Manchester United reduced the gap to Premier League leaders Manchester City to twelve points with a 3-0 over Stoke City at Old Trafford.
Goals from the returning Antonio Valencia, Anthony Martial and Romelu Lukaku ensured that the Reds capitalised on City’s loss against Liverpool on Sunday to close a still-lengthy gap over their crosstown rivals.
Several players made their Premier League returns to the side, with Valencia and Lukaku among the changes to the side that beat Everton two weeks ago. Martial was also passed fit, having been a doubt beforehand due to injury.
And United seemed to reap the benefits of a week of warm-weather training in Dubai, with the excellent Paul Pogba pulling the strings in midfield. The Reds got off to the best possible start, with captain Valencia curling home with his left foot from just inside the area to opening the scoring.
Just as Stoke looked to have got a foothold on the game, Martial killed the Potters’ brief hopes, latching on to a perfectly-placed pass by Pogba and curling the ball into the top right corner from just outside the box.
United did not put the foot off the gas in the second half and added a third with just under 20 minutes remaining, as Lukaku shrug off his marker to blast the ball past Jack Butland.
Here are the United player ratings:
David de Gea - 7
Barely tested but made a crucial save to deny Xherdan Shaqiri just before half-time.
Antonio Valencia - 7
A rare sight as the captain rifled home a superb strike with his often-maligned left foot. Excellent.
Phil Jones - 8
Excellent defensive performance, defined by the brilliant goal-saving block to deny Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting in the first half.
Chris Smalling - 7
Another solid defensive performance without overly standing out.
Luke Shaw - 7
Caught out a bit defensively at times but was certainly an effective presence going forward. Has a chance now to make the left-back position his with Ashley Young’s suspension.
Nemanja Matic - 6
Sluggish again, often letting Stephen Ireland ghost into space in United’s final third. Two in midfield definitely magnifies his weaknesses.
Paul Pogba - 9
Pulled the strings in midfield. Assisted both goals in the first half with pinpoint passing and controlled midfield like the midfield dynamo he is.
Juan Mata - 6
Tidy on the ball without being as incisive as the likes of Pogba and Martial.
Jesse Lingard - 6
Plenty of flashy moments without actually doing anything effective. An off day.
Anthony Martial - 8
Slightly ineffective until sidefooting home an absolute beauty. Was excellent from that point onwards, even teeing up the third.
Romelu Lukaku - 8
Worked hard for the cause and showcased some very effective hold-up play. When the chance came, took it with no questions asked and hammered the ball past Butland.
Marcus Rashford (6) – Drove at the Stoke defence with purpose and perhaps unlucky to score.
Marouane Fellaini (6) – Tidy in possession and gave the Reds extra presence in the middle.
Scott McTominay (N/A) – A late cameo for the academy product.
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