A Paul Pogba-inspired Manchester United cruised to victory as incoming Stoke boss Paul Lambert watched his new side’s struggles continue at Old Trafford.
The France midfielder created first-half goals for Antonio Valencia and Anthony Martial, added to by Romelu Lukaku after the break as Jose Mourinho’s men cut Manchester City’s lead at the top of the Premier League to 12 points.
United might have had an early penalty when Martial was felled by Stoke debutant Moritz Bauer, but referee Anthony Taylor waved away protests.
Two minutes later, Pogba charged forward and found Valencia, who cut inside Josh Tymon and fired into the top corner with his left foot.
Martial collected Pogba’s pass and bent a superb finish past goalkeeper Jack Butland from 20 yards for the second – before Lukaku rifled home the third late in the game.
Stoke did create several chances. Midfielder Stephen Ireland – starting his first game since April 2015 – should have scored from 12 yards but fired wide, and goalkeeper David de Gea made excellent stops to deny Xherdan Shaqiri and substitute Mame Biram Diouf.
The Potters, beaten by three or more goals for the seventh time this season, remain in the relegation zone, a point adrift of fourth-bottom Southampton.
It might have been worse but for the reactions of England international Butland, who prevented United substitute Marcus Rashford from adding a fourth goal.
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Where would Sanchez fit in for United?
Manchester United rarely had to get out of second gear in the drizzle at Old Trafford.
However, they were clinical in front of goal, scoring twice from three first-half shots on target against the top flight’s worst defence.
But one question in the United dressing room, and in the stands, afterwards could have been: where will Alexis Sanchez fit in if his signing is confirmed?
United are favourites to recruit the Chile forward – who has scored 80 goals for Arsenal since 2014 – after Manchester City decided not to pursue their interest in the 29-year-old.
If the current occupants of United’s attacking sports are concerned, their reply was telling.
Martial scored and assisted, while Lukaku, on his return from injury, shook off some poor touches earlier in the game to turn strongly past two defenders and fire low and hard past Butland late on.
Juan Mata went close before being replaced near the end, and Jesse Lingard’s quick movement won United four free-kicks.
Mourinho has often experimented with his attacking options this season, and it is Sanchez’s versatility – along with his big-game credentials – which is likely to be at the forefront of the Portuguese manager’s thinking.
Sanchez can operate on either flank, lead the line or drop into the number 10 role – so no individual appears most at risk of losing their place.
With United still competing on three fronts – Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League – he would add experience to a young attacking unit with potential to continue improving.
Lambert learns size of task
Lambert, who was watching from the directors’ box, is the man charged with leading Stoke’s fight for survival after being appointed earlier on Monday.
The 48-year-old Scot, who has been out of work since leaving Wolves at the end of last season, signed a two-and-a-half-year deal to replace the sacked Mark Hughes.
His appointment comes after Stoke, in 18th place, failed to land any of their top three targets – Quique Sanchez Flores, Gary Rowett and Martin O’Neill.
But Lambert was made to feel welcome by the away end, who chanted his name throughout as he mulled over the scale of the task at hand.
For starters, he must solve Stoke’s defensive woes. They have now conceded 50 league goals this season – more than any other team in Europe’s ‘big five’ divisions.
The return of centre-back and captain Ryan Shawcross – missing again with a calf injury – will help, but Lambert must instil more organisation into a defensive unit cut open too easily by Valencia and which failed to mark Martial.
He may be enthused by the debut of Austrian right-back Moritz Bauer, who certainly seems up for the fight and made 75 sprints, more than any team-mate, on a hard-running introduction to English football.
For an hour Stoke were not out-played, but Lambert must also add pace in the final third. They have passing quality in midfield but precious little speed to truly unsettle defences.
He may consider persevering with the returning Ireland, who can perhaps be forgiven for those missed chances given his inaction. He still made 51 passes, second only to Darren Fletcher, and showed a knack for finding space that could prove useful.
Man of the match – Paul Pogba (Manchester United)
‘Organisation is massive’ – what they said
Stoke coach Eddie Niedzwiecki to BBC Sport: “You need to be clinical at places like this and we had our chances and didn’t take them.
“We have not been able to start a consistent back four or five all season, organisation is massive in this game. The goals were special today that beat us. We need a foundation.
“Paul Lambert said a few words to the players in the hotel before the game but he showed me the respect and it was my team today.
“I enjoyed the experience but it has been incredibly difficult personally. I will find out my future in the next 48 hours. I know how the game works.”
Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho to BBC Sport: “Stoke bought players to play football. They were not afraid to play and they created us problems in the first half.
“I didn’t watch Liverpool beat Manchester City [on Sunday]. It doesn’t change anything – the distance is an important distance.
