Man U bites the dust – again

Pres­sure piles on coach Van Gaal as Red Devils fail to fire, with Stoke putting up a de­ter­mined de­fence to keep them out

CityPress - - Sport -

Stoke City heaped fur­ther pres­sure on un­der-fire Manch­ester United man­ager Louis van Gaal af­ter cruis­ing to a 2-0 vic­tory at the Bri­tan­nia Sta­dium in Box­ing Day’s early Premier League kick­off. First-half goals from Bo­jan Krkić and Marko Ar­nau­tović did the dam­age on the day, con­sign­ing Van Gaal and his side to a third con­sec­u­tive league de­feat.

Head­ing into yes­ter­day’s clash, much of the talk re­volved around Louis van Gaal’s in­ter­view be­fore the game on Christ­mas Eve. The for­mer Nether­lands man­ager hit out at the English me­dia for what he felt was un­fair treat­ment, and even went so far as to sug­gest that they owed him an apol­ogy.

Me­dia re­ports had pre­vi­ously sug­gested that Van Gaal had just two games to save his job amid spec­u­la­tion that José Mour­inho and Pep Guardi­ola were be­ing lined up as po­ten­tial re­place­ments.

And, closer to kick­off, Van Gaal sur­prised pun­dits and fans alike af­ter con­firm­ing his team sheet. He left skip­per Wayne Rooney on the bench for the first time in his Old Traf­ford ten­ure.

The de­ci­sion to hand the Eng­land in­ter­na­tional a place on the bench was soon for­got­ten. How­ever, a de­ter­mined Pot­ters side came fly­ing out of the traps, putting United un­der some early pres­sure at a windswept Bri­tan­nia Sta­dium.

Bo­jan fired over the bar just four min­utes in, while at the op­po­site end of the pitch, Mem­phis De­pay headed wide of the mark and An­der Her­rera saw his goal-bound ef­fort gath­ered with rel­a­tive ease by Jack But­land.

But Stoke quickly re­gained con­trol and even­tu­ally broke the dead­lock on 19 min­utes af­ter a poor back pass by De­pay. Right-back Glen John­son was wait­ing to pounce and made a surg­ing run into the dan­ger area be­fore squar­ing the ball to Bo­jan, who took a touch and slot­ted home from the cen­tre of the box.

United were still reel­ing from the opener when Stoke struck again in the 26th minute. The ini­tial ef­fort from Bo­jan, which came di­rectly from a free kick on the edge of the box, was blocked by the de­fen­sive wall, but it fell per­fectly for Ar­nau­tović, who smashed a sweetly struck ef­fort into the top-left cor­ner from 22 me­tres out.

The Red Devils tried to post a re­sponse, but the ef­forts from De­pay and An­thony Mar­tial failed to find the mark, while Ar­nau­tović nar­rowly missed out on a sec­ond goal af­ter fir­ing just wide of the left-hand post.

With his team trail­ing by two goals and the pres­sure cranked up a few notches, Van Gaal turned to Rooney in a bid to turn things around in the sec­ond stanza.

De­pay was the man to make way for Rooney, while the Pot­ters also made a change at half-time as Marco van Ginkel came on for the in­jured Glenn Whe­lan.

How­ever, for all their en­deav­ours, United were un­able to break down an ob­sti­nate Stoke de­fence.

The first chance of note even­tu­ally ar­rived on 64 min­utes, when Rooney broke free on the right-hand side be­fore play­ing a fine ball across to Marouane Fel­laini, who saw his low shot bril­liantly kept out by But­land.

They cre­ated an­other chance just two min­utes later, but Her­rera couldn’t make clean con­tact with the ball, drag­ging his shot wide of the left-hand post.

Stoke re­mained firmly in con­trol, though, go­ing close to adding to their two-goal ad­van­tage through two ef­forts from Ibrahim Afel­lay.

The Red Devils re­newed their ef­forts in the clos­ing stages of the con­test, but the im­pres­sive But­land was up to the task, keep­ing out Juan Mata’s sting­ing shot from the right-hand side of the box.

City Press could not pub­lish the late soc­cer re­sults. They had not come in by the time of go­ing to print

– TEAMtalk me­dia

PHOTO: REUTERS / DAR­REN STA­PLES

TO DIVE FOR Manch­ester United winger Mem­phis De­pay’s poor de­fen­sive div­ing header al­lowed Stoke de­fender Glen John­son to pounce on the poorly ex­e­cuted back pass for the Pot­ters’ open­ing goal over the Red Devils yes­ter­day

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