1. Squeaky bum time for Van Gaal
As bad as things already were for Manchester United and Louis van Gaal, there was still a statistic to comfort them before this game. Sure they hadn't won for six games, but the last time United went that long without a victory was actually during the 1998/99 season, when they hit back with a win against Nottingham Forest on Boxing Day and recovered to win the treble. Football, bloody hell, as someone once said.
Unfortunately their current ineptitude has now extended beyond anything they managed in their title-winning days under Sir Alex Ferguson. Defeat to Stoke City left them seven matches without a victory, their longest winless run in all competitions since 1989/90. Yes, the run that famously left Fergie's job under pressure, the run ended by Mark Robins' FA Cup winner, also against Nottingham Forest.
Given that United aren't playing Forest any time soon, one dreads to think how long this current run could go on for. Van Gaal has been missing a modern version of Mark Robins - a striker who can turn up with a goal at the crucial moment, and then possibly go on to manage Barnsley and Scunthorpe United.
United did complete significantly more passes (350) than Stoke (239), while they completed 92 passes in the final third compared to Stoke's 43, and had 12 corners to one.
But Van Gaal's philosophy fell down on the fact that they didn't have the quality to carve their opponents open, finish off chances or keep the hosts at bay at the other end either. Stoke converted their minority share of possession to 13 shots. United could muster only 11.
2. Dreadful Depay shown up by Shaqiri
Van Gaal spent the days before this game trying out his Christmas rap in front of the media. 'Enjoy the wine and a mince pie, goodbye' was what he went for in the end, possibly after rejecting other lines such as 'Keep your eye on that manger, stranger' and 'I'm smarter than the three wise men, Ken' - discarding the latter after realising he didn't know anyone in the press called Ken.
Perhaps the most appropriate line would have been 'Do I regret signing Memphis Depay? Aye', after the wide man produced another sub-standard display at the Britannia Stadium. Depay made an awful error to allow Stoke to score their first goal, misjudging the wind and heading the ball tamely into the path of Glen Johnson inside the penalty area.
The Dutchman was operating in a relatively similar wide role to the one that Xherdan Shaqiri was taking up for Stoke, but it was Shaqiri who was far more effective. The Swiss was toying with United at times, giving the ball away only once in his time on the field.
In contrast, even in attacking areas, Depay continued his poor form since joining United from PSV Eindhoven in the summer. He misplaced 7 of his 20 attempted passes, while all 3 of his attempted crosses were unsuccessful.
It led to him being substituted at half time for the third time this season. The first came after a goalless first half at home to Liverpool - a game United eventually won 3-1. The second was when Van Gaal's men were 3-0 down at the interval at Arsenal.
3. Rooney axe didn't work
A few weeks ago there was a statistic that Manchester United actually had a better points per game record without Wayne Rooney than with him in the last couple of years.
By the time this game came around, after a couple of poor results without Rooney, the stats with and without him had become almost identical and Van Gaal's decision to leave the England striker on the bench just didn't work.
Anthony Martial isn't experienced enough just yet to feel comfortable leading the line without help from Rooney, and it probably would have made more sense to drop Depay instead.
Rooney came on for Depay at half time and set up two chances in the second half, for Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata.
4. Herrera and Fellaini were wasteful in possession
Van Gaal also made the perhaps surprising decision to play Fellaini further forward in an attacking midfield role in this match, with Ander Herrera operating in a deeper role alongside Michael Carrick.
Fellaini and Herrera actually completed more passes than anyone at the Britannia Stadium, although that was largely because United had the lion's share of possession. Both players gave the ball away too often - Herrera 12 times and Fellaini on 9 occasions.
Fellaini won only 2 of 9 attacking aerial duels. His more advanced role did give him the opportunity to get into the box and have chances to score, but he was twice denied by goalkeeper Jack Butland when he should have found the net.
Defensively he completed only one tackle and made only one interception, while Herrera made three tackles and didn't make a single interception.
5. Hard-working Stoke were better at both ends
It's no coincidence that Stoke have now beaten Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea at the Britannia Stadium this season. The Potters were full value for this victory over United and had the game's brightest players in Bojan Krkic, Marko Arnautovic and Shaqiri.
Bojan created 3 chances and had 5 shots in total, scoring Stoke's first goal, while Arnautovic had 3 shots and netted the second goal. The Austrian has been the common goalscorer in all of Stoke's wins over the Premier League big boys this term.
Stoke worked exceptionally hard, a trademark of any Mark Hughes team, and were efficient both as an offensive and defensive unit. They completed 60 ball recoveries to Manchester United's 46, as well as making 22 interceptions compared to the visitors' 11.
They also made 24 tackles to United's 17 and completed 18 clearances. Van Gaal's men made only 6.
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