Manchester United have turned their fortunes around in recent weeks by turning a three-match losing streak into a three-match winning streak. The victories may not have been all that convincing, two of them at least, but a win is a win and it adds to the jugger naught effect which could be a massive turning point for Manchester United this season. Jose Mourinho had a great start in August, winning four matches, then came the three defeats, then another three wins. United are yet to draw any match this season, which shows some consistency at least. United may live to regret the defeats to Manchester City and Watford, but with 31 matches left to play after this weekend’s clash with Stoke City, there is still a lot to play for.
Last Premier League match
Manchester United beat Premier League champions Leicester City in their last league match, which was played at Old Trafford on Saturday 24th September 2016. United played their best football this season, initially, it seemed to be another frustrating match after the opening minutes, but inside the 22nd minute, Chris Smalling took the lead for United, who made the best of set-pieces with three of the goals coming from them in twenty minutes of resurgent football. After 37 minutes, Juan Mata doubled United’s lead with Marcus Rashford hitting home three minutes later before Paul Pogba scored his first goal for his club three minutes before the end of the half. Daley Blind got himself two assists in a great display for the Dutch international who seems to have shown himself as one of the best Louis van Gaal signings during his two-year tenure at the Old Trafford club. Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba, and Juan Mata were intrinsic to the destruction of Leicester City which has seen them become the preferred choice in the middle of the pitch with Herrera and Pogba partnering in midfield and Mata playing in the number ten role.
Stoke City are far from the side that used to cause headaches in the Premier League with Tony Pulis as their manager. Stoke were one of the best tactical teams in the Premier League, grinding out some good performances and making other teams work hard to get their victories. In the Premier League at Old Trafford, they are not so lucky. Stoke have lost all eight matches in the league played at Old Trafford, conceding 25 goals and scoring just six in the eight matches, with United keeping four clean sheets in those matches. This season under Mark Hughes, Stoke have not had the start they wanted, earning just two points in six league matches, losing four of them. Stoke drew their first match of the season away to Middlesbrough, which may have been considered as a good start, but the four losses in a row against Manchester City (4-1), Everton (1-0), Tottenham Hotspur (4-0) and Crystal Palace (4-1) seem to have added the desperate want of a victory to the season. Last week they drew 1-1 with West Bromwich Albion, which ended the poor run, but without a win, providing they leave Manchester after a draw or preferably a defeat, the international break will be a long one for Mark Hughes and his squad.
Stoke have won one match this season, in round two of the EFL Cup knocking out Stevenage in a 4-0 victory, but in round three they were knocked out themselves after a 2-1 defeat to Hull City. Hughes will be pitted with pressure if he fails to earn any points at Old Trafford, which when you look at the record, does not look all that likely. Last season, albeit at the Britannia, Hughes’ side got the better of Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in a 1-0 victory, but this season, Mourinho will be out to amend that record by beating the former United striker’s team, themselves heading into the international break with a four-match winning streak, which will keep the spirits high in the run-up to the visit to Anfield on Monday 17th October 2016, which will be another tough match this season, one that United need to get the better of their rivals in order to keep the pressure on those above them in the league, more importantly, Manchester City.
Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba and Juan Mata
With this trio in the centre of the pitch, Pogba and Herrera partnering each other in midfield and Mata playing as the number ten, United will go a long way to winning the match. Leicester City could not take the trio a week ago at Old Trafford, which could well be something that Stoke fall victim of again. When United beat Zorya Luhansk at Old Trafford on Thursday evening, Herrera was a player who was missed big time. Marouane Fellaini is not a partner for Pogba in midfield and he should no longer be played in that position alongside the Frenchman. Herrera, playing a deeper defensive role, as he did for Athletic Bilbao, is something that Jose Mourinho has brought into action this season, possibly seeing it as one of the Spaniard’s strengths and something that has kept him above the likes of Michael Carrick, who will be phased out this season, Morgan Schneiderlin, who does not seem to be getting many chances and Fellaini, who seems to be a rotation figure at United currently.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Anthony Martial and the man of the moment, Marcus Rashford
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored six goals in all competitions this season, four of which were scored in the Premier League. The Swede headed home from close-range against Zorya Luhansk on Thursday night after 69 minutes, scoring the only goal of the match, which was assisted by Wayne Rooney, whose poor effort on goal resulted in the assist. Ibrahimovic has been a massive arrival for United this season and paired with last season’s golden boys Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, the attacking trio will be tough work for Stoke City too. Martial has been absent since the defeat to Watford a fortnight ago with a contusion, something the media confused with concussion and his return to training earlier in the week was received well, as his pace on the left was missed. Rashford scored against Leicester a week ago and could have grabbed himself another goal on Thursday, but his effort struck the underside of the crossbar, not crossing the line, which was unfortunate. Rashford is the man of the moment as he shows no fear and does his utmost to get the better of his man, which he mostly gets. Along with Herrera, Pogba and Mata, Ibrahimovic, Martial and Rashford are important players for Manchester United this season. With all six players working together, United can get the best from the team, at this moment in time. Teams will start to counter the players in the coming matches, but United evolving in this style is something that needs to be done, getting the better of their opposition and scoring the goals to win them the match. When the foot is on the gas, it should not be taken off as Manchester United need not show any mercy after three years of poor football, teams taking advantage of poor leadership and poor performances.