After defeat to Liverpool in the FA Cup on Saturday, three points against a strong Stoke side was essential. Come the end of the evening the win looked even better thanks to an old boy in the form of Darron Gibson whose strike beat City to ensure we joined our city rivals at the summit of the Barclays Premier League. The game itself was a tale of two penalties as both Javier Hernandez and Dimitar Berbatov slotted home from 12 yards for a routine Old Trafford victory.
Ben Amos was selected for a Premier League debut ahead of David De Gea and Anders Lindegaard and he was a mere spectator for the evening as Stoke failed to trouble the youngster. Still no Nani, Phil Jones and Wayne Rooney available to Sir Alex; however Rio Ferdinand did return having missed the defeat away to Liverpool on the weekend. Its been a long time since the gaffer has been able to call apon a fully fit squad and that was no change for last night’s game; however with Chelsea up next on the weekend, Sir Alex will be hoping the aforementioned trio will be able to return come Sunday.
To be honest I expected more from Stoke and the debutant Amos, a Cameron Jerome header aside, was so untroubled you couldn’t believe it. Stoke have only ever had more possession against a Premier League opposition twice in the whole of their three year stay in the Barclays Premier League, so the huge possession stats in our favour came as no surprise. Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes were again at ease in the centre of the park, I even heard a stat that both Carrick and Scholes completed 50 more passes then the whole of the Stoke side, which even by Stoke’s passing standard is poor.
In truth the game was quite dull and the only real talking point was should we have had more then the two penalties; with four that could’ve been given. 1) Park was fouled by Jermaine Pennant and we were rightly awarded the penalty. 2) Robert Huth handled a Hernandez cross, which wasn’t given, though to be fair probably was the least clear cut. 3) Valencia was bundled over by Jonathan Walters and was a stonewall penalty. 4) Patrice Evra was fouled in the box, wasn’t given, with even Tony Pulis admitting it should’ve been a penalty in his post-match interview.
Stoke changed their mentality of fielding four centre halves at the back to deal with United’s in form wingers; however Antonio Valencia again exposed an opponent’s left back as Andy Wilkinson was given a torrid time. Before his recent burst of form I was starting to question whether Valencia could match his performance level prior to his horrific injury against Rangers last season; however on the back of being the best player on the pitch at Anfield last week, he was again at his tormenting best.
In truth Dickinson isn’t the best full-back Valencia will come up against this season, but the Ecuadorian international was probably again the best player on the pitch, as he highlighted that with a great run and pass to find Berbatov, who should’ve made it three late on.
With Nani out for an unknown period of time now, Valencia’s form is key as he is our only winger who you’d really fancy in a one-on-one with a full-back. With eight Premier League assists in just the 15 games, his crossing has become a key element to our game in recent weeks. Ashley Cole’s red card against Swansea last night ruled him out of the game on Sunday, meaning that Valencia is likely to be up against a defensively poor Jose Boswinga playing on the wrong side, so here’s to more Valencia chaos on Sunday.
A quick Pogba plea
Having seen Ravel Morrison leave for West Ham United on deadline day, I’m hoping the equally as talented Paul Pogba won’t leave come the end of the season. The Frenchman came on for a brief 14 minutes last night and showed a lot of potential and despite his contract coming up at the end of the season, very much in the same fashion as Morrison’s, United are more confident Pogba will sign on the dotted line.
There is no doubt we weren’t at our best last night but again at Old Trafford we did the necessary and gained the vital three points whilst our main rivals for the title slipped up at their bogey ground. The penalties aside, we only really created a Berbatov chance late on, but when you turn into the New Year it’s not about how you win, it’s if you win? And currently we are doing that in the Barclays Premier League.