Manchester United conceded for the first time this season and dropped their first points against an impressive Stoke City, who posed major questions throughout a riveting contest. José Mourinho’s side remain league leaders – ahead of Manchester City, who trounced Liverpool 5-0, on goal difference – but again failed to leave this venue with three points; they last won here four years ago.
“One team tried to win, one team tried to get the point but they fought hard to get that point,” said Mourinho. “They defended well, they counterattacked and in set pieces they are powerful.”
That was disingenuous: Stoke carried a real threat. When Mourinho’s comments were put to Mark Hughes, Stoke’s manager said: “What do you think? We were up against the best side in the Premier League judging by what they have shown so far. We didn’t allow them as much space and everything I asked the guys to do, they fulfilled.”
Stoke began the better. Almost straight from kick-off the excellent Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting forced a corner on the right. Xherdan Shaqiri took it but overhit his effort.
The attack set the tempo for a high-paced contest where Stoke pinned United back before the visitors exerted some control. Mourinho plumped for a 4-3-3 setup that brought in a holding midfielder, Ander Herrera, in place of an attacking one, Juan Mata, from the 2-0 win over Leicester City last time out.
The midfield trident repeatedly pinged passes into the front three of Romelu Lukaku, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marcus Rashford. One break put Lukaku in down the right and from his cross Paul Pogba backheeled the ball at Jack Butland.
As in the 1-0 victory over Arsenal in Stoke’s previous home league outing, Hughes’s side showed an attractive fluency. Shaqiri floated in from his right-hand berth when his fancy demanded and one move ended in a shot from the Swiss forward that De Gea had to watch carefully. A few moments later Shaqiri repeated the trick, appearing in a central area and taking aim again.
For the challenge of picking up where United left off before the international break Mourinho made three changes. Out went Daley Blind, Anthony Martial and Mata and in came Matteo Darmian, Rashford and Herrera. While the manager had one eye on Tuesday night’s visit of Basel in the Champions League, Mark Hughes gave Kevin Wimmer his Stoke debut, for the injured Ryan Shawcross, and Mame Biram Diouf replaced Bruno Martins Indi.
In a furious first-half finale, the lively Rashford forced Butland into a save from the left, Antonio Valencia’s radar was just awry with a cross, and then two goals in two minutes made the score 1-1 at the break.
Stoke sucker-punched United with a fine Choupo-Moting strike. Diouf crossed the ball in from the right after being released by a superb pass by Darren Fletcher and the forward fired home from close range. Hughes’ side lost concentration moments later as Nemanja Matic flicked on a Mkhitaryan corner to the unmarked Pogba, whose header beat Butland via a deflection off Rashford.
The Stoke players protested about the equaliser, arguing Rashford was in an offside position. Hughes appeared unhappy and for the second half took off Geoff Cameron for Martins Indi.
United claimed this period’s first corner, again due to Rashford’s probing and though it amounted to nothing Mourinho could be pleased. The Portuguese will have been less happy at the way the full-back Darmian headed out for a corner when De Gea could have collected the ball. From Shaqiri’s delivery another mix-up in the United defence followed , from which they were lucky to escape unscathed.
The lead was taken by United then lost within six minutes. Joe Allen was pickpocketed by Darmian and he fed Mkhitaryan.
The weight and direction of the Armenian’s pass was sublime, cutting through Stoke’s defence and putting Lukaku clear. At the second attempt the Belgian scored his fourth league goal this term.
Stoke’s equaliser came from a Shaqiri corner. Phil Jones lost his footing and Choupo-Moting headed home. Mourinho was in no doubt Jones was at fault. “He knows the mistake. No problem – these things are part of the game,” the manager said.
Eighteen minutes from time Mourinho went for the jugular by introducing Martial and Mata for Rashford and Herrera. United might have grabbed a late triumph but Lukaku snatched at a close-range chance and Pogba hooked over.
Mourinho rejects Hughes handshake
Mark Hughes claimed José Mourinho failed to shake hands at the end of Stoke City’s 2-2 draw as it was a “negative result” for Manchester United’s manager. Mourinho shook hands with some Stoke City staff but not Hughes. During the match the two clashed when Mourinho wandered near his opposite number.
Asked about the handshake Hughes said: “I pushed him because he was in my technical area. Maybe that is why he didn’t want to shake my hand. It has to be viewed as a negative result for him. Sometimes managers of top-six clubs don’t take negative results too kindly. Maybe he reacted in the wrong way.
“In fairness I have my history with handshakes. Maybe it’s me. I’m not quite sure I seem to get involved on handshake issues, I offered my hand but José didn’t want to take it from me, maybe he was a bit upset about the result, sometimes these top managers don’t have these results too often and can get upset.”
Hughes has previously had issues regarding the post-match formality with managers including Tony Pulis (twice), Roberto Mancini, Martin Jol and Arsène Wenger.
Yet Mourinho, left, was irritated when asked about the incident. “I don’t speak about stupid things, I’m too old for that, talking about stupid things is for stupid people,” the Portuguese said. “I prefer not to answer the question because your question is a bad question. Because it looks like is my fault, is my problem. And your question is not correct, I am sorry.”
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