When Manchester United FC rolled in for their match against Stoke City on Saturday, fresh off of the £62 million acquisition of Juan Mata from Chelsea, there were few that expected them to stumble and leave without three points. With the return of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney from injury, the new “big three” was expected to dominate a Stoke squad which has been mired in the bottom half of the Premier League table. Instead, they find themselves six points behind the top four clubs, with all of them yet to play this weekend. Should Liverpool come away with three points from their match against West Brom, a prospect most analysts believe highly likely, Manchester United will find themselves nine points from that coveted fourth spot in the standings. The Old Trafford faithful will be puling for a West Brom upset to keep the long climb back to the top from getting any longer for United.
After Saturday’s stumble, Manchester United manager, David Moyes, seemed stunned. After spending record amounts during the January transfer window, losing to Stoke City left him with no explanations as to what it would take for the perennial contenders to get a win. He said that they only had themselves to blame. Stoke manager, Mark Hughes, on the other hand, was elated. His post-match comments had nothing but praise for his side’s performance, particularly Charlie Adam. Adam was credited with both of the Stoke City goals. Although the first was somewhat of a lucky deflection, his effort to take back the lead after van Persie pulled United even made it clear that the home squad’s victory was not a fluke. Hughes and his squad made good playing against his former club.
Adding to their concerns, Manchester United ended the day with injuries to both Jonny Evans and Phil Jones in the center midfield. Evans’ injury was reported as relatively minor calf strain, but Jones left the field on a stretcher in what was a tense moment in Britannia stadium. Reports following the game indicated that he had suffered a concussion, and that he would be sidelined temporarily, but that the injury was not as serious as it originally appeared.
Their match done, Manchester United can but watch and see how the top four end up after the weekend dust clears. Arsenal faces a Crystal Palace squad that is barely out of the relegation zone. With just a point separating them from the bottom three, Crystal Palace appear to be big underdogs, but manager Tony Pulis may yet have something to show the Arsenal side. Pulis has a reputation for being able to rescue clubs in danger of relegation, and with five new players added during the transfer window, an upset is not out of the question.
Of perhaps more interest to Manchester fans, from a purely emotional perspective, will be whether Manchester City will be able to take the three points from Chelsea on Monday to hold the Premier League lead for another week. Although it may be difficult for Manchester United supporters to root for Chelsea, it may be worth if for them to see their cross-town rivals stumble and lose the lead. It would not erase the loss to Stoke City, but for many it would provide some measure of comfort.
By Shannon Malone