Manchester United eased to a 3-0 victory over Stoke City as they continue their push for the Champions League places. Goals from Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney topped off an impressive performance on a night that Old Trafford remembered the victims of the Munich air disaster, almost 58 years on.
United boss Louis van Gaal made two changes to the starting eleven that beat Championship side Derby County in the FA Cup on Friday evening. Michael Carrick returned to the first team after his cameo against Derby, he replaced Morgan Schneiderlin in the heart of the midfield whilst Matteo Darmian returned in place of Guillermo Varela at right-back. The United players donned black arm-bands in memory of those who lost their lives in the tragic Munich air disaster that unfortunately occurred 58 years ago this week.
United started the game well, seeing plenty of the ball in Stoke territory. Juan Mata saw an effort deflected over while Wayne Rooney teed one up from outside the area although Jack Butland was never really tested in the Stoke Goal. Stoke forward Peter Crouch was making his first Premier League start of the season, it was clear what Mark Hughes had in mind however Chris Smalling stood up well (literally) to the aerial threat of Crouch, winning a free kick for his side following the visitors first corner. Mata sprung the offside trap to get in behind Stoke defender Wollscheid but dragged his effort across the face of goal that looked neither a cross not shot.
The home side were ahead with just before the quarter of an hour mark, Jesse Lingard with the goal, the first United goal in the first half for 11 matches at Old Trafford. Lingard snuck in behind his marker at the back post to head home Cameron Borthwick-Jackson’s brilliantly whipped cross from the left. United had their tails up, Anthony Martial almost made it 2-0 instantaneously, the Frenchman bobbed and weaved his way into the box from the left but scuffed his shot into the side netting, much to the relief of Stoke keeper Butland. The away side weathered the United storm momentarily, Marouane Fellaini carried out his defensive duties well as the Belgian blocked a goal-bound effort from former Liverpool man Glen Johnson.
United found themselves 2-0 to the good on 23 minutes thanks to a delightful counter attacking goal which started on the edge of their own area. Lingard and Carrick combined well with the latter playing a lovely floated ball to Matteo Darmian on the right-hand side. The Italian fed Mata who looked isolated with a few Stoke defenders around him however he eluded the challenge and instead found Wayne Rooney in the middle of the park, Rooney looked up and sprayed the ball to the left towards Martial in plenty of space. The 20-year-old steadied himself before placing the ball into the top right corner. United were enjoying themselves and it showed.
Despite being 2-0 up, United had to guard against complacency. The Potters went close 10 minutes before half-time. Smalling’s last-ditch block thwarted Afellay’s effort and from the resulting corner Walters did well to bring the ball down before firing over from eight yards. Juan Mata had a couple of chances to put the game beyond doubt five minutes before the interval. The Spaniard first saw his shot blocked following good work by Martial once again on the left. From the resulting half-clearance by the visitors, Mata somehow managed to head over from a Darmian cross when it looked easier to score. The Reds went into half time two goals to the good, having scored twice in the first half at Old Trafford in the Premier League for the first time since that 4-2 victory over rivals Manchester City in April 2015.
The away side came out in the second half facing an uphill struggle. Austrian Arnautovic danced his way into space on the edge of the United area although his right-footed effort sailed high into the stands. Five minutes into the second half and United thought they had their third goal of the evening, however referee Roger East and his assistants had other ideas. Rooney chased down a hopeful ball and shrugged Glen Johnson off with ease with only Butland to beat, Rooney smashed the ball past the England keeper although the whistle had already gone much to the annoyance of the United captain. Rooney wasn’t to be denied much longer, scoring his 244th Manchester United goal and making it 3-0 to the hosts on the night. Mata lead the charge in the middle of the Stoke half, the Spanish midfielder found Martial down the left once again whose first time low cross found Rooney for a tap-in. Seven in as many games for the skipper since the turn of the year who is only five goals away from equalling Sir Bobby Charlton’s goalscoring record for Manchester United (249).
The 55th minute saw the games first yellow card, Matteo Darmian with it after he impeded the run of Ibrahim Afellay. The resulting free-kick came to nothing as United finally cleared the ball following a goal-mouth scramble. United were looking deadly on the break, minutes before the hour mark Rooney played in the ever-willing Martial although the youngster couldn’t get the ball onto his favoured right foot and skewed his left footed effort over the bar. The Frenchman then became the second United player to enter Roger East’s notebook as he pulled back former Manchester United player Phil Bardsley in the centre circle as the visitors looked to counter. Rooney saw an effort from outside the area curl just wide of the right post on 76 minutes before being penalised when he was adjudged to have fouled Muniesa on the end of a hopeful ball forward.
Memphis and Ander Herrera replaced Martial and Fellaini with 10 minutes remaining with the latter having picked up a slight knock. It didn’t take Memphis long to get involved in the action. He found himself with the ball at his feet towards the left of the area. The Dutchman stood his defender up well before taking aim towards goal but it sailed agonisingly wide, so nearly a fourth for the hosts. Andreas Pereira was given a short cameo by Louis van Gaal, he replaced Juan Mata although didn’t have enough time to really get involved.
A good start to the month of February for the Reds. Louis van Gaal’s men must travel to reigning champions Chelsea at the weekend hoping to keep pace with the teams above them. United remain fifth in the Premier League, 10 points behind league leaders Leicester City and 5 points adrift of fourth placed Arsenal.
Goals: Jesse Lingard 14′, Anthony Martial 23′, Wayne Rooney 53′
Assists: Cameron Borthwick-Jackson 14′, Wayne Rooney 23′, Anthony Martial 53′
Match Statistics: Goals 3, Shots On Target 5, Shots Off Target 5, Offsides 3, Corners 2, Yellow Cards 2, Red Cards 0, Fouls Won 13, Fouls Committed 13, Passing Accuracy 82%, Possession 47%
Manchester United: De Gea; Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Borthwick-Jackson; Fellaini (Herrera 80′), Carrick; Lingard, Mata (Pereira 88′), Martial (Memphis 79′); Rooney Substitutes Not Used: Romero; Varela, McNair; Schneiderlin