United Weather Storm at Stoke
By Jack Chapman
It took Manchester United 62 minutes to find some inspiration in severe weather against Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium when Ashley Young fired home a rocket from outside the box. Patrice Evra then followed suit in the the 78th minute with a sublime right-footed finish into the top right hand corner.
It is no doubt a testing time for the Red Devils who currently sit in the eighth spot in the Premier League after a well documented slow start to the campaign under new manager David Moyes. It is safe to say that any United fan would be relieved with this result putting them into the semi-final of the Capital One Cup facing a beatable Sunderland.
At the moment, each and every game that is coming United's way comes with massive pressure and the fixture against an often resilient and tough Stoke City was no different.
With talisman Robin Van Persie sidelined for a month with a thigh injury, Moyes received further bad news from his medical staff that on form Wayne Rooney would miss the game due to a groin strain. Moyes decided to utilize Danny Welbeck as a sole striker opting for a 4-3-3 formation playing Young and Valencia on the wings and handing Anderson a start with Tom Cleverley and Phil Jones in the centre of the park.
During the first half of the game it looked like the uninspired Manchester United of late, neither team penetrated play or used the ball with any accuracy and the unfortunate highlight of the first half was the hail stone stoppage. As the conditions worsened, referee Mark Clattenburg had no choice but to lead both teams off the field due to impaired vision.
Once play resumed, the bleak weather was underlined by Young who carelessly wasted two free kicks.
After a drab first half display, it began to feel like another potential upset with United's midfield screaming out for a player of Rooney's quality.
It was at the 62nd minute where Young finally set the game alight with a smart one-two combination with Javier Hernandez followed by a sensational strike. The ball was forever shifting away from Stoke City's goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen and that strike could be the confidence boost the struggling winger needed.
It was Evra who then hammered the nail in the Stoke's coffin with a beautiful strike with his often unused right foot. Young was involved again by pulling two Stoke players down the wing freeing Evra who dribbled into the box and finished it with a curling shot at the far post. Evra later admitted that he 'only uses his right foot to get on a bus.' I'm thinking that maybe needs to change.
Despite the certainty of the match from that point, you have to give the home team credit as they kept moving the ball forward and doing what Stoke City do best, putting the ball in the box.
A lot of positives are to be take from the game, Darren Fletcher made another appearance from the bench, Young imposed himself in the second half, progression into the semi final avoiding an in form Manchester City. However, there are still concerns over the presence in the central midfield. Neither Cleverley or Anderson ignited any real threatening attack. Although they put in a solid performance in the middle of the park, they must know doing 'a job' isn't enough.
I firmly believe that you can't set the world alight week in, week out and those performances need to be grounded out, but Europe is a different story. Since the Champions League final defeats to Barcelona in 2009 and 2011 when United were overrun in midfield, they have needed a world class player to run the centre of the park. This is no secret and to compete with the very top teams Moyes will need to dip into his owners' pocket.
Moyes' selection provided yet another rotation, albeit an expectation in this competition over the years. You cannot argue that he hasn't given the squad a chance, a lot of sources suggest that Moyes is ready and preparing to clear out the squads dead wood as early as this January.