If Manchester United would have been allowed to pick an opponent for their match this week, after the really disappointing result from Monday, Stoke may very well have been the choice of Sir Alex. The Red Devils have not lost to Stoke in the BPL era, going 8-0-1 prior to this match.
Manchester United Starting XI:
Jones – Ferdinand – Vidic – Evra
Valencia – Carrick – Rooney – Kagawa
van Persie – Hernandez
Stoke City Starting XI:
Shawcross – Huth – Wilkinson – Shotton
Whelan – Nzonzi – Adam – Jones – Walters
Sunday’s match with Stoke City could have been called the Rebound Bowl, as both teams had disappointing results the previous week. United lost to City 2-1, and Stoke was embarrassed by an Aston Villa squad they expected to take points from 3-1. The question for this match was which team would rebound from those results better? Turns out the Devils let Monday’s match go, and got on with the business of closing out the Premier League title chase.
And it didn’t take long either.
Barely four minutes into the match van Persie put a corner kick into the area that several Potters failed to clear. Michael Carrick finally got a toe on it and poked it into the far corner of the net from the edge of the six-yard box. It was Carrick’s first goal of the campaign, United’s 100th of the season in all competitions, and really could not have come at a better time. It allowed the Devils to get comfortable early in the game and seemed to take some steam out of Stoke City.
For the remainder of the half, United seemed to be satisfied with the one goal and did not really put much pressure in the offensive third. Stoke also seemed to be content with only giving up the one goal and didn’t do much either. In fact, Stoke seemed to be taking somewhat of a “If you don’t bother us, we won’t bother you” attitude for the full 90. The Potters are only three points above the relegation line, but they seemed to regard this fixture as one they knew they would not get any points from and only wanted to get through it without too much embarrassment. For the most part, mission accomplished. They weren’t terrible; they just seemed to be going through the motions in order to get to their next three, more winnable matches against QPR, Norwich, & Sunderland.
The second half was a bit more active, but not much improved on Stoke’s end. They were credited with 13 shots on the day, but 7 of them came from outside the 18-yard box, and most of those were players running down the pitch on their own and just kicking it toward goal.
The outcome was pretty much decided in the 66th minute when van Persie was pulled down by Wilkinson inside the box for a penalty kick. van Persie converted it himself with a guided missile into the bottom right corner just under the diving Begovic. Shawcross did have a good chance in the 80th minute, but De Gea pushed it wide of the post, and that was that. Final: Stoke City 0 – Manchester United 2.
Some interesting notes from the match:
Sir Alex managed his 900th win in charge of Manchester United. And his reaction? “That was my 900th win in charge of Man United? I wish it was 1000! The players deserve credit for their character.”
Robin van Persie scored his 20th goal of the PL campaign, and it ended a 10 game scoreless streak. His celebration almost knocked his manager down. Sir Alex, who was absolutely delighted, said, “He nearly killed me, he forgets that I’m 71.”
The Carrick goal was his first of the season.
The win pushed the magic number to clinch the BPL title to only 7 points with 6 matches remaining, and also mathematically eliminated Chelsea.
Manchester United are now third in the league with 12 clean sheets, trailing only City’s 14 and Liverpool’s 13.
Manchester United Scorecard (0-10):
Michael Carrick, 8 – with his first goal of the season and solid midfield play, Michael is my Man of the Match this week. The midfield returned to their dominant form this week, and Carrick led the way. With his play this year, he deserves some consideration as Player of the Year for United.
van Persie, 8 – FINALLY got his 20th goal, and almost squashed his manager in celebration. He also continued his outstanding corner/free kicks and his hard work on defense.
De Gea, 7 – yet another clean sheet. De Gea managed his area much better today and showed up to knock away the few shots that were actually on goal.
Jones, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, 7 – The back four were outstanding again, and although Stoke did manage a couple of chances, there really was nothing serious – a testament to the hard work of the back four.
Rooney, Valencia, Kagawa, 7 – kudos to Rooney, who played this match out of position and did a great job.
Hernandez, 6 – seemed out of sorts and not his usual pestering self. Was substituted for Welbeck late in the match, at which point I remembered he was even out there.
The Bottom Line:
Just the type of match the Devils needed; a comfortable game to get the United train rolling again. Got RVP back in the groove, Carrick off the snide, and no injuries going into the final stretch of games.