is starting to make some concessions giving players more freedom and relaxing his strict regime. A better relationship between the coach and players makes for better morale and better results.

  2. JARaven

    February 5, 2016 at 4:33 am

    @colver agree on carrick. Most important think is that carrick needs legs around him. As much as i prefer Herrera in that role, I will take Fellani over Schweni paired with Carrick.

  3. Julian

    February 5, 2016 at 10:27 am

    Cant agree on Carrick. Yes he’s been a wonderful player over the years – even though there have been periods of inconsistency which have probably been more to do with the lack of midfield support (euphemism for gross under-spending on midfelders during the Fergie years). However, at 34 he’s slowing down and although he can still pick out a pass he needs support. There’s even been talk that this might be his last season at United.

    I’m not sure Herrera is quite the right replacement. He can be good but he doesn’t dominate consistently. Nevertheless, of the current resources, a Schneiderlin/Herrera midfield combo is probably the best bet for the immediate future. Overall Schneiderlin has shown his worth in a covering role. There have been occasional lapses but the stats are impressive. Quite why he’s in and out of the team is a bit of a mystery and this may have affected his form to an extent. He needs to play regularly.

    I don’t have a lot of faith in Schweinsteiger. He looks well past his best now and quite why he was bought instead of a younger alternative is just one of LvG’s odd decisions.

    Mata is not a central midfielder per se. He’s a number 10 or he’s nothing to be honest. If United were to buy another striker and Rooney drops deeper then I’m not sure where Mata fits in.

    If truth be told we probably need to look for a replacement for Carrick, sooner rather than later – certainly if Herrera isn’t going to cut it. I can only see Schweinsteiger playing a peripheral role in the time left to him at United.

  4. colver

    February 6, 2016 at 9:54 pm

    There will be games when Carrick’s lack of pace will be a liability but he’s always been pretty flat footed and has always relied more on his vision and intelligence and reading of the game. He is a lot like Scholes in that respect who could still win man of the match awards in his mid thirties. It is a different situation from Schweisteneger who used to be a dynamic midfielder and with the dynamism gone looks incredibly average and was a very bad buy.

    Of course Carrick and Schweisteneger is a disastrous pairing. But I think Schneiderlin will complement Carrick very nicely. What Carrick does bring which we’ve lacked this season is the ability to actually make possession count. So many goals stem from Carrick’s ability to make the transition from defence to attack and catch opposition teams on the back feet. Without him it is all sideways passes and back passes and the build up is too slow and predictable.

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