Ominous for Stoke

Premier League
Manchester United 3 Stoke City 0

ALEXIS Sanchez's arrival at Old Trafford may be imminent, but the want away Arsenal forward may have a fight on his hands to displace Manchester United's front three.

For Jesse Lingard, Romelu Lukaku and Anthony Martial were sublime against a relegation-threatened Stoke City.

Lukaku scored United's third and set up Antonio Valencia for United's opener, Martial scored a fantastic second goal and ran Stoke ragged, while Lingard - who has hit six goals in his last nine games - provided a valuable attacking contribution, too.

At the fourth attempt, it was also the first time Jose Mourinho had beaten Stoke as United manager.

Stoke, who appointed Paul Lambert to replace the sacked Mark Hughes before this game, were led by caretaker boss Eddie Niedzwiecki.

And Hughes' former first team coach made seven changes following their catastrophic FA Cup third round exit at the hands of League Two Coventry City.

Already without captain and central-defensive lynchpin Ryan Shawcross and left-back Erik Pieters, it was always going to be difficult to contain second-placed United, who cut Manchester City's seemingly-unassailable lead at the top of the Premier League to 12 points.

It took just nine minutes for Mourinho's men to open the scoring.

Paul Pogba got in behind Stephen Ireland and pushed the ball out to Valencia just inside the penalty area who curled a delicious strike past Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland.

United rested on their laurels a bit too much for the home fans' comfort in the next 15 minutes, however.

And their slackness led to ex-Manchester City midfielder Ireland and forward Eric Choupo-Moting going close.

Ireland, making his first league start in nearly three years, received the ball on the edge of the box, but hit it just wide of David De Gea's post and was let in a minute later after being laid off by Xherdan Shaqiri.

Once again, however, his shot was inches wide.

Then Peter Crouch beat De Gea and crossed for Choupo-Moting, but his shot was blocked by Phil Jones.

United gradually began to get a foothold back in the game and nearly doubled their advantage when Luke Shaw surged down the left flank and put the ball in for Martial, whose effort was cleared behind by Stoke defender Kurt Zouma.

The home side's second came soon after, in the 38th minute.

Superb work from Lukaku, who saw off Zouma's challenge, saw him lay the ball off to Pogba, who passed it to the unmarked Martial and the Frenchman fired a fierce shot from 20 yards past a flying Butland.

United should have made it three as the clock edged towards half-time.

Lukaku provided Pogba with an inch-perfect pass, the midfielder played it back to the oncoming Lukaku, but Butland just got to the ball first.

United, whose two previous home league games had ended in draws, continued to push forward as they looked to seal the win.

Pogba picked out Martial with a superb pass, but the latter was denied a second after his close-range shot was gathered by Butland.

Then Lingard tried to bend an effort into the net from the far corner of the box, which went behind. The Red finally scored their third in the 72nd minute.

Lukaku neatly controlled Martial's passed, turned two Stoke defenders and fired the ball low and hard behind Butland.

Stoke's sole second-half opportunity came when substitute Mame Biram Diouf, who had replaced Crouch, found himself in space with just De Gea to beat, but the former United striker hit the side netting.

There was still time for United substitute Marcus Rashford to go close, though his fancy skill came to nothing after beating two Stoke players as his effort hit the post.

The signs look ominous for Stoke, who remain in the relegation zone, under their new manager Lambert.

Only two of the 10 previous clubs to have conceded as many goals as them after 23 Premier League games have avoided relegation at the end of the season: Swansea City last season and Wigan Athletic in 2009-10.

Mourinho wasn't too enamoured of United's performance, especially in the first 45 minutes.

He said: "I didn't like the way we played in the first-half, although we scored two amazing goals.

"We were confident and organised but also a bit slow.

"In the second-half, we had more chances and we accelerated our game and didn't let Stoke play."

The Portuguese was also keeping tight-lipped on Sanchez's potential move to United.

He added: "I am not confident, but also I am not unconfident.

"I am relaxed, but he is an Arsenal player and maybe there is a chance he can stay there or he can move and if he moves, I think we have a chance.

"Players like him will have big clubs interested, so who knows?"

Niedzwiecki wasn't too disappointed with his charges' performance.

He said: "We came with a plan and played some good stuff at times, but we probably didn't hurt them enough in the second-half.

"As any coach will tell you, when you come to the big boys you have to take your chances and we created three or four, but we didn't take them."

Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Jones, Shaw; Matic, Pogba; Mata (McTominay, 82), Lingard (Fellaini, 79), Martial (Rashford, 79); Lukaku.
Substitutes not used: Pereira, Lindelof, Rojo and Herrera.

Stoke City: Butland; Bauer, Martins Indi, Zouma, Tymon (Wimmer, 45); Allen, Fletcher, Ireland, Shaqiri; Choupo-Moting (Sobhi, 60); Crouch (Diouf, 69).
Substitutes not used: Grant, Edwards, Adam and Afellay.

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