Belfast Telegraph

Pogba runs show as Manchester United cut gap at the top

Man Utd 3 Stoke 0

By Liam Blackburn

Manchester United maintained their 100 per cent start to 2018 with a comfortable 3-0 victory over a Stoke side watched by their incoming boss Paul Lambert.

Antonio Valencia, Anthony Martial and Romelu Lukaku got the goals as United responded to leaders Manchester City's first Premier League loss with a third win of the calendar year to cut the gap to Pep Guardiola's men to 12 points.

Jose Mourinho's attention will now turn to transfers, with City understood to have stood aside in the pursuit of United target Alexis Sanchez, while Potters boss Lambert will focus on elevating Stoke out of the bottom three.

What may happen in the transfer window was inescapable at Old Trafford, particularly when the team-sheet came out and there was no Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the squad.

The Armenian has been mooted as a potential make-weight in any Sanchez deal, and in a pre-match interview Mourinho admitted Mkhitaryan's absence was down to "doubts about his future".

His omission meant Juan Mata and Martial occupied the flanks, and the former's pass into the Frenchman led to seventh-minute penalty shouts, ignored by referee Anthony Taylor, when Stoke debutant Moritz Bauer fell into Martial with his arms draped on him.

United did not have to wait long for their opener as their first shot resulted in a goal. Valencia collected a Paul Pogba pass on the edge of the box and crept towards Josh Tymon. The space was to Valencia's left and he moved into it and rifled past Jack Butland.

Stoke responded well and, when Peter Crouch beat David de Gea to Bauer's deep cross, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting latched onto the loose ball with a shot that Phil Jones blocked.

Martial added a second seven minutes before the break.

Again it was Pogba who provided the assist with a smart pass across the box that Martial whipped into the net with a measured first-time strike.

De Gea denied Xherdan Shaqiri just before half-time and there was no sign of Stoke fighting back upon the resumption.

Frenchman Pogba would have chalked up a third assist had Butland not stopped Martial almost walking the ball in, and Mata nearly picked out the bottom corner.

A third always looked likely and United wrapped up the points 18 minutes from time.

The Potters appealed in vain for handball when Martial's pass was controlled by Lukaku, with the Belgian holding off Kevin Wimmer and turning a low shot home.

A 51st almost arrived when Pogba's cross was flicked onto the post by Mata, and new boss Lambert, watching from the directors' box, could not even console himself with a consolation as De Gea thwarted Mame Diouf.

MAN UTD: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Jones, Shaw, Pogba, Matic, Mata (McTominay 83), Lingard (Fellaini 80), Martial (Rashford 80), Lukaku.

Subs not used: Lindelof, Rojo, Herrera, C Pereira.

STOKE: Butland, Bauer, Zouma, Martins Indi, Tymon (Wimmer 45), Fletcher, Shaqiri, Allen, Ireland, Choupo-Moting (Sobhi 61), Crouch (Diouf 70).

Subs not used: Afellay, Adam, Grant, Edwards.

Referee: Anthony Taylor

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