Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford continued their good scoring run, but Manchester United were ultimately left frustrated after being held to a 2-2 draw against Stoke City.
Maxim Choupo-Moting opened the scoring for the hosts on 43 minutes, before Rashford inadvertently brought United level from Paul Pogba’s header shortly after.
The in-form Lukaku put the visitors back in front in the second half with his fifth goal in as many games on 57 minutes, but the Reds were forced to settle for a point after Choupo-Moting scored his and Stoke’s second.
Ahead of the game at the bet365 stadium, Jose Mourinho opted to make three changes from the win over Leicester a fortnight ago, with Matteo Darmian, Ander Herrera and Rashford all named in the starting line-up. Amid a typically noisy atmosphere, it was the hosts who started the brighter of the two sides, winning a corner and having a shot narrowly off-target through loanee Jese inside the opening four minutes.
Lukaku was almost afforded a goalscoring opportunity early on, and the Reds established a foothold in the game thereafter. The visitors’ first attempt on goal didn’t arrive until the 18th minute, however, with Pogba’s clever effort being deflected away for a corner.
Five minutes later, Mourinho’s men went even closer, forcing Jack Butland into action for the first time. Eric Bailly’s pin-point pass set Rashford racing into the Potters’ area, but the youngster saw his low drive well blocked.
It was a chance which sparked the home side into life, as two long-range strikes from Xherdan Shaqiri drew a pair of smart saves from David De Gea. Rashford again went in search of the opener, though, only for his goal-bound effort to be tipped away by the fingertips of Butland.
At the end of a half where chances had been few and far between, there was still time for two more, and both of which proved decisive. With 43 minutes on the clock, Choupo-Moting slid in to convert a cross from the right and give the hosts the lead against the run of play.
And while it wasn’t the prettiest of goals, it took just three minutes for United to find a response. Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s corner was flicked on by Nemanja Matic, allowing Pogba to head the ball in via Rashford, and haul the Reds deservedly level going into half-time.
The tempo of the game quickened after the interval, with both sides visibly buoyed having found the net just before the break. Although Stoke threatened to regain the lead, United soon went in front through Lukaku, who latched onto Mkhitaryan’s superb pass to score at the second attempt.
As was the case with Stoke’s lead, though, United’s advantage was quickly chalked out, despite De Gea’s best efforts. The Spaniard produced a stunning stop from Jese’s close-range effort but, from the resulting corner, Choupo-Moting ghosted in at the far post to head in his second.
With the clock ticking down, and following a mazy run and shot from Antonio Valencia, Mourinho rolled the dice and brought on Juan Mata and Anthony Martial for the remaining 18 minutes. It was a change which almost paid off in the late stages of the game too, as Martial’s wicked delivery was almost turned in by Lukaku, but the Belgian’s effort was too high.
United so nearly stole all three points in added time, with Butland forced to produce a fine save from his team-mate Kurt Zouma. It proved to be the last real opportunity for either side at the end of an entertaining contest, which ultimately saw the Reds do enough to return to the top of the table.
Stoke City: Butland; Cameron (Martins Indi 45), Zouma, Wimmer; Diouf, Fletcher (c), Allen, Pieters; Shaqiri, Jese (Berahino 75); Choupo-Moting.
Subs not used: Grant; Tymon, Adam, Crouch, Ramadan.
United: De Gea; Valencia (c), Bailly, Jones, Darmian; Matic, Pogba, Herrera (Martial 72); Mkhitaryan (Lingard 84), Lukaku, Rashford (Mata 72).
Subs not used: Romero, Smalling, Blind, Carrick.
Despite his age, Marcus Rashford is continuing to prove himself to be a vital component of this Manchester United side. His second goal in as many games followed his first ever strike at Wembley during the international break and, though he may not have known much about it, every top striker will tell you there’s a knack to being in the right place at the right time. Only Wayne Rooney has scored more goals as a teenager for the club.
In Mark Hughes and Darren Fletcher, the Reds came up against a pair of former greats on Saturday evening. Describing the match as “one of the most highly-anticipated games of the season” in his programme notes, Sparky will have relished facing United, as will Fletcher, who was popular among the fans during his time at Old Trafford.
Another week, another assist for Henrikh Mkhitaryan. That’s six in the league alone so far for our midfield Armenian, who is going from strength to strength in the United midfield. His performance at the bet365 Stadium certainly didn’t go unnoticed by the travelling fans, who regularly sang his name throughout the match.
Another goal for big Rom
As mentioned above, Romelu Lukaku has made a fantastic start to life at United, and his strike against Stoke was his fifth in as many games for the Reds this season. The addition of the Belgian this summer looks an excellent piece of business from Jose Mourinho, and the striker will undoubtedly be keen to score his first Champions League goal for United when Basel travel to Manchester on Tuesday.