Saturday 3 December 2016

Mourinho curses his luck as wasteful United punished

James Ducker

Published 03/10/2016 | 02:30

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho. Photo credit: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho. Photo credit: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

Jose Mourinho called it "our best performance by far", one where "everything was beautiful" from the first minute, but by the end of a strange afternoon at Old Trafford, the overwhelming emotion for Manchester United will have been one of frustration.

Man United 1 Stoke 1

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Frustration that they could not make more of some lovely passages of play, frustration that they were so wasteful in goal, frustration that they failed to gain real ground at the top of the Premier League ahead of a tough run of games.

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford (left) and Stoke City's Geoff Cameron in action. Photo credit: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Manchester United's Marcus Rashford (left) and Stoke City's Geoff Cameron in action. Photo credit: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

And finally frustration that the usually dependable David de Gea spilled the one save he really needed to make, while the goalkeeper at the opposite end got in the way of almost everything that United threw at him.

United had 24 shots to Stoke City's seven but a combination of profligacy and Lee Grant's heroics in goal on only his second Premier League appearance denied Mourinho the "fat result", 7-0 scoreline and three points he was adamant his side deserved.

When Anthony Martial scored with a delightful shot with 21 minutes left, shortly after coming on as a substitute, it seemed certain United would consign Stoke to a fifth defeat in seven league games and pile the pressure on manager Mark Hughes.

Yet De Gea's lapse proved just enough for Joe Allen, Stoke's best outfield player and the victim of a studs-up challenge from Ander Herrera early in the second half that might have warranted more than the yellow card produced by referee Robert Madley, to claim a precious point with eight minutes to go.

Stoke City's Joe Allen scores his side's first goal of the game. Photo credit: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Stoke City's Joe Allen scores his side's first goal of the game. Photo credit: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

United had beaten Leicester City 4-1 in their previous league outing, but whereas Mourinho claimed that result flattered the performance, the Portuguese insisted "this was the opposite".

"It should have been three- or four-nil at half-time, six or seven at the end," the United manager said.

"It was very undeserved but a much better performance than against Leicester.

"They (Stoke) were lucky but luck is part of football. My tribute to them is they are not guilty of our bad luck. In the first minute their keeper made an unbelievable save and kept doing it until the end."

Manchester United's Memphis Depay (left) and Stoke City's Erik Pieters battle for the ball. Photo credit: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Manchester United's Memphis Depay (left) and Stoke City's Erik Pieters battle for the ball. Photo credit: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

Truth

That was not the whole truth. Sure, Grant, signed on loan from Derby County in August, had a day to remember but United also had one to forget in front of goal before and after Martial speared a shot into the top corner after his fellow substitute Wayne Rooney had been challenged by Geoff Cameron.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic had set the tone for things to come in the second minute when, released one-on-one after a delightful piece of improvisation from Paul Pogba, the Swede tried to be too clever with his finish, opting for the near corner, where Grant saved, as opposed to the far side where there was acres of spaces in which to roll his shot.

Jesse Lingard was denied brilliantly at the near post, Juan Mata had an effort tipped over and Ibrahimovic was thwarted in the final seconds by Grant.

But the most culpable was Paul Pogba, who could have had a hat-trick.

The world's most expensive player blew hot and cold here.

He headed against the crossbar late on from Marcus Rashford's wonderful in-swinging cross and had earlier headed wide from Daley Blind's corner.

Most obviously, he screwed a shot horribly wide when clear through on Grant in the 16th minute after a bewitching move from United that involved Ibrahimovic playing a wonderful back-heel into the path of Lingard to put it on a plate for Pogba, who lost his composure at the crucial moment.

It was interesting to hear Hughes reveal that Stoke had sought to exploit the space Pogba leaves in United's midfield when he fails to track back.

That may be less Pogba's fault and more an issue with a system that worked well against Leicester and, in the main, Stoke, but which could be vulnerable against Liverpool's cunning and running at Anfield a fortnight today.

Herrera might have been sent off in the 54th minute when he caught Allen full on the right thigh with his studs as Stoke were breaking on the counter.

Hughes professed not to have seen the incident but suggested Herrera may have escaped with just a yellow card because "Joe didn't make a meal of it even though he was clearly hurt".

Allen was moving freely enough when he popped up to score, though. A low shot from Glen Johnson had taken a slight deflection but not one that should have bothered De Gea quite as it did.

The United goalkeeper got down low but spilled the ball only as far as Jonathan Walters, whose deflected shot hit the crossbar but bounced into the path of Allen to finish first time. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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