Manchester United continued their perfect start to 2018 as they cruised to a 3-0 win over Stoke City at Old Trafford on Monday.
Manchester United were on the front foot from the get go, grabbing the lead in the ninth minute through Antonio Valencia, whose left foot curler rifled into the top corner. But, Stoke intended to give the hosts a tough fight as Stephen Ireland and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting came close to scoring.
Manchester United though, were ultimately the more clinical side as they doubled their lead half an hour after the opening goal through Anthony Martial. The Red Devils turned on the style in a thoroughly dominant second half before getting a deserved third goal 18 minutes from time.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 15, 2018
Romelu Lukaku collected Martial’s long pass, before overpowering two defenders to send his powerful drive into the back of the net. The three goals ensured all three points as Manchester United built up a three-point lead in second. The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over Jose Mourinho’s men.
David De Gea: 7/10
Largely untroubled on the night due to the profligacy of the Stoke attack, De Gea had just two saves to make, although each was brilliant in its own right. The Spaniard had just one moment to forget as he spilled a regulation catch, leaving his goal unattended before being let off. Only a rare blip, though.
Antonio Valencia: 8/10
— Premier League (@premierleague) January 16, 2018
Back in the side after nearly a month, Valencia set the win into motion with a second spectacular strike – a left-footed strike reminiscent of an Arjen Robben classic. The month-long enforced break seems to have done him a world of good, with the Ecuadorian looking sharp on both ends of the pitch. A welcome returnee.
Chris Smalling: 7/10
Smalling had a few nervy moments on the night, particularly when Ireland troubled the Manchester United back-line early on. But, the Englishman was largely solid, using his impeccable understanding with Phil Jones to good effect to keep things tight at the back.
Phil Jones: 7.5/10
The best defender on the pitch on Monday was Phil Jones, who has well and truly cemented his place in Jose Mourinho’s side. The player snuffed out all the danger with remarkable consistency, and a last-ditch diving clearance was nothing short of brilliant. He also took it upon himself to rotate the ball quickly, keeping up the tempo of the game.
Luke Shaw: 7/10
Another injury prone player who seems to be well on his way to winning back the confidence of the Manchester United boss. Shaw dealt with the threat of Shaqiri smartly on the right, although he was largely present in the final third. One thing he needs to improve significantly is his delivery, with barely any of his final balls managing to find their target.
Paul Pogba: 9/10
Man of the Match, @ManUtd’s Paul Pogba
Most touches (96)
Most chances created (4)
Most succ. dribbles (4)
3rd PL app this season with 2 assists (more than any player)
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) January 15, 2018
Pogba was in his elements on Monday, slowly growing into the game before bossing it thoroughly. The Frenchman had the most touches (96) on the night while also creating the most chances (4), and his outing yielded a couple of assists as well, which took his tally to nine – no other player has more.
Most importantly, it was the 35th consecutive Premier League game that Pogba hasn’t lost, which goes on to highlight his importance to this side.
Nemanja Matic: 7.5/10
Manchester United were in Dubai for a warm-weather training camp and one player who seems to have come back revitalised is Nemanja Matic. The Serb took some time to find his feet, but once he retained control, there was very little stopping the hosts. His fitness needs to be maintained smartly.
Juan Mata: 7/10
It was a typical Mata outing on Monday, with the Spaniard roaming freely to keep the possession ticking and changing the direction quickly. He kept on finding pockets of spaces to get into, which in turn helped Pogba too. But, he failed to latch on to two open chances, which is something surprising for a player of his calibre.
Jesse Lingard: 7/10
Lingard wasn’t as effective as some of his recent outings, but his intensity helped Manchester United immensely. The Englishman was especially impressive in his defensive duties, pressing intently to win the ball back quickly. Needs to be slightly more decisive when passing the ball.
Anthony Martial: 8.5/10
Anthony Martial to the haters: 🤫 pic.twitter.com/sTpDTCmhOt
— B/R Football (@brfootball) January 15, 2018
Touted to start on the bench ahead of the match due to a niggle, Martial ended up starting and was one of the key figures in the win. The Frenchman produced a sublime finish to make it 2-0 ahead of half-time – another strike against Stoke that rifled into the top right corner.
His dribbling abilities as well as smart movement was menacing for debutant Mortiz Bauer. Martial also set up the third goal for his side as his lofted pass ended with the Belgian finding the back of the net.
Romelu Lukaku: 8/10
Lukaku showcased his complete skill set on the night, proving to be an asset while dropping deep, linking up smartly with the rest of his partners in attack while also putting in a shift defensively. The Belgian striker showed off his abilities in build-up play as well, as he helped set up Martial’s goal before also almost setting Pogba up.
Lukaku’s game by numbers vs. Stoke City:
33% chance conversion
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) January 15, 2018
Lukaku also added to his tally, outsmarting and overpowering two defenders before sending a thumping shot past a helpless Jack Butland. A major threat in this form, although he would love to have better and more service from his teammates.