Saturday 10 December 2016

Stoke City 2 Manchester United 0: five things we learnt

John Percy

Published 26/12/2015 | 16:50

Manchester United's Wayne Rooney on the substitutes bench before the Barclays Premier League match at the Britannia Stadium, Stoke.
Manchester United's Wayne Rooney on the substitutes bench before the Barclays Premier League match at the Britannia Stadium, Stoke.

Watching United's demise is painful; Wayne Rooney's benching was a long time coming; Louis Van Gaal would be lucky to be in charge at year's end.

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 Wayne Rooney’s exclusion a long time coming

This was only the first time Rooney had missed a Premier League or Champions League game since January 2014 (when fit) yet it has been long overdue. He had only scored two goals in 1140 minutes of league football before coming on at half-time and seems to have been playing most of the season as if he is running through treacle.

Nobody has epitomised United’s slug-like, pedestrian approach more than the England striker and you have to wonder why Van Gaal has taken so long to drop him. Now it appears likely to be the Dutchman’s last major decision.

In fairness to Rooney, he did at least add some urgency to the United attack when he came on.

Manchester United’s decline is hard to watch

What has happened to Manchester United for them to become so poor, so uninspired and devoid of leadership? Their decline over the past two years has been staggering and while supporters of rival clubs across the country may be enjoying this, it is rather sad to see a huge club struggling so badly.

They have spent over £250million but many of those signings appear totally incapable of making an impression, proven here by the anonymous performances of Anthony Martial and Memphis Depay. Van Gaal is likely to pay the price but this is a rebuilding job that has stalled and requires genuine scrutiny from the powers that be.

Did Van Gaal demand an apology from his players for this performance? We will discover now if he really does have the backing of his board, as he claimed in his 5-minute press conference on Wednesday. It is difficult to see how Van Gaal can survive as manager after such a horribly disjointed performance and there could be an announcement before the Chelsea game on Monday. It will be a sad end to a managerial career that deserves great respect if he does indeed go – but it has all gone awry for the ‘Iron Tulip’ and, crucially, the players appear to have lost all faith in him and his ‘philosophy’.

Don’t overlook the job Mark Hughes has done

There is a running joke at Stoke that whenever they pull off a big scalp the focus is on the weaknesses of their opponents. But this season Hughes has claimed home victories over Jose Mourinho (twice), Manuel Pellegrini and now Van Gaal – and deserved every one of them. Stoke are playing some of the most entertaining football in the country and have a squad that should be aiming towards a top eight spot, at the very least. While much of the attention this season has been on Leicester – and deservedly so – the progress of Stoke over the past 18 months or so has been remarkable.

Ryan Shawcross would be a United regular

Sir Alex Ferguson once wrote in his programme notes as United manager that he regretted the decision to let Ryan Shawcross leave. Shawcross’s path to the first team at Old Trafford was blocked by the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans and he has since established an impressive reputation at Stoke. He possesses the leadership skills and basic grasp of defending that is now so sorely lacking at United and could even be a contender for the captaincy if he had decided to stick around.

Telegraph.co.uk

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