Manchester United conceded for the first time in the Premier League this season and dropped their first points against an impressive Stoke City who posed questions in a riveting contest.
José Mourinho’s side remain leaders due to a superior goal difference to Manchester City, who earlier trounced Liverpool 5-0. United had hoped to maintain their perfect record following three straight victories but again failed to leave this venue with three points, last winning in the league here four years ago.
Stoke began the better. Almost straight from kick-off Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting forced a corner along the right. Xherdan Shaqiri took this but overhit his effort.
Stoke then slipped up in midfield and Marcus Rashford was away. The 19-year-old flew along the inside-right channel and flicked a pass infield. The intended recipient was Romelu Lukaku but the ball eventually came towards Paul Pogba yet he tangled with Joe Allen and referee Neil Swarbrick blew for a foul.
The contest’s high pace continued. A long Jack Butland clearance went all the way to Jesé Rodríguez down the right. The Spaniard ran on and when taking aim beat David De Gea though not the goalkeeper’s righthand post. Next, Choupo-Moting claimed another corner down the same flank. This time Shaqiri’s delivery was not too strong but too straight and De Gea collected.
From here, United first slowed Stoke, then exerted some control. Mourinho had plumped for a 4-3-3 that allowed a holding midfielder, Ander Herrera, for an attacking one, Juan Mata, from the 2-0 win over Leicester City last time out.
The middle trident of Herrera, Nemanja Matic and Pogba were to the fore as United pinged passes into the frontline of Lukaku, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Rashford. One break had Lukaku in down the right and from his cross Pogba back-heeled the ball at Butland. This won United’s opening corner but it yielded nothing.
As in the 1-0 victory over Arsenal in Stoke’s previous home league outing, Mark Hughes side showed an attractive fluency. Shaqiri floated in from his right-hand berth when fancy took him and one Stoke move ended in a shot from the Swiss forward that De Gea needed to watch carefully. A few moments later Shaqiri repeated the trick by appearing in a central area and taking aim again.
For the challenge of picking up where United left off before the international break Mourinho made three changes. Out went Daley Blind, Anthony Martial and Mata and in came Matteo Darmian, Rashford and Herrera. While the manager had an eye on Tuesday night’s visit of Basel in the Champions League, Mark Hughes gave Kevin Wimmer his Stoke debut, for the injured Ryan Shawcross, and Mame Biram Diouf replaced Bruno Martins Indi.
In a furious first-half finale, the lively Rashford forced Butland into a save from the left, Antonio Valencia’s radar was awry with a cross, and two goals in two minutes made the score 1-1 at the break.
Stoke sucker-punched United with a fine Choupo-Moting strike. Diouf crossed the ball in from the right after being released by a superb Darren Fletcher pass and the forward fired home from close range. Yet Hughes’ side then lost concentration as just moments later Matic flicked on a Mkhitaryan corner to the unmarked Pogba and his header beat Butland via a deflection off Rashford’s head.
The Stoke players protested about the equaliser, arguing Rashford was in an offside position. Hughes appeared unhappy and for the second half took off Geoff Cameron for Martins Indi.
United claimed this period’s first corner, again due to Rashford’s probing and though it amounted to nothing Mourinho could be pleased at this beginning. The Portuguese will have been less happy at the way Darmian headed out for a corner when De Gea could have collected the ball. From Shaqiri’s delivery another mix-up in the United defence followed which they were lucky to escape from.
The lead was about to be taken by United then lost in six minutes. Allen was pickpocketed by Darmian and he fed Mkhitaryan. The weight and direction of pass was sublime, removing Stoke’s defence and putting Lukaku clear. At the second attempt the Belgian scored his fourth league goal of the season.
Stoke’s equaliser came from a Shaqiri corner. Phil Jones lost his footing and Choupo-Moting again finished.
Eighteen minutes from time Mourinho made his move by introducing Martial and Mata for Rashford and Herrera. United might have grabbed a late triumph when Lukaku snatched at a close-range chance and Pogba hooked over.
At the close Mourinho seemed to show frustration by ignoring Hughes when shaking hands with some of the Stoke staff.