Don’t let the score fool you; they were flattered by 4-2.
For me the words Stoke and maim go hand in hand. They’re a tricky, well drilled and disciplined outfit who play to their strengths and quite forcibly seek to negate those of their opposition. I was pleased with the character shown by our boys, who again shrugged off going behind and knuckled down to get a well deserved 3 points. Lead by the contemporary United (attacking) Trinity of van Persie, Rooney and Welbeck, we played some sizzling and scintillating stuff for large periods, controlling the play and dictating the terms of the match.
Undone by some bad luck for each of their goals, we could have easily scored 3 or 4 more; such was our endeavor and intent to demolish the opposition.
Of most importance was the rapport and output of the above-mentioned trio. In the early going all three of were a touch too deep; too willing to drop in and make the play. Once they sorted themselves out and alternated between up top and off the shoulder we started doing some real damage.
An important win given Chelsea’s escape act against a plucky but typically wasteful (considering their efforts at Old Trafford recently) Spurs, this sets up a pair of mouthwatering ties in the capital over the coming weeks.
David De Gea – 7/10
I maintain there is a genuinely world class keeper in David De Gea. The pieces that comprise the puzzle are there for all to see. So far we’ve just not seen them come together on the same day.
He started his days work with a commanding punch in heavy traffic, which was enough to banish the horror of failed attempts v Newcastle two weeks ago, and a truly magnificent reaction save when Charlie Adam’s low cross darted dangerously and suddenly towards goal. Just before, his goal was breached in unfortunate and somewhat unnecessary circumstances. Rooney couldn’t get out of the way, nodding into his own net from close range, but the clumsy and reckless free kick ceded by Scholes that afforded Stoke the chance from a dangerous position is more to blame than either Rooney or young Spaniard. Their second was just as unlucky, with Kightly getting a great bounce and deflection to see him through and De Gea’s desperate paw not enough to send it wide.
His busiest spell was undoubtedly the 15-minute period that started just before their first and finished with our equalizer. He was tentative to come off his line when Evra forced Walters under the ball, but produced a fine save borne of anticipation, preparation and a good reading of the play when a fine Stoke move was turned away. His distribution was tidy as always; calm when under pressure and sensible when an option presented itself. It was a solid if spectacularly luckless performance.
Rafael – 7.5/10
Busy early, dependable always. A threat going forward and a wall at the back. Rafael has made a mockery of the opinion he wasn’t ‘United class’ with a string of stellar performances this season. Again he competed out of his weight division, even contesting headers with Peter Crouch, such was his commitment to getting the job done. He moved cleverly into dangerous positions and bobbed up to create chances as well.
One of my highlights of the match was when, with half time approaching and the lead only just attained, the ball fell in the 18-yard-box in a dangerous spot. Rafael flung himself at the loose ball, beating out two opponents, barging through them and clearing the danger. Awareness, selflessness and desperation all in one.
He started the second half in the same impressive vein, sharply identifying a Stoke ball from midfield, dashing in front of his man and playing a first time ball back from where it came, which released Rooney up the line. That same anticipation and seizing of the day showed moments later when Valencia was impeded as he attempted to retrieve a loose ball in the box. Rafael sensed it and reached the ball first, drilling a low cross to the teeth of goal that just eluded a desperate dive from Welbeck.
He’s developed a great maturity, which is epitomized by how comfortably he carries out the duties required of him in both defence and attack.
Rio Ferdinand – 7.5/10
The talk in the pre-game and worry for the week preceding it was that Stoke would attempt to bully a United team light on enforcers. It meant Ferdinand and Evans would have to be well on top of their games. Aside from one moment, that which lead to their second (as unfortunate a bounce/deflection as it was), they were well up for it.
His anticipation and reading of the play was again first class, cutting out innumerable raids and threatening crosses by simply judging it best in flight. We even saw a flashback to the days of his youth, in which he was a striker. Released by a Rooney nutmegged Rio approached Shawcross and attempted a step over that eventually bobbled free to Valencia. The Ecuadorian could have and should have tried to find the advanced central defender, but opted to go it alone and the attack fizzled out. Still, Rio was about as excited as everyone in attendance and watching around the world. You could see he really wanted to wrap his boot around it.
He was astonishingly penalized for standing behind Crouch late on, with the lanky target man throwing himself forward and conning the referee. Rio was rightfully aggrieved that a nothing act had lead to a set piece opportunity, but it was good to see nothing came of it.
