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Boot Camp!

 Posted by on December 5, 2014 at 6:08 pm  Blogs/Media, England, Manchester United, Stoke City
Dec 052014

Manchester United 2-1 Stoke City
79465026 fellaini Boot Camp!Maybe it was the looming Christmas party. The truth about playing Stoke, though, is that it resembles a macho rite of passage into a state of warrior purity, sort of like boot camp for the Royal Marine Corps minus bayonets and guns. It’s not much in the football quality stakes, yet you can’t help but be reminded of the United of old taking their lumps over the years from sides like Wimbledon and Bolton Wanderers. The important thing is that we won our fourth match in a row and the players no longer seem bothered or bewildered by Louis Van Gaal’s systems. Considering United not only performed creditably without their two ‘money’ players, Wayne Rooney and Angel Di María, it was refreshing that they didn’t look clueless without them and the general drudgery of the actual match can be shrugged off. With Monday’s visit to Southampton looming, along with the return of Rooney, and Falcao(touch wood!), it’s easy to feel optimism.

With James Wilson in for an injured Rooney and Ander Herrera starting in Dí María’s place, Van Gaal put more aggression and spine in midfield although it was at the expense of his wings. This lack of balance showed up early when United ought to have taken the lead after the Stoke keeper Asmir Begovic botched a pass to Marc Wilson, but a surprised Robin Van Persie, who just doesn’t seem to have the reflexes he used to have, tapped the ball away to Ander Herrera who blasted it way over the crossbar.
Yet only seconds later, Herrera went from zero to hero, executing an exquisite double one-two with Juan Mata. Herrera, who rarely uses the flanks, then provided an absolutely slide-rule perfect left-footed cross which Fellaini rose high to nod home in the 21st minute.

Stoke simply hung in there for most of the first half. With Van Gaal clearly not very disconcerted at the way his team chose to relax and sit on their lead, it became more and more clear that the Red Devils were flirting with disaster. Therefore it was no surprise at all when, six minutes before the half time, Herrera made a sloppy pass to Fellaini79459977 mata Boot Camp! and the big Belgian collapsed, grabbing at and holding his neck. With Fellaini still writhing on the turf, a loose ball bounced off Chris Smalling, ran into Bojan Krkic’s path and bounced to Steven Nzonzi, who rocketed a low flying missile past a diving David De Gea into the net.

Clearly chewed out by the boss at half time, United made it It more of the same in the second half, although United’s energetic running game started showing its affect early. Unfortunately, Mata, Wilson, Van Persie and Herrera all squandered chances.

Finally, in the 59th minute, Mata floated in a high cross that completely fooled Ryan Shawcross, glanced off the head of Marcus Rojo and went in the net. Pressing on, with Stoke reeling, James Wilson almost scored a spectacular third as he took hold of the ball at the halfway line, sprinted right through Stoke’s exhausted defense, but then somehow found himself channeling Danny Welbeck and blasting the ball way wide of goal.

After being barely with the plot for most of the match, Stoke came close to stealing United’s thunder at the very death as Mame Diouf twice had efforts desperately saved off the line by De Gea and Ashley Young. It was a well deserved win and United have a tight to feel pleased with themselves. Now Monday’s match against an ambitious young Southampton side looms on the horizon. A good win ought to put to bed any doubt that there’s anybody out there worth the worry save Manchester City and Chelsea.79465029 nzonzi Boot Camp!

Ivor Irwin

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