Manchester United 3 Stoke City 0
Following their decisive victory over Derby County in the FA Cup for United, it was back to the bread and butter of the Premier League with the visit to Old Trafford of former Red hero Mark Hughes and his Stoke City team.
Stoke have been impressive this season and like many teams who are normally classed as mid-table fodder has performed way above their weight and pulled off some impressive results including the defeat of United on Boxing Day.
Louis van Gaal, still shadowed by rumours of an imminent departure, badly needed a home win to restore faith in his ability and that of his players. The side he selected had a couple of tweaks to it from the cup win: De Gea, Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Borthwick-Jackson, Carrick, Fellaini, Mata, Lingard, Martial and Rooney.
Carrick started in midfield allowing Schneiderlin to have a well-earned rest on the bench and Darmian returned to the line up in place of Varela.
United got the game underway attacking the old Scoreboard End and certainly looked up for the fight in the opening minutes with Mata coming the closest with a deflected shot from the edge of the area.
Rooney tried to get one more goal closer to Bobby Charlton's record early on when he twisted and turned 25 yards out and eventually let fly with an effort that the keeper had to save at full stretch. Prior to the match Rooney was six goals shy of Charlton's long standing record of 249 goals for the club. A record that judging by the captains' form in January won't be around for too long.
After ten minutes the home side looked comfortable enough and played the ball around well up front as they bided their time looking for a way through the visitors defensive line.
Just the start the home side needed and it was almost followed up by a second as Martial, clearly with the bit between his teeth, powered into the box and fired a shot into the side netting.
Right on cue in the 23rd minute, they delivered with a sublime finish from the man of the moment Martial who curled in a shot from just inside the opposition penalty area to double the scoreline. A goal of superb quality from the young French star and the composure he showed to convert his chance proves exactly what an awesome talent he is.
Mark Hughes knows a good striker when he sees one and following the second goal the Welshman reshuffled his defence by bringing on ex-red Phil Bardsley to try and get to grips with the French terrier.
With United enjoying a comfortable lead for the first time in a first half at home since September the game became a little flat with United just happy to play the ball around and didn't allow the visitors the time needed on the ball to present any major threat on De Gea's goal especially with the duo of Smalling and Blind standing their ground at the back.
Half-time and United fully deserved to be leading at the break and it could easily have been by a higher margin. There was an assured look about the Red Devils that has been missing for a long time and one hopes that the corner has been turned and the team can build on the new found confidence and go onto to kill off Stoke in the second half.
Within four minutes of the restart, Rooney muscled his defender off the ball with a good old-fashioned shoulder barge and proceeded to fire the ball into the net, however, referee Roger East called the play back after he adjudged Rooney's challenge as a foul.
The goal was another example of the smooth passing style that United have been missing for the majority of the season and one that delighted the home bench as even van Gaal showed a glimmer of emotion as he chatted with fans sat behind him.
It was pleasing to see the experienced calming influence of Michael Carrick back in the engine room alongside Fellaini as both worked hard to thwart most of the Stoke forays through the middle as Stoke tried in vain to find a way back into a match that had slipped away from them.
Both Darmian and Borthwick-Jackson had the confidence to charge forward down their respective flanks and put over some decent crosses. Smalling and Blind stood tall all match against the threat of Stoke's bulky striker and Ibrahimovic look-alike Arnautovic and the lanky, ineffective Peter Crouch, both of whom hardly had a sniff at goal.
Memphis almost grabbed a goal that would have done his confidence the world of good, but his effort sailed wide of the far post after great movement and one touch passing build-up play by his teammates.
The third and final change for United came with only three minutes left on the clock when Pereira entered the match for the industrious Juan Mata who played one of his best games in the number 10 position where he was at the center of everything United did in attack.
The important win has to be the best home display of the season and long may it continue starting with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. When attacking at pace, as they did in this match, not many defences can handle United's attacking force and it was pleasing to see the players enjoy the freedom they had been given, but it begs the question why they hadn't been able to perform like this all season?
This coming Saturday will be the 58th anniversary of the Munich air disaster a date forever linked with our great club. The Flowers of Manchester and their legacy will live on through present and future generations of fans as a symbol of the eternal flames of Manchester United.
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