Manchester United were unable to re-establish their two-point lead at the top of the Premier League summit as Stoke City held them to a thrilling 2-2 draw at the bet365 Stadium on Saturday night.
After derby rivals Manchester City had gone top of the table with a 5-0 drubbing of Liverpool, the pressure was on the Red Devils to respond but an inspired Potters performance saw them drop points for the first time in the season.
Jose Mourinho started Matteo Darmian and Ander Herrera in place of Daley Blind and Juan Mata, respectively, but it seemed if the international break had disrupted United’s early season rhythm.
Stoke manager Mark Hughes had mischievously hinted at an United weakness as he declared his side would attack United and true to his word, the home side took the fight to their illustrious opponents from the off.
The Red Devils had the better chances in the opening half-hour, with Marcus Rashford testing Jack Butland twice, but it would be the hosts who would take a shock lead.
Forward Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting got on the end of a Mame Biram Diouf cross in the 42nd minute to snap United’s clean-sheet streak.
However, United responded immediately from a corner, Nemanja Matic flicking the ball on at the near-post before Paul Pogba’s header hit Marcus Rashford and went into the net. The young forward claimed the goal as the visitors had a crucial equaliser and with it, the momentum as well.
Post the interval, it was the same story as the first-half, with Stoke’s wingers and forwards hitting United on the break and looking dangerous with the ball.
Jese, who had scored the winner against Arsenal in August, was bright, as was Xherdan Shaqiri but it would be United who scored first in the second period.
Matteo Darmian picked Joe Allen’s pockets and fed Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who in turn slipped in Romelu Lukaku for a one-on-one with Butland. The Belgian’s initial shot was superbly saved by the keeper but Lukaku recovered to finish the rebound three minutes before the hour-mark.
The Potters kept pushing and Jese thought he had scored when he got a touch to a cross from the left, but United keeper David de Gea made a world-class save to tip the ball over the bar.
Just as Stoke switched off in the first-half after scoring, United did the same and a Shaqiri corner found an unmarked Choupo-Moting at the far-post. Phil Jones was the player that was marking the forward but the defender lost his man at a crucial juncture and the scores were level once again.
Mourinho sent on Anthony Martial and Juan Mata in response but despite the duo’s interjection of pace and ingenuity into the United attack, they were unable to find a winner.
Lukaku had a chance to notch his fifth league goal for United when Martial sent in an inviting cross from the right, but with the ball bouncing in front of him, he was unable to get it on target.
Butland, in the Stoke goal, was superb, making a incredible save at the death after Mata’s corner had almost forced an own goal from Kurt Zouma.
Stoke held on for the draw and rise to 10th in the league table with five points from four games while United remain on top of the league, albeit on goal difference with 10 points.
The Red Devils cannot dwell on the disappointment of the dropped points for a Champions League tie against Swiss side Basel in mid-week awaits.