What went wrong for Manchester United against Stoke?

Manchester United’s bad September has bled into October. The Red Devil’s final match before the October international break was supposed to be a straightforward affair. A home match against a Stoke City side that entered the match in 19th place and hadn’t won at Old Trafford in over 40 years.

Coming into the match United fans didn’t have much to worry about. After a rough September the team seemed to have gotten back on track. They beat the champions Leicester 4-1 and no matter what, the home fixture against Stoke always seemed to go as planned. Even last year when United couldn’t seem to ever score at Old Trafford they still beat Stoke 3-0.

In the period between international breaks Manchester United won just one Premier League game and it’s time to start asking how that’s possible for a team this talented.

Up until the match against Leicester, the popular storyline was to blame Wayne Rooney whenever something bad happens. I always felt that was always a lazy narrative. Sure Rooney is nowhere near as good as he used to be, but he also isn’t nearly as bad as the media want to portray him. Should he be starting every single match no questions asked? Absolutely not, but then again no one should be.

The media seemed to enjoy pointing out that when Rooney was finally dropped United immediately broke out with a four goal performance. That performance had a lot more to do with United scoring three goals off corner kicks then Rooney being dropped.

Those that want to take a simpler approach will simply point the finger at manager Jose Mourinho. While Mourinho is an overrated manager, he isn’t solely the problem with this Manchester United team, but he is however at the core of it.

The problem with this team is complacency. The players are complacent and they played like that in the second half. After dominating the first half they simply assumed goals galore would come in the second half and they wouldn’t have to try.

While the players aren’t blameless for becoming complacent, the attitude comes from the style of their manager. Most of the players in United’s team are undroppable because there’s no competition for places. Wayne Rooney was dropped, but he’s the only player who has been and that came not necessarily because of his on field play but from the calls from the media.

Manchester United spent £89 on Paul Pogba, he isn’t going to get dropped. Marcus Rashford has continued his torrid form this year. Whenever he’s on the field he’s looked like the team’s most dangerous player. When he forced his way into the team Mourinho deployed him on the left side, rather then his natural central position, because god forbid he sat down Zlatan Ibrahimovic for a game. Antonio Valencia at right back? There’s not another person on the team Mourinho trusts there. Daley Blind? Mourinho loves him and hates Luke Shaw, so what does he have to worry about?

The only position where United has competition for is on the right wing, where Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (when he returns from injury) will compete for playing time. Everyone else knows they aren’t at risk of being dropped and their on field play shows it.

Such complacency at Manchester United was unheard of during the time of Sir Alex Ferguson. Under Ferguson no player was immune from being dropped, or even rested, for any game, even if your name was Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Cristiano Ronaldo, or Wayne Rooney. This kept everyone hungry not just to win but to always be at their best. That fire no longer exists in the Manchester United dressing room.

United’s complacency ended up costing them. A rare David de Gea mistake was turned into a Joe Allen equalizer. Following the goal, Mourinho changed to a 4-4-2 formation, something they should have been playing against Stoke at home from the get go. Marcus Rashford moved to a central position with Memphis Depay coming on to play the wing. Wayne Rooney dropped deeper into a midfield position to allow United’s best attackers to attack.

In theory this should have worked, except the players looked like they had never been on the field together and didn’t know where to be. Crosses were played into the box when no strikers were present. Rashford still ended up on the wing far too often. 1-2’s were played with the original passer not making the run after his pass. It was a mess.

At the end of the day it all falls on the manager. Jose Mourinho’s insistence on his own style means that United don’t know how to play any other way. When things go wrong there is no Plan B. His style, as well the hefty transfer fees and wages, have guaranteed certain players places in the team. In the old days every player in the squad needed to earn their spot weekly. That no longer seems to apply at Old Trafford and unless something changes, these results are likely to happen again.

About Pauly Kwestel

Pauly is a Producer for WFAN in New York and the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has been writing about the beautiful game since 2010 and can be followed on twitter @pkwestelWFAN

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