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
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
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