Stoke City 1-1 Manchester United – Falcao saves United again


Stoke City played hosts to Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United at an extremely windy Britannia Stadium on New Years Day, with the match ending in a 1-1 draw. The result could have, and potentially should have been, worse for United had referee Michael Oliver given Stoke the penalty they deserved after Chris Smalling was caught handling Peter Crouch’s header within the 18 yard box.

Manchester United had won eleven of their past thirteen matches against Stoke – a statistic which would give you the perception that the Old Trafford outfit had found the perfect formula to overcome the Potters. However, they tasted defeat in the very same encounter at the Britannia last season, and they could have very nearly been handed one today too.

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The Red Devils rode their luck this time around, but there is a certain worry for the people who feel or rather felt that United are, or were genuine title contenders (for their title hopes seem to be extinguished after today’s result). They’ve managed to rack up a paltry three points from three away games during the festive period which is a real concern to be honest.

United’s Colombian superstar Radamel Falcao cancelled out Shawcross’ early header and extended the Dutchman’s side’s unbeaten run to 10 Premier League games. The opening stages of the match were dominated by Mark Hughes’ side, and they grabbed the all important lead after a minute and forty five seconds of open play itself.

Marko Arnautovic’s corner was turned into the six yard box by Peter Crouch’s header , which was in turn met by Ryan Shawcross, with the Stoke skipper  flicking the ball into De Gea’s goal to give the hosts a blistering start. Jones, Evans and Smalling stared at each other in absolute dismay after exuding some shambolic piece of defending. Stoke could have doubled their advantage later on after Senegalese forward Mame Bairam Diouf embarrassed Jonny Evans with his tenacity and awareness, dispossessing the Irishman thirty yards from goal. After storming past Evans and entering the box, the former United striker wastefully shot wide of De Gea’s goal.

Although, United were back in the game after Wayne Rooney’s corner was met by Michael Carrick near post and ultimately slotted home by Radamel Falcao who got ahead of Muniesa in the nick of time. The remaining half was a closely fought contest between both the sides but neither of them could snatch a lead.

The game which ensued was a physical battle of sorts, with United being constantly harassed by Crouch’s aerial presence and Diouf’s pace. Smalling was at the center of a storm in the 64th minute after referee Michael Oliver did him a massive favor by overlooking a blatant handball and denying Stoke a deserved penalty. Five minutes later, Crouch was at it again as he was denied a goal by the post, having beaten De Gea by a header off Arnautovic’s in-swinging free kick.

Next: Van Gaal: Draw a fair result

United fans were left yearning for the entire stretch of the second half, as their side failed to create a clear-cut opportunity. And, when the opportunity eventually came, the Red Devils were handed a massive setback with the onrushing Ashley Young picking up a hamstring injury, thereby compounding Louis Van Gaal’s woes. He was replaced by Ander Herrera who failed to make a colossal impact on the match too. Adnan Januzaj, a second half replacement for Luke Shaw injected much needed pace on United’s left flank but his final delivery let him down time and again.

There were more negatives than positives for the Old Trafford club in the match today. Their back-line looked extremely nervy, whereas their impotency in attack away from home is a matter of massive concern given the fact that they have such heavyweights upfront. The only shining light in attack today was Radamel Falcao, and his second half substitution still remains a mystery for me at least.

Van Gaal fielded the trio of Jones, Smalling and Evans for the very first time in his tenure at United and, pretty evidently, it didn’t quite work out. Probably the best trio at the Dutchman’s disposal, their conspicious display has raised questions over the Old Trafford club’s defensive policy and has reinstated the need to sign a world class center-back.