United’s winning start to the season was halted by a stubborn Stoke City side on Saturday late kick-off; here are some of the observations made during the engaging encounter at the bet365 Stadium
Daley Blind had been preferred to the Italian in previous games, and will likely replace him in the next. Darmian is no stranger to the LB position but looked every bit out of position. It appeared Stoke identified LB as United’s weak spot and Darmian was the unfortunate player there on Saturday. Luke Shaw is closing in on a first team return and from evidence of the opening weeks, his return will be a boon to this side. Asides from looking uncertain at times in defense, Darmian did not make any attacking contribution of note. Valencia’s heavy involvement down the right highlighted just how much United missed a similar outlet on the left.
United yet to gel
The team has made a flying start to the campaign but many will agree they have not looked a cohesive unit. Understandably, with the team learning to play with a different focal point and new players acclimatizing. There is so much potential in United’s forward line, but twill only be realized when a proper understanding develops. Similarly, Jose started with United’s strongest midfield trio (arguably) but they also appeared not to complement each other properly. Some work needs to go into roles and responsibilities when both Herrera (who looked rusty) and Matic are on the pitch, as the Red Devils will need all three in sync for the big games.
Mikki is United’s best No.10
Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s influence is growing at United
The Armenian contributed only one EPL assist last term and has more than quadrupled that tally in just four games. As he demonstrated for the assist to Lukaku’s goal, Mikki is more effective behind the striker than on the flank. Given his pace, it is easy to assume the former BVB player should play wide, but his skill-set is more suited to playing as a creator behind the striker. United have typically struggled to fit in the No. 10 types with Kagawa, Mata and Rooney a few to suffer in recent time. However Mikki has demonstrated that he can be deployed there to devastating effect.
Smalling frozen out?
With Jones and Bailly having played almost every minute for club and country since the campaigned kicked off, and Jose alluding to resting some players, it was easy to assume Smalling would be recalled. More so considering the general height of the Stoke team. Yet he remained on the bench – even when Jones and Bailly were clearly suffering from fatigue in the dying stages of the match. Not too much can be read into his continued exclusion at this stage, but should the England defender find himself on the sidelines looking in when the CL resumes on Wednesday then that would suggest there is more to his current situation – especially with Jones ruled out
Bailly and Jones wobble
Jones goes to ground easily gifting Choupo-Moting a free header to equalize
The defensive pair had looked solid in the opening weeks coinciding with United keeping three clean sheets. but struggled to contain Stoke’s vibrant attack on Saturday. In fairness the duo have played a lot of football of late and fatigue likely played a part in their haphazard defending. Bailly was partly responsible for the Potter’s opening goal, while Jones lost his man for Stoke’s equalizer. Jose will be hoping Jones is back in form next weekend after a week’s rest. Bailly on the other hand is likely to feature against the Swiss side despite appearing to pick a knock during the game. United’s defense still looks far from solid, as such the club cannot afford either player going off the boil at the moment.
A good stalemate
United may have dropped points on Saturday, but many teams will find that there are no easy points against Mark Hughes’s men. This fixture would have been noted as one of many potential banana skins on the calendar, and deep down Jose should be happy to leave with a share of the spoils. United were in the habit of losing games like this previously, but will remain top of the table courtesy of a hard fought point that could prove crucial come May.
United return to the Champions League mid-week before welcoming Wayne Rooney and Everton to Old Trafford on EPL Matchday 5.
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