Manchester United continue their Premier League campaign by playing host to Stoke City. While United went into the game following three consecutive wins, only one was against some meaningful opposition, so there is still a point to prove coming into this game. Jose Mourinho decided to field the same lineup that started last week’s 4-1 win against Leicester City, in the hopes of achieving a similar result.
United started the first half strong, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic was sent clean through on goal after some great play from Paul Pogba, only to have his weak finish saved by Stoke’s stand-in goalkeeper Lee Grant. This was the recurring theme in the first half. While United played fluid attacking football, the finishing was consistently disappointing. With the chances created, United could’ve easily been 2-0 or even 3-0 up at the break. United went down in tempo in the second half, although still dominant, and finally took the lead in the 69th minute, as Anthony Martial, just two minutes after coming on as a substitute, scored a beautifully curled finish to give United the edge. But after the game, United dropped off massively and was punished after a defensive mix-up led to Joe Allen finishing into an empty net to equalise.
Despite what the result showed, United were by far and away the better side, and the team’s poor finishing was the reason United didn’t come away with a second big league win in a row. This performance is reflected in some solid individual performances up and down the pitch. In defence, Daley Blind was mostly very tidy at left back, and Eric Bailly was impressive once again with his signature brand of high-octane defending, while in attack Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford both caused the Stoke fullbacks all sorts of trouble.
But the best performer of the day stood in between those mentioned, in midfield. Picked to play deep in midfield alongside Pogba, Ander Herrera showed did what any midfielder in that role is supposed to do. His energy and work rate were commendable, closing down the opposition to win the ball high up the pitch, while still committed to defending deeper. He read and the game was positioned very well as well as also being strong in the tackle, areas of the game he has had to work on, but ones that have made him shine in this new role of his. His presence in attacking play also added to the threat United posed, contributing with some decent long shots.
Herrera didn’t have a flawless game, it’s true. He could’ve done much better to win the ball in the buildup for Stoke’s equaliser, but in truth, that goal could’ve been prevented if one of the other United players involved like Blind or David De Gea didn’t also make a bad mistake. Also, even though that one mistake had massive repercussions, a player’s performance cannot be judged by just one mistake. The bigger picture should be seen instead, and the reality is that, despite the mistake, Herrera was United’s best player, and therefore Man of the Match.