A stirring first-half display helped Stoke City hand Manchester United a third consecutive defeat in the Barclays Premier League, as Mark Hughes’ side downed the visitors 2-0 at the Britannia Stadium on Boxing Day.
United came to Stoke on the back of six matches without a win in all competitions and four in the league, and first-half goals by Bojan Krkic and Marko Arnautovic ensured another miserable day for Louis van Gaal.
The United manager opted to drop captain Wayne Rooney to the bench for tactical reasons. However, that decision did not pay dividends, with United struggling in attack before Bojan put Stoke ahead with a simple 19th-minute finish.
The Spaniard capitalised on a defensive error from Memphis Depay to open the scoring but there was nothing fortunate about Stoke’s second, which came in the 26th minute courtesy of a stunning long-range strike from Arnautovic.
Rooney was brought on for Memphis at half-time but, although United improved in the second half, they were unable to produce a comeback and have lost four matches in a row in the same season for the first time since 1961.
Arnautovic curled an early free-kick wide but it was a poor piece of defending that allowed Bojan to tap Stoke into the lead. Depay’s attempt at a defensive diving header presented the ball to Glen Johnson, who pulled the ball back for Bojan to prod in with David De Gea stranded.
Just six minutes later Arnautovic doubled the buoyant hosts’ advantage in magnificent fashion.
The Austrian unleashed a fierce swerving right-footed effort that flew beyond De Gea after Bojan’s free-kick had struck the wall.
Depay forced Butland into a low save with a 30-yard free-kick but the match would have been beyond United had Arnautovic not curled wide when one-on-one with De Gea having been put through by Bojan.
United dominated possession following Rooney’s introduction and were denied a route back into the game as Butland produced an excellent point-blank save to thwart Marouane Fellaini after the Belgian had met the United captain’s low cross.
De Gea did well to prevent Ashley Young from turning a cross into his own net and make it 3-0 and it was Stoke who finished the stronger.
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal: “My thoughts are that we didn’t dare to play football in the first half and then we gave a very bad goal away. That was too much. They scored from a free-kick and then it was half-time.
“We have spoken with each other and I have to say the second half was much better, we created one or two chances and you have to score. Then the belief is coming back and we played better in the second half, but the problem is we didn’t dare to play. That is my analysis.”
Stoke City manager Mark Hughes: “It was another tremendous performance from us, and at key times a very professional one I would suggest. On another day we could have scored another goal or two so that is the only slight disappointment from today.
“To win the game 2-0 given the determination United would have had coming here today is hugely satisfying and I don’t think anybody can have any complaints at the outcome of the game.”