15/11/2008 17:55, Report by Ben Hibbs
United 5 Stoke 0
United's class shone through in a five-star display against Stoke City. Cristiano Ronaldo struck twice, both from free-kicks, while Michael Carrick, Dimitar Berbatov and Danny Welbeck all chipped in as Stoke were well and truly outplayed and outclassed.
The Reds went into the game without Wayne Rooney, who has been suffering with a chest infection, and Rio Ferdinand – a loss when you consider the threat Stoke pose from set pieces. With that in mind, Sir Alex went for height in his team. John O’Shea lined up at right-back alongside Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick in midfield all over 6ft.
It was a good job as Stoke’s play favours the aerially adept. The first five minutes was more a game of head tennis than football. But while the pre-match talk centred on Stoke's secret weapon - Rory Delap’s throw-ins - people seemed to have forgotten all about Ronaldo’s speciality: a viciously swerving free-kick.
Three minutes in, Abdoulaye Faye’s foul on Carlos Tevez gave Ronaldo the chance to showcase his talent. From 30 yards out, Ronaldo’s trademark run-up and unique style of striking the ball yielded the desired result: a shot that shifted in the air so wickedly that Thomas Sorensen lost its flight and the ball crashed into the roof of the net. It was the Portuguese winger’s 100th United goal, and one to savour.
It took 12 minutes for Delap to get his hands on the ball, leading to a pantomime-like exchance between the two sets of fans; Stoke cheering in fevered anticipation and the Stretford End booing. The embanked touchlines at Old Trafford don’t favour the throw-in expert, but the delivery was still dangerous, flicked on at the front post with Edwin van der Sar clawing it away from goal.
Stoke’s fans were certainly giddy – “stand up if you beat Arsenal” they sang, before endlessly taunting Ronaldo.