Manchester United’s perfect start to the Premier League season is over after a hard-fought 2-2 draw at Stoke City.
In Saturday’s rollercoaster match at bet365 Stadium, Cameroon forward Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting was twice a thorn in the Red Devils’ side.
He first supplied the close-range finish for a fine team move to open the scoring, before his header levelled things up after Marcus Rashford fortuitously made it 1-1 and Romelu Lukaku put the visitors ahead at the second time asking.
Here, we look through the major talking points from a Red Devils-perspective after this engaging clash.
The only table Manchester United topped last term was for most stalemates, where they registered a momentum-sapping 15.
Worries about a return to such frustrating form must now be on manager Jose Mourinho’s mind. His side racked up 18 attempts on the impressive Jack Butland’s goal, with Belgium centre forward Lukaku particularly guilty of one glaring miss when he shot over with the score at 2-2.
Thankfully for Mourinho’s mental health, his side did manage to get on the score sheet twice – unlike in last October’s goalless home draw against Burnley when a colossal 39 attempts went to waste.
But the signs are present that the slip-up at Stoke will turn into an anomaly.
Armenia playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan moved onto six Premier League assists with a sublime pass for Lukaku, more than anyone registered for United in the whole of last term in the Premier League. There is now also rapier pace throughout the attack in the absence of the injured Zlatan Ibrahimovic, making the unit far less predictable.
Phil Jones remains an enigma for Manchester United at centre-back.
A strong start to the season propelled the 25-year-old back into England’s starting side for a competitive international for the first time in nearly three years. Yet at Stoke, he appeared jittery and unsettled.
He collapsed with all the grace of a tranquilised giraffe for Choupo-Moting’s headed second. A pass-completion rate of 98.3 per cent might have led the way from both sides for starters, but with the vast majority of these being sideways he only contributed to a stodgy United performance.
United lack a figure at the back capable of both defending solidly and creating momentum with adventurous passing. Summer buy Victor Lindelof was brought in to be this man, with a positive performance against Basel in the Champions League on Tuesday a risk to Jones’ starting spot.
When Premier League clubs go shopping, there is one location which keeps coming up trumps.
Choupo-Moting looked a bargain for Stoke this weekend. Providing support for central striker Jese in Mark Hughes’ 3-4-2-1 formation, the free-transfer recruit consistently looked to punish any mistakes which appeared from the United defence.
This effervescent display saw him plunder two goals – the same as he notched up for Schalke in the German top flight in last season’s entirety.
At both ends of the market, the Bundesliga has shown an ability to produce value. Germany winger Leroy Sane also came off the bench to strike two goals of rare quality on Saturday in Manchester City’s 5-0 routing of Liverpool.
Stoke recruited versatile Senegal forward Mame Biram Diouf – curiously utilised at wing-back again by the Potters against ex-club United – after he shone for Hannover.
They will hope for similar returns from their latest addition.
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