Antonio Valencia, Anthony Martial and Romelu Lukaku all scored as Manchester United cruised to a comfortable win over relegation-threatened Stoke City at rain-swept Old Trafford.
Going into the game, Jose Mourinho was looking for his first win against the Potters since taking charge of United, after picking up three draws in his 18 months at the helm. His chances of a win were given a boost with a comeback for his recent captain, Valencia, and Lukaku making his first start of 2018.
The hosts started well and had an appeal for a penalty turned down early on, when Martial fell in the box after colliding with Stoke City’s new signing Moritz Bauer. This did not dishearten the Reds who soon grabbed the lead, when Valencia scored with a stunning left-footed shot from sixteen yards.
Stoke went into this fixture with new manager Paul Lambert watching from the stands and the Scot was of course hoping to see his side, who currently sit in the bottom three, put on a good performance. Following the opening goal, they had a chance to equalise, when Xherdan Shaqiri attempted a spectacular shot, but it proved to be a routine save for goalkeeper David De Gea. Stephen Ireland had an even more clear-cut chance to level, but his effort went wide when he was expected to score.
Following the Potters' best spell of the game, Juan Mata and Valencia provided some good link-up play, but the Spaniard’s appeal for a penalty was again waved away by the referee Anthony Taylor, after falling inside the penalty box.
However, the Reds' lead was eventually doubled before the break, when Pogba picked out Martial, who fired the ball into the top right corner from outside the box to score his tenth goal of the season. The Frenchman was eager for more and after Nemanja Matic dispossessed Ireland, he attempted to score a replica of his first goal, but this time his shot was blazed over.
The visitors did still possess a threat, and they nearly had a route back into the game in first-half stoppage time. The ball broke to Shaqiri inside the box and his shot required an excellent save from De Gea to keep United’s lead intact at half-time.
United v Stoke Gallery
Swipe through the standout images from our Premier League win at Old Trafford.
Just before the hour mark, Martial ploughed his way through the Stoke defence, and should have extended United’s lead, however his shot from close range was fired straight at Butland. Mata also had a chance after Lingard provided the lay-off, but the midfielder put too much power behind the shot, which went over.
Lukaku had not scored a league goal for United since before Christmas, but he put that stat to bed midway through the second half after he forced his way through the Stoke defence and beat Butland at the near post.
Marcus Rashford was brought on with ten minutes to go, and the youngster’s back-heel nearly made it 4-0, however Butland was able to prevent Stoke’s deficit increasing.
The Potters posed very little threat in the second half with De Gea barely called into action, as United saw out a comfortable win to close the gap to the league leaders, Manchester City, to 12 points.
THE LINE-UPS AND MATCH STATS
United: De Gea, Valencia (c), Jones, Smalling, Shaw, Matic, Pogba, Mata (McTominay 83), Lingard (Fellaini 79), Martial (Rashford 79), Lukaku.
Subs not used: Lindelof, Rojo, Herrera, Pereira (GK).
Booked: Lingard, Lukaku.
Stoke: Butland, Bauer, Allen, Zouma, Ireland, Choupo-Moting (Sobhi 61), Tymon (Wimmer 45), Martins Indi, Shaqiri, Fletcher (c), Crouch (Diouf 70).
Subs not used: Afellay, Adam, Grant, Edwards.
The Reds' next game is this weekend, with a short trip to Turf Moor to face Sean Dyche’s Burnley. The fixture is scheduled for Saturday 20 January in the Premier League with kick-off at 15:00 GMT.