Chelsea extended their lead to seven points ahead of the Manchester United match. The Red Devils surely would be keen to narrow the gap before their trip to Stamford Bridge next week. Sir Alex Ferguson started Van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck with Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick as suppliers. Tony Pulis fielded a 4-5-1 formation with a high work rate midfield, asking Jonathan Walters and Michael Kightly to support lone striker Peter Crouch.
David De Gea’s start was indeed surprising, given Stoke’s dominance in the air. However, Wayne Rooney has to take the blame for Stoke’s (or his) first goal, when he helplessly headed a Charlie Adam free kick into his own goal. Paul Scholes was also partly responsible with the unnecessary foul that gave away a cheap freekick.
The defense looked scrappy under Stoke City’s constant aerial challenges, but it was quality that rescued Manchester United. Robin Van Persie “bent it like Beckham” on the left to allow Rooney to nod in United’s leveler from close range.
Rooney, Van Persie and Welbeck all looked lively playing free roles up front. The latter two also got on the score-sheet shortly before and after the interval to make it 3-1. Stoke City were slightly discouraged, as their first half performance was more than solid. However, you can never write off Tony Pulis’s side. Patrice Evra lost possession in a bursting run and Michael Kightly made a 30 plus yard run unchallenged and was lucky to score from a rebound off Rio Ferdinand’s back heel.
A glimmer of hope was reignited, but Wayne Rooney restored the two-goal cushion with a close-range shot following a corner. Michael Owen almost made a remarkable return to Old Trafford. His clever anticipating run met Charlie Adam’s corner, but was only just deflected by Van Persie’s head. Apart from Owen’s effort, there was little left in Stoke’s tank and they departed Old Trafford with nothing.
Once again, Manchester United did it in a hard way. Will they be able to win from behind against Chelsea, or other top teams? The promising side is that their strike force is shaping up well, but their defense will have to be much sharper to challenge Chelsea next week.