Manchester United’s perfect start to the Premier League season is no more. But after a Saturday evening full of quality and entertainment at the Bet365 Stadium in Stoke, there was little shame in a 2-2 draw.
“A point is not what we came for,” United manager Jose Mourinho said after the game. “But a point is a point.”
The Red Devils trailed, then came back to take a second-half lead through Romelu Lukaku. But they ultimately settled for the draw after Stoke summer signing Eric Choupo-Moting headed in his second goal of the day at the back post:
The goals weren’t the only emblem of a back-and-forth match. The opening three minutes brought three sprightly attacks, and promised more. The remaining 87-plus minutes didn’t disappoint.
David De Gea, who hadn’t had much to do through three weeks, was called into action early by two long-range Xherdan Shaqiri efforts. On the other end, Jack Butland got down to his left to deny Marcus Rashford.
The midfield battle was lively, with Jose Mourinho introducing Ander Herrera into his starting 11 for the first time in the Premier League this season. United’s three – Herrera, Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic – largely got the better of Stoke’s two, Joe Allen and Darren Fletcher. Pogba drifted all over the middle of the park, sometimes supporting Lukaku up front, and on other occasions dropping deep.
But Stoke’s back three, which featured recent signings Kurt Zouma and Kevin Wimmer, was strong. Wimmer, who only joined the club last week from Tottenham, was particularly impressive on his debut.
Eric Bailly had also been outstanding at the back for United, but in the 43rd minute, he fell asleep and allowed Stoke to strike. His slightly lazy positioning kept Mame Biram Diouf onside down the right. Bailly then failed to track Choupo-Moting’s run, and the Cameroonian forward held off the trailing United defender to re-direct Diouf’s cross past De Gea:
But United grabbed a vital goal right before the break. Had Stoke gone into halftime up 1-0, the home side might have been able to dictate the pace of play. United’s equalizer restored equilibrium. Matic flicked onto the head of Pogba, whose goalbound header bounded off Rashford’s noggin and into the net.
Stoke players protested, and the center ref checked with his assistant, but there was no clear infraction. The goal stood.
Mark Hughes was forced to reshuffle his back line coming out of halftime with Geoff Cameron apparently picking up an injury as the first 45 minutes drew to a close. The U.S. international was replaced by Bruno Martins Indi at the heart of the back three.
The revamped defense was exposed 12 minutes after the break. The three center backs all stepped, but left wing back Eric Pieters held Lukaku’s run onside. Henrikh Mkhitaryan slid him through, and although the Belgian’s first attempt was denied, he forced his second past Butland.
De Gea kept United in front minutes later with an otherwordly reaction save on Jese Rodriguez, who had beaten Arsenal with a winner on the season’s second weekend. De Gea, however, could not keep out Choupo-Moting’s free header after Phil Jones had been beaten on a corner.
United came close to a winner late on, with Butland scraping a loose ball away from his goal mouth. The Red Devils had multiple set piece opportunities in the game’s final 10 minutes, but none yielded a goal.
And to be fair, a late United winner would have been harsh on the hosts. Even Mourinho recognized that. “I have to admit,” he said, “that they fought hard for the point. And probably they deserved the point.”
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Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.