Jonny Evans – 7/10
There’s a saying amongst sound technicians in the movie industry that you only notice sound when it’s bad. When its good, great even, you just accept it as an integral part of the show that is simply doing what it has to for the machine to keep rolling. I find Evans is a bit like that.
He did his job flawlessly, taking away space and contesting everything that Stoke tried to loft into the box. They were always going to go the crossed ball from out wide route regularly, but they need only capitalize on one or two and the match could be won. As such, with the margin for error minimized, Evans had to be at his best.
It’s a shame that what most will take from Evans game is his failure to score when teed up by Rooney. It wasn’t as terrible as the commentators would have you believe, but either side of the keeper and it was a goal.
Patrice Evra – 6/10
For all the talk of a man out of form and under pressure you wouldn’t know it by looking at him. A picture of confidence, as always, Evra was steady at the back and tidy going forward. He wasn’t beaten and worked hard up and down the pitch in transition. He executed a handful of timely interventions and made sure crosses into the box were handled if not by one of the big boys. Making a nuisance of himself if needed to do so.
There was one incident I didn’t like, where he stood off his opponent as they dashed down the wing. Welbeck was required to intervene on his behalf so to diffuse the danger. There appeared to be no one that necessitated marking in behind Evra, so I’m not sure what he was doing.
Antonio Valencia – 7.5/10
Persistent and threat go hand in hand with Valencia. And so it was against Stoke. Whilst the three ahead did most of the damage Valencia did his job ably, tormenting Stoke’s wide players and dashing to the byline whenever a sliver of an opening presented itself.
He was as prepared to drift inside as he was to shift the ball onto his right and make for the line, and as the half drew to a close he provided the telling and clever ball that Robin van Persie deftly turned home. His output increased in the second half and for a period just after the restart he was responsible for three pieces of play that gave Stoke fits. A darting and jinking run that was only cut out by a desperate tackle, a gather on the outside of the box that he scuffed goal ward and the aforementioned effort in which he knocked the ball in behind but had a retrieving run blocked.
He made way for Nani after 73 minutes and could be well pleased with his output.
Paul Scholes – 6/10
Intelligent, thoughtful, creative and impetuous. Scholes was each of these and more in a telling and important role against Stoke. Responsible for the foul that gave Stoke the opening the strike the first blow, a utterly needless and reckless challenge on a man with approximately one yard of field available for him to move into, Scholes received a yellow for his troubles and opted to scythe another opponent down just 30 minutes later. Truth be told he lucky to start the second half, I thought Sir Alex would remove him for sure.
He linked well and instinctively with RVP a few times, one a lofted ball beyond the defence in the early going which van Persie headed wide (he was given offside anyway), and another that drew a blocked shot that capped a surging run from midfield and a beautifully played one-two.
He facilitated the roaming work of the three ahead by being tidy and well positioned in a deeper position for most of the second half, deferring the demolition work to Messrs. Rooney, Welbeck and van Persie. Happy to retain the ball and play it safe, he made way for Anderson on 69 minutes.
Michael Carrick – 7/10
The quiet achiever. The willing worker. The player who always gets a pass mark. He just reads the play, the circumstances and situations so well, rarely overstepping or overstating what he’s there to do: hold possession, cut out danger, spot players in better, more advanced positions and, if that fails, start again.
He operated brilliantly in that deeper role, but was as adept when advanced to support the attacking talent as a reset outlet. This was typified when he dropped into defence to cover for an advanced Ferdinand, only to be involved moments later when a heavy touch from Rooney put the ball in jeopardy. In stepped Carrick, out he stepped with the ball. Another example was when the game was playing out time, with Stoke still lively and on the attack. In the centre circle Carrick showed tremendous awareness, poise, vision and quick feet to evade a few tacklers, slalom out of danger and sharply release a ball out of congestion.
That’s what he does: the right thing at the right time more often than not.
Danny Welbeck – 8.5/10
Quite simply superb. Given a starting berth and opportunity to press his claim the big boy didn’t disappoint.
On the left he provided drive, penetration and a direct route to goal, running the ball and dashing into and at the heart of the Stoke rearguard. In the middle he was a competitor and big body willing to get stuck in and distribute. It was exciting stuff, precisely what we need him to do more often. He’s big, he’s quick, he has brilliant control and, if last night was any indication, a terrific understanding developing with his teammates.
