Manchester United maintained their run of fine form at home to Sunderland on Boxing Day, seeing off the Black Cats 3-1. A first half strike from Daley Blind was followed up by goals from Zlatan Ibrahimović and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the second, with José Mourinho’s men eventually running out comfortable winners. Fabio Borini’s late strike was nothing more than a consolation for the visitors.
United made an ominously poor start to the game, with Sunderland looking just as dangerous in the opening few minutes. David de Gea was the first goalkeeper called into action, with the Spaniard diving to his right to push a Patrick van Aanholt free-kick to safety. United responded through Paul Pogba just short of the half hour, though his deflected effort from the edge of the penalty area clipped the post on its way behind.
The first clear cut chance came two minutes later — and at the wrong end of the field. Victor Anichebe and Borini had successive bites at Jermain Defoe’s cross, though neither could beat de Gea from point-blank range. It was the least convincing United had looked for a while.
However, when they did manage to break the deadlock five minutes before halftime, it was done in style. Some intricate build-up play involved a smart diagonal run from nominal left-back Blind, who capped the move by driving a low shot beyond Jordan Pickford and inside the far post.
It would’ve been two before the interval, were it not for a fine save from Sunderland’s keeper in stoppage time. An acrobatic effort from the lively Pogba was matched by the catlike reflexes of Pickford, ensuring Sunderland’s deficit remained a single goal as the teams left the field.
An improved United created a string of good chances to double their lead early in the second half, with Pogba invariably at the heart of all good things. Within three minutes of the restart he was almost played in by Ibrahimović, though the Swede’s low cross was slightly behind the Frenchman with the goal gaping. Zlatan had his own chance five minutes later, though he lashed over the crossbar after being slipped in by Juan Mata.
After the initial flurry, United slowed, only to spring to life again five minutes past the hour. It was Zlatan again who squandered the opportunity, with Pickford repelling his low shot after a smart assist from substitute Mkhitaryan. All of the second half chances were United’s, but as long as their lead remained just a goal, they couldn’t afford to get complacent.
It took until the final 10 minutes, but eventually Old Trafford was able to breathe a sigh of relief. Pogba nicked the ball on the halfway line and played a simple pass for Ibrahimović, who atoned for his earlier profligacy with a smart finish for 2-0.
Ibrahimović turned provider moments later, swinging a low cross into the area for Mkhitaryan. The Armenian international was in an offside position when he executed an impressive backheel volley, though it wasn’t spotted by the linesman, and the goal was allowed to stand: 3-0.
The only blot on United's copybook came in the dying moments of the match, when a Jason Denayer cross found its way out to Borini. The Italian's controlled on the edge of the area before lashing a delightful half-volley past de Gea to cushion Sunderland’s defeat. 3-1 was how it finished, with United recording their fourth consecutive league victory. Merry Christmas!