STOKE CITY VS MANCHESTER UNITED
14.04.13

Stoke v United at the outpost on the A500; the tasty meat morsel in between the boring slices of bread on the Sunday football sandwich!

Could United extend their lead to the 15 points it was this time last week?


PERSONNEL:

In: Vidic, Valencia, Hernandez, Kagawa
Out: Rafael, Giggs, Young, Welbeck


KEY POINTS:

– United maintained their excellent scoring run from corners (14th for the season)

– United displayed more energy than shown in previous games and contained Stoke.

– Will United try and experiment on set pieces? We saw van Persie’s frustration at Rooney not noticing his peel away run from the wall. This seems a trend in wider football and is surprising that no-one utilises these.

– The game was won in the first half, particularly early on. Managing the 1-0 was easier following the penalty.

– Great seeing three strikers on at the same time even though Rooney dropped deeper than usual.

– Do United gain or lose something Rooney playing in midfield?


FIRST HALF:

1ST-HALF-V-STOKE

You’d assume United would approach the game with a ‘rugged’ formation given the cliche that surrounds Stoke; and with the return of Vidic and Jones switching to right back the response was in part, such.

However, further up the field Sir Alex made sure their style would be one of fluidity, guile and possession and the inclusion of Kagawa, Carrick, Rooney in the midfield certainly alluded to this.

On the right, United had Jones and Valencia which worked well as a block configuration in that they worked as one. As a counterpoint to that on the left we saw much more fluidity but also much more openness from Evra and Kagawa. The latter loved cutting in, loved it, as Evra occupied the wide position but it did expose the reds that side which we’ll look at how Stoke tried to take advantage of later.

In short, United were hard to define.

BOOM! An early lead after a corner which was stabbed home by the grateful toe of Carrick. This was the fourteenth goal United have scored this season from a corner.

The game looked stretched, even this early on. This was exemplified by the amount of space Rooney had. There was no way Stoke could give him this much space and expect to be in the game. His shot parried away by Begovic was an example of this.

Stoke2013_RooneySpace

This was an easier game for Rooney but it also highlighted the flexibility within the squad; not always to the betterment of the team as per Ronaldo/Rooney combination circa 2008 but flexibility nonetheless (Phil Jones is another example). Why was Rooney there? What did it add to the team? Perhaps Sir Alex used him to give United a greater goal threat from further infield (the irony of Carrick scoring isn’t lost!).

Yet it did bring the question of his role in the team going forward and this is one we’ll watch carefully.


SECOND HALF:

2ND-HALF-V-STOKE

Sir Alex made no changes and it was slightly precarious at 1-0 but there was little concern with United’s defence hardly challenged and couple this with Rooney and Carrick being given space aplenty by the impotency of Stoke!

Charlie Adam sat alongside K.Jones was ineffectual; obviously Stoke were not getting any service to the forward line, as such Pulis dropped him back, played his team slightly higher and stretched the midfield line from side to side in a 4-5-1 formation.

Adam was seen taking up more positions and quickly became Stoke’s best playe (not too hard!). The issue though was the gap between their zones and that once the ball was up they had no one supporting them thus making it relatively easy for United’s central midfield and defensive duos.

United were much more conventional in their appearance, a 4-2-3-1 in comparison to the first half’s liquid formation. There was little room for concern to be honest for the traveling red fans, with the saved free kick from de Gea being of note despite them having 13 shots on target compared to United’s 11.

A subtext to the formation was that Kagawa was not as involved as he was. The options for him to pass were getting wider and the second ball therefore was not on as often. To arrest this he came inside to become more involved; this worked and it was part of a downturn in fortunes on that side of the field. Luckily it was not to United’s detriment; Shotton pushed Evra out wide and Pulis brought Jerome on to try and take advantage of this space. We say try because that was all that it was!

Stoke2013_EvraPushedBack

BOOM! The build up to the penalty was just as pleasing as the goal and celebration itself. Jones handled the pressure applied very successfully in the bottom right hand corner (even Valencia played a part!). Interestingly Kagawa’s movement inside allowed van Persie space to attack leading up to the penalty.
Penalty smashed, Sir Alex grabbed!

Stoke2013_Passing

Stoke2013_LeftHandSideAttack

Throughout we saw the buttery style of Carrick, subtle and effective, yet again, surely United’s player of the season? Non, Rafa?

Hernandez came off with 12 minutes left for Welbeck and it was a wise substitution as Stoke were not being challenged from their now higher back four.

It was a surprise to see the straight swap of K. Jones for Crouch as Stoke were not getting anything from the former. Perhaps Pulis thought Crouch would hold the ball up better. Gladly this didn’t work out!


CONCLUSION:

Speaking to some reds after the game they felt United played within themselves. Whist there maybe a degree of truth in this, it’s also a little unfair as United controlled the game, chiefly through the middle of the park.

Rooney and Carrick were the responsible combination:- 45% of United’s shots came through the middle and the latter’s pass success rate of 85% served to emphasise this.

Valencia again was relatively anodyne even though he did play a part in the build up to the penalty. The lack of width is something that needs addressing (especially if the Falcao rumors are to be believed).

2-0 United, the title march continues!!!