Manchester United’s nine-game winning streak ended last week when they had to settle for a draw against Liverpool, so they headed to their away game to Stoke City in the hopes of regaining that winning form. United were missing Marcos Rojo and Anthony Martial, both of whom started the Liverpool draw, replaced by Chris Smalling and Juan Mata. Also replaced from the starting lineup were Matteo Darmian and Michael Carrick, for Daley Blind and Marouane Fellaini respectively.
United’s pursuit of a win was hindered as Stoke instead took the lead in the first half, as left back Erik Pieters’ cross was deflected in by Juan Mata for an own goal. United missed some key chances to score in the first half, which includes Mata missing an open goal and Zlatan Ibrahimovic attempting to square the ball instead of taking a shot at goal. United continued their struggle in front of goal, up until deep inside added time. Wayne Rooney takes a free kick off to the side of the penalty area, and curls in a beautiful effort to equalise, in the process making him the undisputed all time United top scorer.
There wasn’t much to shout about from United’s attacking players, but that shouldn’t mean credit shouldn’t go to any of them should they still perform, as was the case for Henrikh Mkhitaryan. He took his time to get started, but out of United’s attackers, he was by far the most positive. His direct runs were always a cause for concern, creating attacking scenarios all on its own. On a better day, that would’ve been a key to a big win.
Although he wasn’t United main supplier of chances. It’s as if Antonio Valencia doesn’t get affected by his teammate’s poor performances. He just keeps his standards up this season consistently, and today was no different. Not much came about from his crosses, but he was always there on the right wing delivering good quality crosses.
And today’s last mention has to go for the man who created history. He wasn’t that good, true. He had sloppy and wasteful moments. But his goal salvaged United a point and kept United’s unbeaten run to what is now 17 straight matches. Rooney established his place as a major figure in United’s history as United’s all-time leading goalscorer, and while today’s result spoils the glory, this is an achievement not to be underestimated.
But we have to be fair. As great as Rooney’s achievement is we can’t be distracted from giving the Man of the Match to the best player of the game. Valencia has gone from a figure of ridicule to the man United relies on to provide chances in difficult games, and while that reliance may contribute to the poor form in front of goal, he was consistently supplying possible chances throughout the game and was virtually unstoppable in doing so.