Magnificent Martial and Man United too much for overpowered Stoke
Manchester United started a little fitfully against Stoke City, but by the final whistle were utterly dominant and their second half was one of their most assertive of the season. Their 3-0 victory at Old Trafford came thanks to fine strikes from Antonio Valencia, Anthony Martial and Romelu Lukaku, and confirmed that while Manchester City are seemingly out of reach, second place in the Premier League is a position that is still theirs to claim.
Phil Jones was excellent when the game was close, Lukaku did fine work on the flanks and Martial and Paul Pogba emerged to dominate the game.
United were very sluggish for 15 minutes following Valencia's opening goal, with Pogba looking a little lacklustre in defence, and there was a hint that Stoke might get back into it. Thereafter, though, they quickly moved through the gears.
Manager rating out of 10
8 -- Jose Mourinho's team had far too much for Stoke, and his selection -- full of pace and defensive intensity -- was a key part of that. It is also intriguing to see how much more he is coming to trust Luke Shaw, who was fairly quiet but offered drive and width.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK David De Gea, 7 -- Made two very fine saves, one in either half, and cleared his lines well. Had one very bad moment when he came for a cross and left his goal unattended, but he was otherwise untroubled.
DF Antonio Valencia, 8 -- Scored the first with a superb left-footed strike -- a foot he uses so rarely that supporters might have been inclined to think it fake news -- and was involved in buildup for the crucial second. Attacked and defended with precision and vigour.
DF Phil Jones, 8 -- Excellent when the game was close. Passed the ball forward with purpose and accuracy, back-heeled the ball out of danger, made an outstanding diving clearance with the goal gaping. Very impressive on the night.
DF Chris Smalling, 7 -- The best part of his evening by far -- and this is not an inconsiderable achievement -- was his silencing of Peter Crouch, who he policed very effectively. However, his aversion to pass the ball forward at almost every opportunity seems to be a major hindrance to United's building of attacks, in marked contrast to Jones's approach.
DF Luke Shaw, 7 -- Had a relatively quiet game for a player of his talents but it was still striking how often he was in the final third. His positions so high up the pitch were vital to the pressure of United's attack.
MF Nemanja Matic, 7 -- Was not as assertive as he could have been in the opening period but was firmly in control by the end, with some of his short passing a delight of timing and economy.
MF Paul Pogba, 8 -- Took a little time to warm up, but when he did so he was supreme. His footwork was outstanding, freeing him from the attentions of markers time and again, and the range and weight of his passing with either foot was of an elite level.
MF Juan Mata, 7 -- Found room tirelessly all over the field, his sharp and smart changes of direction opening up passing angles wherever he went. However, he did fail to hit the target with two very presentable opportunities for a player of his quality.
MF Jesse Lingard, 7 -- Was not at his most inspired when going forward but his intensity in defensive situations was key to United's success here. Pressed the ball constantly and always made himself available for the outlet pass.
MF Anthony Martial, 9 -- His feet were devastatingly quick almost from the outset, and his goal was magnificent. Roamed across the pitch, endlessly attempting not only the spectacular but the effective, and was almost always successful.
FW Romelu Lukaku, 9 -- Worked extremely hard on both flanks, showing intelligent movement and a deft touch -- it was notable how often the stepover got him free -- and was prominently involved in the second goal, before dispatching the third and final goal with relish.
MF Marouane Fellaini, NA -- Came on for Lingard to see out the game, and helped to keep the midfield steady.
MF Marcus Rashford, NA -- Made a couple of fine runs in the inside-left area, going close with one attempt.
MF Scott McTominay, NA -- Made a good run through the middle of the pitch, unfairly impeded as he did so. Looked bright in the game's closing stages.
Musa Okwonga is one of ESPN FC's Manchester United bloggers. Follow on Twitter: @Okwonga.