United kicked off the New Year with a disappointing draw against Stoke City at Britannia Stadium. Despite the result, United still stay third in the league but, only just as a renewed Southampton is just a point behind them. On an otherwise disappointing day, the only positive for United from the match was their unbeaten run stretches to 10 matches with this draw. So let us look at the three talking points from the match:
United need to improve their away form
The Reds started the 2015 in the same way they finished last year. Throughout 2014, United won just six away matches. In truth the much criticized David Moyes has won more away games (four matches) than Van Gaal (two matches) in the last year.
Especially this season, the teams away form has been miserable. United have won just two of their last eleven away matches in all competition. The 5-3 thumping at Leicester in the league and 4-0 humiliation at the hands of MK Dons in the Capital One Cup being the poorest of the lot. The draw at Stoke was United’s third consecutive away draw following draws at Aston Villa and Spurs.
Van Gaal was clearly not happy with United’s away performances and admits Manchester United have no chance of winning the title unless their form on the road improves. According to Daily Mail, “‘When you want to win the league you have to win away from home, and at the minute we aren’t doing that. We aren’t losing, but we aren’t winning either. If you want to be a champion, you have to win these games.”
Van Gaal got his changes absolutely wrong
When United got an undeserved equaliser in the first half through Falcao, many thought the Reds will get the necessary momentum to challenge for all three points in the second half. But, United never got going and Van Gaal substitutions did not help the teams cause either.
To many people’s surprise, Van Gaal took off the industrial Falcao just past the hour mark and brought on Herrera instead. If that was a shock, then asking the other substitute Januzaj to fill in Shaw’s vacant left wing-back position was a bigger shock. When established defenders in the team are currently struggling to defend, asking a young attacker to fill in a wing-back position against the strong presence of Walters on that side was too much to ask from the player.
Moreover, when young pulled his hamstring with 15 minutes to go, Van Gaal brought on a defender (Rafael) instead of bringing in an attacker to get all three points. United under Ferguson are known to throw bodies forward to get all three points in the end but, United against Stoke finished the match with three defenders. Throwing caution to the wind by settling for a point is not something Reds fans are content with.
Stoke’s defending in set pieces is equally sloppy
If United are said to be poor in dealing with balls coming into boxes, Stoke are equally clumsy in their own penalty box. Nobody has conceded more goals from set-pieces in the Premier League than Stoke’s 11.
Under Tony Pulis, Stoke City where known as the strongest and probably one of the best heading teams in both the end may it be defending or attacking. However, things have changed since his departure.
Having the likes of Peter Crouch, Ryan Shawcross, Nzonzi and Walters, Stoke are still a threat in the opposition penalty box, however they are not the same in their own box while defending balls coming into the box. It was evident with the way United equalised as they took advantage of Stoke’s problems with set pieces.
If they are to stay out of relegation fears during the latter part of the season, defending set pieces is something Stoke has got to improve on.
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