ROYALS BOSS STAM SUFFERS AN UNHAPPY HOMECOMING
Red Devils storm into round four
JAAP STAM endured a nightmarish return to Old Trafford as Reading were dismantled by a Wayne Rooney masterclass.
Stam, 44, spent three years at United, winning three Premier League titles, a Champions League trophy and hero status on the Stretford End.
But the Dutchman’s attempt to outplay his former employers proved a major misjudgment as Jose Mourinho’s men ran amok, racking up an incredible 27 shots on goal.
England skipper Rooney turned in a vintage display, scoring to equal the watching Sir Bobby Charlton’s club record of 249 goals before teeing up a second for Anthony Martial.
A brace from Marcus Rashford – the second following a comical error from Royals keeper Ali Al-Habsi – then gave the scoreline a lustre United’s performance deserved.
“Against a team like this, you have nothing to lose,” said Stam, whose easy-on-the-eye side lie third in the Championship table. “So why not give it a go? Why not play your own game, try to create chances and score goals?
“You can say, ‘Ok, were the tactics wrong?’ But you see many times a team sit in for 90 minutes and lose by a number of goals. We have a philosophy, we believe in
what we do, even against a side like this. For the fans, for everybody, it makes it a much nicer game.
“Of course, certain details can be better. When you play a team like United, you need to be sharp, you need to be aggressive, right from the start of the game.
“If you give them space and time on the ball, like we did in the first 15 minutes, they will make it very hard for you. We must learn from that.”
He was, though, far happier with his rapturous reception. “This club was a big part of my development, as a player and a person,” added Stam. “To hear that is always very nice.”
As learning experiences go, this was like a crash course in fire-eating. So dominant were United that Reading were lucky to escape suffering only mild humiliation.
Outpaced, outfought, outmaneuvered – the table may show just 17 places between the sides but the evidence of 90 sobering minutes suggested the actual distance should be measured in light years. By the time Rooney netted his landmark goal, deftly flicking Juan Mata’s looped ball beyond Al-Habsi, the home side had already crafted – and spurned – two glorious openings.
And after the England skipper’s neat one-two with Martial allowed the Frenchman to steer a precise finish into the far corner, the chances rained like confetti.
Rashford, who had more oneon-ones than Michael Parkinson, first lashed into the side-netting, then straight at Al-Habsi.
Mata blasted over, Martial miscued Rashford’s cut-back. Had Royals defender Liam Moore, unmarked four yards from goal, done more than wave a leg at Joey van den Berg’s low volley, would the tide have turned? Probably not.
Reading were too open, too respectful, too slow to fill gaps. Stam has deservedly earned plaudits for his side’s transformation into stylish promotion contenders, but their possessionbased game was never going to work against such world-class opposition.
With Rooney conducting and Mata menacing, yet more chances came and went before Michael Carrick’s delightful ball sent Rashford scampering clear to score his first goal in 18 games.
Moments later it was four. Al-Habsi played a dangerous ball to Chris Gunter, who returned the favour with interest. Pursued by Rashford, the Oman stopper embarrassingly slashed at thin air, presenting the young striker with a two-yard tap in.
Mourinho, who started without star duo Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba, rightly hailed his side’s “intensity and professionalism”.
HEADS WE WIN: United’s Marouane Fellaini outjumps Reading’s Yann Kermorgant