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Manchester United 3 Stoke City 0: Valencia, Martial and Lukaku trim gap at the top

15 January 2018 22:50

Manchester United closed the gap between themselves and Premier League leaders Manchester City to 12 points with a 3-0 win over struggling Stoke City at Old Trafford.

Manchester City were beaten in the top flight for the first time this season on Sunday, 4-3 at Liverpool, and United's victory, along with reports they are set to sign Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez at the expense of their neighbours, means there is a fleeting instance this term of the bragging rights residing on the red side of town.

Stoke, with newly appointed manager Paul Lambert watching from the stands, acquitted themselves well and carved out some clear first-half chances, only for Antonio Valencia and Anthony Martial to breach the Premier League's most porous defence with fabulous first-half finishes, while Paul Pogba was influential in the hosts' midfield.

Martial and Juan Mata passed up chances to compound the Potters' misery after the break, meaning Romelu Lukaku's 72nd-minute third goal felt wholly inevitable, as thoughts began to turn towards the Belgian's prospective new strike partner.

Lambert must now rouse a side in the relegation zone who have suffered eight defeats in 11 league games, with 50 in their goals-against column this season.

Stoke's caretaker boss Eddie Niedzwiecki handed a debut to right-back Moritz Bauer and the £5.5million signing from Rubin Kazan was a touch fortunate not to be punished for hauling Martial down inside the area after six minutes.

It was Bauer's opposite number Valencia who raided forward from full-back to cut inside Josh Tymon and arrow an excellent left-footed shot into the top corner shortly afterwards.

Xherdan Shaqiri called United goalkeeper David de Gea into action as he looked to add to his catalogue of spectacular volleyed goals, while Stephen Ireland – making his first Premier League start since April 2015 – should have done better when he hooked a shot wide from inside the United box in the 17th minute.

There was a more glaring miss from the former Manchester City midfielder when he lost his footing and shovelled an attempt past the post from Shaqiri's ball into the box, before De Gea was bested by Peter Crouch in the air and Phil Jones bailed out his goalkeeper with brilliant block to deny Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.

Martial had an effort deflected behind off Kurt Zouma as United look to reassert themselves and the France forward accepted a pass from Pogba to curl a wonderful shot beyond Jack Butland from 20 yards and make it 2-0 after 38 minutes – an advantage preserved when De Gea got a strong hand down to Shaqiri's thumping strike in the final action of the half.

Butland rushed out early in the second period to thwart Martial, by which point Stoke's resolve seemed to have dissipated.

The ex-Monaco youngster should have had a second before the hour when he bundled between Kevin Wimmer and Bruno Martins Indi to sidefoot at Butland from close range.

Under pressure from Jesse Lingard, Zouma then sold Darren Fletcher short with an awful pass and Lukaku scampered towards goal, with the ball finding Mata via Lingard.

The Spanish playmaker threaded the ball narrowly wide of Butland's far post and chose to forgo precision for power when he lashed over the bar in the 65th minute.

It remained for Lukaku to offer a timely reminder of his centre-forward qualities, taking down a drilled pass from Martial to muscularly turn and finish with aplomb.

Marcus Rashford came off a bench lacking rumoured Sanchez makeweight Henrikh Mkhitaryan to test Butland with a deft backheel, while fellow substitute Mame Biram Diouf fired into the side-netting after De Gea saved to crown Stoke's misery.

 

Key Opta stats: 

- Manchester United have won 28 of a possible 30 points in Premier League home games against Stoke.
- Stoke have conceded 50 Premier League goals this season – five of the previous six sides that conceded 50+ goals at this stage of the season were relegated (exception: Swansea in 2016-17).
- Stoke have conceded more league goals than any other team in Europe's big five divisions this season (50).
- Antonio Valencia has scored three Premier League goals for Man Utd this season (19 apps), as many as in his previous four seasons combined (103 apps).
- Paul Pogba has been directly involved in 14 goals in his last 14 Premier League games (4 goals, 10 assists).
- Romelu Lukaku has had a hand in 13 goals in 16 appearances in all competitions for Man Utd at Old Trafford this season (10 goals, 3 assists).
- Anthony Martial has scored in all three of his Premier League appearances against Stoke at Old Trafford.
- Stephen Ireland made his first Premier League start since April 2015 vs Sunderland – 996 days ago.
- Jack Butland (43) has conceded more Premier League goals this season than any other goalkeeper.

- In contrast, David de Gea has kept more clean sheets in the Premier League this season than any other goalkeeper (13).

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