He and RVP in particular looked to be on precisely the same wavelength, with more than a few instances of deft one-two link up play in the first half hour. Even when Welbeck spurned a good opportunity to cross on a quarter of an hour the signs were there early that he was in for a good game. Complimenting his link work across the front line was a great attitude and work rate, with his positional sense when we broke forward both dangerous and creative. A back-heeled ball from RVP was snatched at and a shot when squared by Rooney was closed down, with Rafael’s later cross just evading his outstretched boot, but he was always in the right spot. An effort just before the half when he crashed a curled effort from long range was unlucky, with the keeper beaten all ends up.
He took his goal brilliantly, which was itself reward for a terrific performance, twisting in mid air to give Begovic no chance whatsoever. It was reminiscent of a previous wearer of the number 19, Dwight Yorke, and his header against Inter Milan all those years ago.
Wayne Rooney – 8.5/10
It can’t just be me, surely. 5 games back from injury and 5 games in my votes for Wayne Rooney. Involved from the very first minute when he skillfully controlled a lofted ball on his chest and diverted it right to RVP. The own goal knocked him around a bit, and he looked as though he was a bit frustrated and down on himself, which is why it was so important he leveled as quickly as he did. I’m not going to be hard on him for the OG, by the way, there was nowhere for him to go.
It was good for us that the goal livened him up, because we got the best of Rooney from then on. The control and vision to set up Welbeck for that blocked effort, the attempted flick out to a dashing Valencia, the nutmegged ball to an advancing Rio and his buzzing across the front line and in midfield impressed a preparedness to bring his teammates into the game and spread Stoke thin.
He crossed on a dime for Welbeck’s all important third, a goal which proved vital in keeping Stoke at bay and stood that ball up to Evans, with the defender not quite doing enough to turn it home. Like the others he was creative, selfless and versatile, executing a difficult but rewarding game plan as well as he possibly could.
Robin van Persie – 9/10 (Man of the Match)
How long will it be before I realize this guy is a United player for real? I still have to pinch myself that he’s running around in our strip. Days like this make it all the more difficult to comprehend, because he was utterly and completely brilliant. He scored a lovely goal, set up our response to a difficult start, put the ball for Rooney’s second into a good spot and ran the show from a variety of positions.
Out wide he delivered, up top he scored (a lovely effort he directed goal ward at short notice and with little space) and when in midfield he distributed. The linking with Welbeck mentioned earlier was a real highlight, but his knack of finding dangerous space and exploiting lapses or gaps is as good as his control and poise on the ball. When he’s in possession he’s got the ability to slow things down, as in his movement becomes very deliberate and direct, cutting in and away from danger and holding the ball. Like Carrick he just does the right thing almost every time.
Even when he fell over he was still able to find a teammate. We’d be nuts to not play the same frontline at Stamford Bridge. Go at them, give them hell and score 4 to their 3.
Anderson – 3/5
There’s something about Anderson that makes me happy. I think it’s his infectious enthusiasm and all action approach. In his short time on the pitch he received the ball and strode forward at pace about five times; such was his mission. At one stage, as he was running forward, I thought I could hear a voice urging him on. As it turned out it was Tony Pulis urging someone to stop him.
He showed great hustle to stop a Stoke transition on the counter, when he corralled and turned Etherington around, forcing the Stoke man to retreat into his own half instead of bomb on. When Nani entered the two combined well a few times.
Nani – 2.5/5
Didn’t do much when he came on, but was lively and actively trying to get involved. It was a good chance for him to show his wares on the left given the impressive performance of Welbeck, but he had too little time to make any impact of note. Had one bright moment when he combined with Anderson, and another when he linked with Rafael to play a ball off the touchline and into space for the Brazilian to run onto.
Hernandez – 2/5
Replaced Welbeck with about 10 minutes to go and his first action was, unfortunately, a case of miscommunication between he and Carrick. Hernandez feinted to go on a run, Carrick hesitated momentarily, Hernandez stopped and by then the ball was on its way and sailing well out of reach. It was like when you’re walking towards someone and you both go the same way to avoid one another.
A little later he took possession, turned well but ceded possession straight to a Stoke player. Whilst he has improved his control and distribution out of sight we saw there his failings. His best moment came when he stepped around a would be tackler and delivered a long ball to a cheeky RVP run into the box. Sadly the whistle went mid-flight.
3 – Robin van Persie
2 – Wayne Rooney
1 – Danny Welbeck
11 – Rooney
9 – Scholes
8 – Van Persie
7 – Kagawa
6 – Cleverley
5 – Valencia
3 – Nani, Ferdinand, Anderson, Rafael, Welbeck
2 – De Gea
1 – Carrick, Buttner, Evans