Manchester United will rue their inability to kill off Stoke City on a day when Anthony Martial’s strike was their solitary yield from a glut of chances created.
The Frenchman appeared to have secured an invaluable win following a double José Mourinho substitution that led directly to his opener. Sixty-seven minutes had gone when Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard came off for Wayne Rooney and Martial. Sixty more seconds were played before the No11 gave United the lead and this initiated a flurry of opportunities. But they failed to score as up popped Joe Allen for the equaliser which came after David de Gea fluffed Glenn Johnson’s shot. Jonathan Walters turned the ball on to the bar and the Welshman made no mistake.
Mourinho acted instantly, throwing on Memphis Depay for Ander Herrera and United went close in a frantic finish that had Pogba thumping the bar with an e ffort that may have come off his shoulder but, by the end, Stoke had clung on.
Paul Pogba missed a host of chances as Manchester United laboured to a 1-1 draw, with Lee Grant putting in a fabulous performance in Stoke City’s goal.
Mourinho and Daley Blind had each spoken of improving the standard present in the three consecutive wins that followed United’s three defeats in a row. Within seconds of kick-off Zlatan Ibrahimovic spurned a simple chance. Pogba dribbled, then put the Swede through, Lee Grant’s goal gaped, and all the No9 required was the kind of finish that has built his reputation. Instead the shot allowed the save and from the corner Stoke cleared.
United’s bright start was tempered by the visitors having their own go at De Gea’s goal. Marko Arnautovic hit in a cross that caused a dicey moment before United cleared. The ball came to Geoff Cameron and his 20-yard pearoller disappointed. Later, a slick Potters sequence splayed United but Cameron was unable to score, again. This time he really should have: Xherdan Shaqiri’s backheel released Allen who pinged the ball towards Wilfried Bony. It went into Cameron’s path but, once more, the midfielder’s shot was regulation for De Gea.
This was an impressive Stoke move and now United did better via a four-man play. Antonio Valencia passed to Juan Mata who recycled to Ibrahimovic and his flick expertly found Lingard. The winger delivered to Pogba but he lacked composure and missed the target.
Mata was again playing at No10 in place of Rooney and showing why he should always operate in his best position. From what seemed a blind alley the Spaniard created an opening, and came close to chipping Grant. The keeper tipped over and when Blind’s corner dropped on to Pogba’s head, he should have registered.
It was the contest in microcosm for Mourinho’s side. They dominated, they created, they could not capitalise. Two further illustrations involved Ibrahimovic and Lingard. Chance A came from a run-and-cross from the Swede from which Lingard forced a Grant save. Chance B was a reversal in which Lingard ran along the right and put the ball in for Ibrahimovic, and he could not slot home.
Beforehand Mourinho repeated a theory regarding the predecessor here. “The players are good players but some perform better with the ideas of a different manager and the opposite is also true – some of the boys might be more comfortable with Mr Van Gaal’s ideas of football. That is true, that is football,” he said.
The evidence of the 45 minutes that followed suggested the XI Mourinho fielded are some distance along the way to being rewired as he wishes. Lacking was the killer touch – it may well have been what the manager impressed upon his charges during the interval chat.
Yet more of the same followed in the second half. Ibrahimovic cut through the middle but the move broke down. Lingard skated along his flank and crossed and Pogba’s effort went for a corner.
The endeavour had Mourinho clapping but he now saw his side slashed open by Stoke. The ball went Shaqiri-Arnautovic-Allen in a triangle that left the Welshman behind United’s lines with only De Gea to beat. The shot, though, was yet another simple one to collect.
After a stodgy phase of play Mourinho made his move as on came Rooney and Martial. It worked almost instantly. Martial zipped along his corridor and turned the ball into Rooney. He dawdled and while this allowed Cameron to dispossess him the ball was stabbed back to Martial who banged his shot past Grant for the opener.
This prompted United’s late-doors onslaught as Rooney just missed a cross, Blind had an attempt blocked, and Ibrahimovic a shot saved. Now, though, came the Stoke fightback.