Manchester United and Stoke City played out an exciting 2-2 draw last Saturday in the Premier League. Stoke’s new signing, Choupo-Moting, whose name roughly translates to be “silent while peeing” in Hindi (Indian language), scored on either side of United’s two goals. United conceded for the first time in 535 minutes of league football, a run stretching back to last season. It was an exhilarating game right from the kick-off with both the sides having chances within the first couple of minutes of the game. On the balance of the game, it was a fair result as acknowledged by the United boss Jose Mourinho in his post-match press conference after completely not acknowledging Mark Hughes at the final whistle.
Stoke City made a couple of personnel changes from their draw against West Bromwich Albion. Mame Diouf was fit enough to start, and Kevin Wimmer, the £18 million summer signing from Spurs, came in to make his debut for the Potters. Ryan Shawcross and Bruno Martins Indi were the ones making way.
Manchester United, on the other hand, not only made personnel changes but also changed their system. United played a 4-3-3 system with Ander Herrera coming in for Juan Mata, presumably to give United more control in the middle of the park. Marcus Rashford got the nod ahead of Anthony Martial, and Matteo Darmian replaced Daley Blind at left back.
As expected, Stoke deployed their usual 3-4-2-1 system that has worked well so far this season. However, they played slightly differently than they have been playing this season. Stoke create a defensive block of seven and left the three attackers higher up the pitch to counter quickly. But against United, those three forwards also contributed in defense, making Stoke’s shape very compact and hard to break down. The distance between the defensive line and forward line was roughly 25-30 yards most of the game. However, when they broke on the counter, they broke in numbers with Diouf joining the attack from the wings while Allen and even Fletcher occasionally making a forward foray. Choupo-Moting and Shaqiri were both excellent for Stoke with the former scoring both the goals for the home side and the latter intelligently linking up play all over the pitch, creating a couple of chances for himself and another couple for his teammates; one of them culminated in him bagging an assist for Stoke’s equalizer.
Manchester United System
As mentioned above, United changed their system to a 4-3-3 to dominate the midfield. One of the surprise changes was the inclusion of defensive minded Matteo Darmian instead of Daley Blind, presumably to keep an eye on Shaqiri. The changes didn’t quite go down as planned. The lack of positional discipline from Paul Pogba didn’t let them exert their dominance in midfield to the extent they could have, and Darmian didn’t have a great game defensively against Shaqiri.
Since Stoke played very compact and narrow, United didn’t get too much joy through the middle and half spaces. So it was surprising to see United didn’t try to stretch Stoke’s defense by creating overloads on the wing where Diouf, who is not a natural right-wing back, was playing. 55% percent of United’s attacks came from their right wing. Diouf only had three tackles to make throughout the game, and two of them came in the last 20 minutes. Moreover, if you see Rashford’s average position, he was playing more centrally, which was a surprise given that Diouf was an obvious chink in Stoke’s armor.
Another reason it’s surprising that United didn’t test Diouf enough is that in the system they deployed, you would have expected Pogba to operate on that left-hand side of the midfield three, creating overloads with Rashford, and giving Diouf a torrid time. But if you look at Pogba’s heat map, you can see his touches are more spread out. Oftentimes, he ended up in spaces where Herrera and even Mkhitaryan operates.
1-0 Stoke (Choupo-Moting 43’)
The game’s first goal came from Stoke. Darren Fletcher played a sumptuous ball to the right wing to Diouf, who could have been offside had it not been for Eric Bailly, who appeared to be taking his afternoon nap. He got away with a similar mistake in the first minute of the game, allowing Choupo-Moting to be onside but recovered well on that occasion. Here, after making the first mistake, he still didn’t wake up from the sleep, allowing Choupo-Moting to beat him to the near post, and finished the first time from Diouf’s cross.
1-1 (Rashford 45+’)
Unfortunately for Stoke though their lead lasted less than the time it takes to type ‘Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting’. United immediately scored from a corner after Nemanja Matić won the flick-on header at the near post for Pogba to head the ball straight to Rashford, who had no idea what hit him. The ball ricocheted off Rashford and went in for a comical goal.
2-1 United (Lukaku 57’)
United then went ahead early in the second half. Darmian won the ball high up the pitch, catching Stoke out of shape. Darmian played the ball to Mkhitaryan in the center of the park, who threaded a perfect through ball for Lukaku to pounce. All this while Pieters was doing his best impression of Bailly, playing Lukaku onside. Jack Butland made a terrific save to deny Lukaku’s first attempt but couldn’t do much at the second time of asking.
2-2 (Choupo-Moting 63’)
After the goal, United were expected to see out the game, or even add to their tally but Stoke hit back almost immediately. David De Gea made an astonishing save to deny Jesé from close range. From the resulting corner, Choupo-Moting was able to find space after Phil Jones got dizzy and kind of just fell over, apparently still nursing his international break hangover, and giving rise to the famous Phil Jones Manchester United life cycle once again.
Useless stat of the game:
With that second goal for Choupo-Moting, it was the 24th time a player with a hyphen in his name has scored 2+ goals in a PL game.
The fixture list hasn’t been kind on Stoke so far, but their response has been excellent, beating Arsenal and drawing with United. Their system will make them hard to break down and in Jesé, Shaqiri, and Choupo-Moting, they have the fire power to cause a lot of trouble to the opposition’s defenses this season. United are still waiting for their first win at Stoke, post the Fergie era, and they will at least have to wait another year for that. United are going to deploy 4-3-3 quite a few number of times this season. The system has a lot of merits, but they would have to be more position-ally disciplined, and use the width more wisely for the system to work effectively.