“I have been there before. They have their destiny in their hands.”
Potters defensive record ominous – the stats
- Lukaku has had a hand in 13 goals in 16 appearances for United at Old Trafford this season (10 goals, three assists).
- Manchester United have won 28 out 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 who had conceded 50 or more goals at this stage of the season were relegated.
- Valencia has scored three Premier League goals for United this season, as many as in his previous four seasons combined.
- Pogba has been directly involved in 14 goals in his past 14 Premier League games (four goals, 10 assists).
- Martial has scored in all three of his league appearances against Stoke at Old Trafford.
- Ireland made his first Premier League start for 996 days.
- Stoke’s Butland (43) has conceded more Premier League goals this season than any other goalkeeper.
- In contrast, United’s David de Gea has kept more clean sheets in the Premier League this season than any other keeper (13).
Manchester United travel to Turf Moor to face Burnley in the league on Saturday (15:00 GMT), while Stoke host Huddersfield Town at the same time.
- 1de Gea
- 25A Valencia
- 8MataSubstituted forMcTominayat 83′minutes
- 14LingardBooked at 63minsSubstituted forFellainiat 80′minutes
- 11MartialSubstituted forRashfordat 80′minutes
- 9R LukakuBooked at 67mins
- 40Castro Pereira
- 15Martins Indi
- 12TymonSubstituted forWimmerat 45′minutes
- 7IrelandBooked at 68mins
- 10Choupo-MotingSubstituted forSobhiat 61′minutes
- 25CrouchSubstituted forDioufat 70′minutes
- Anthony Taylor
- Shots on Target
Match ends, Manchester United 3, Stoke City 0.
Second Half ends, Manchester United 3, Stoke City 0.
Attempt missed. Paul Pogba (Manchester United) right footed shot from outside the box is too high from a direct free kick.
Scott McTominay (Manchester United) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Bruno Martins Indi (Stoke City).
Attempt saved. Marcus Rashford (Manchester United) right footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Nemanja Matic.
Corner, Manchester United. Conceded by Kurt Zouma.
Attempt missed. Mame Biram Diouf (Stoke City) left footed shot from the centre of the box is close, but misses to the left.
Attempt saved. Mame Biram Diouf (Stoke City) left footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Xherdan Shaqiri.
Attempt saved. Marcus Rashford (Manchester United) right footed shot from the right side of the six yard box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Antonio Valencia.
Substitution, Manchester United. Scott McTominay replaces Juan Mata.
Corner, Manchester United. Conceded by Kevin Wimmer.
Substitution, Manchester United. Marcus Rashford replaces Anthony Martial.
Substitution, Manchester United. Marouane Fellaini replaces Jesse Lingard.
Offside, Manchester United. Juan Mata tries a through ball, but Romelu Lukaku is caught offside.
Goal! Manchester United 3, Stoke City 0. Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United) left footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom left corner. Assisted by Anthony Martial.
Substitution, Stoke City. Mame Biram Diouf replaces Peter Crouch.
Attempt missed. Ramadan Sobhi (Stoke City) right footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the right. Assisted by Stephen Ireland.
Attempt missed. Luke Shaw (Manchester United) left footed shot from outside the box misses to the left. Assisted by Nemanja Matic following a set piece situation.
Stephen Ireland (Stoke City) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Juan Mata (Manchester United) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Stephen Ireland (Stoke City).
Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United) is shown the yellow card.
Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Bruno Martins Indi (Stoke City).
Offside, Manchester United. Jesse Lingard tries a through ball, but Juan Mata is caught offside.
Attempt blocked. Jesse Lingard (Manchester United) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked.
Attempt saved. Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United) right footed shot from the right side of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Jesse Lingard.
Attempt missed. Juan Mata (Manchester United) left footed shot from the centre of the box is just a bit too high. Assisted by Jesse Lingard.
Jesse Lingard (Manchester United) is shown the yellow card.
Foul by Jesse Lingard (Manchester United).
Darren Fletcher (Stoke City) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt missed. Juan Mata (Manchester United) left footed shot from the right side of the box is close, but misses to the left. Assisted by Jesse Lingard.
Foul by Jesse Lingard (Manchester United).
Moritz Bauer (Stoke City) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, Stoke City. Ramadan Sobhi replaces Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.
Attempt saved. Anthony Martial (Manchester United) left footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the bottom left corner.
Attempt blocked. Anthony Martial (Manchester United) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Paul Pogba.
Corner, Manchester United. Conceded by Bruno Martins Indi.
Attempt blocked. Paul Pogba (Manchester United) right footed shot from the right side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Juan Mata with a cross.