Manchester United Eases By Stoke City, Separates in Second Place

Antonio Valencia, Anthony Martial and Romelu Lukaku all scored in the comfortable victory at Old Trafford.
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Manchester United cut the gap on league leaders Manchester City to 12 points after an impressive 3-0 win over Stoke City at Old Trafford on Monday night.

Jose Mourinho made three changes to the side that beat Everton 2-0 in their last Premier League outing; out went Victor Lindelof, Marcos Rojo and Ander Herrera, while in came Antonio Valencia, Chris Smalling and Romelu Lukaku.

As for Stoke, they made five changes to the side that suffered a 1-0 defeat to Newcastle in their last Premier League game, with new signing Mortiz Bauer, as well as Bruno Martins Indi, Josh Tymon, Darren Fletcher and Steven Ireland all coming in.

Earlier in the day, Stoke confirmed Paul Lambert as their new manager and the Scot was sat in the stands observing his new side's performance. He would've been hoping for an inspired outings from his new side in their first game under his watchful eye. However, it was the home side who applied the early pressure.

United thought they could've had a penalty after just six minutes when Bauer - making his Stoke debut after his £5.5m move from Rubin Kazan - looked to have pulled down Anthony Martial. However, referee Anthony Taylor didn't see enough contact to award the spot kick, much to the frustration of the home fans.

However, they didn't have to wait much longer for their reward for a positive start as just four minutes later, United's captain Antonio Valencia picked the ball up on the right hand side of the penalty area and unleashed a wonderful curling effort which flew past Jack Butland into the top corner to give Mourinho's side a deserved lead.

After an early spell of possession from United, they were quickly given a stern reminder from the visitors that they were in for a contest when Bauer put a dangerous ball into Xherdan Shaqiri's path on the edge of the penalty area, before the Switzerland international laid the ball off to Steven Ireland who couldn't direct his effort on target.

Only a matter of minutes later, Stoke gave the United defense another scare when Peter Crouch's aerial threat came into play for the first time, after beating De Gea to a looping ball and leaving Spaniard stranded out of his goal. However, Phil Jones was able to get his body in the way of Choupo-Moting's effort to deny the visitors an equalizer.

Stoke continued to look threatening on the counter attack, but were caught out in possession and ultimately paid the price with just over five minutes to go before half time. Paul Pogba picked out Martial on the edge of the penalty area, before the Frenchman then unleashed an audacious first time shot which sailed past Butland into his top left hand corner to double the host's lead before the break.

The second half began much like the first half did, with United dominating possession. Juan Mata had back-to-back golden opportunities to put United 3-0 up and out of sight either side of the hour mark, but couldn't direct either of his efforts on target from just 12 yards out. 

3-0 came eventually, however, after Lukaku had a ball fizzed into him by Martial, before the Belgian controlled the ball superbly and lashed his shot beyond the keeper to seal the victory.

The encouraging signs of life that Stoke showed towards the end of the first half became few and far between in the second and the home side were able to see the remainder of the game out, extending their run of games unbeaten in the Premier League to seven games. Mourinho's side now close the gap to 12 points behind league leaders City, who lost their unbeaten crown to Liverpool at Anfield this weekend.

As for Stoke, they stay rooted in 18th place with Lambert in doubt about the tough task on his hands of clawing the Potters away from a relegation battle.