ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
Stoke City 2
Manchester United 0
LONDON • Under-fire Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal made an unprecedented change but the outcome was the same.
For the first time under the Dutchman, captain Wayne Rooney dropped to the bench for a league match in which he was available.
The change did not stop United from losing a fourth straight game for the first time since 1961 to heap even more pressure on van Gaal.
Stoke City, using the same starting XI who beat Manchester City 2-0 at home earlier this month, defeated United yesterday by the same scoreline.
A weak back header from Memphis Depay enabled Glen Johnson to tee up Bojan Krkic for the Potters' opener in the 19th minute.
Seven minutes later, Marko Arnautovic slammed home the hosts' second goal after Bojan's free kick hit the wall.
Rooney witnessed those goals from the bench as Ander Herrera replaced him for tactical reasons.
Rooney attempted to bolster United's attack after the break when he came on for Depay.
But Marouane Fellaini wasted their best chance when he shot straight at Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland from close range.
It was one of six saves Butland had to make, with United having double the shots on target and more possession (58 per cent) than Stoke. But even when the hosts had to defend, they were dangerous on the counter-attack.
They continued to look the more threatening going forward, with David de Gea making crucial saves to prevent both Arnautovic and Bojan getting on the scoresheet again.
Still, United have conceded two or more goals in three consecutive league games for the first time since September 2010.
Statistics will also show that United played more long balls than Stoke (63-58) - the style that has left United fans disenchanted.
Van Gaal said the pressure following a winless run that has now extended to seven games had affected his side.
"I am always faithful but the circumstances are difficult," he noted of his failed game plan. "Not only with the wind but also the pressure. In my opinion, that is the reason they could not play football.
"It's difficult because I am part of the four matches that we lost so people are looking at me. I have to deal with that but more important is the players have to deal with it."
In the last month, United have slipped out of the Premier League's top four and been eliminated from the Champions League in the group phase.
They were also knocked out of the League Cup by second-tier Middlesbrough in October.
United face Chelsea at Old Trafford tomorrow and the defeat at Stoke is likely to fuel speculation that the 20-time English champions will turn to Jose Mourinho.
"I have received it (backing of club) all the time but we have lost today so there is a new situation," said van Gaal.
While United have fallen to Stoke, Norwich City and Bournemouth in succession, Potters manager Mark Hughes was left celebrating another famous result, having also seen his side overcome champions Chelsea.
"It was another tremendous performance from us, and at key times a very professional one, I would suggest," he said. "On another day, we could have scored another goal or two so that is the only slight disappointment from today."