Manchester United turned in one of their best performances of the Premier League season as they cruised past Stoke City 3-0. A difficult game was anticipated against one of the division's strongest mid-table sides, though Louis van Gaal's side revealed a hitherto invisible ability on the counter-attack, shredding the Potters on the break. For a fleeting moment, it was almost like the olden days.
United started the game on the front foot, but didn't test Stoke keeper Jack Butland before they did the unthinkable and broke the deadlock inside a quarter of an hour. An excellent low cross from the left was met in the area by a diving Jesse Lingard, whose header was too powerful to be kept out. It was United's first goal in the first half of a match since September.
Stoke reacted ominously well to going behind, and began to see plenty of possession. Ordinarily that would have been bad news, but this wasn't an ordinary United performance. 10 minutes after Lingard's opener came a glorious second, a fluid counter-attack that involved three brilliant passes in the build-up and an even better finish by Anthony Martial. For once United were taking risks, and were being rewarded.
The pattern of the game remained pretty constant, with Stoke enjoying spells of harmless possession before United attempted to hit them on the counter. It didn't often come to anything, but it was nevertheless as good we've seen in a long time -- perhaps since van Gaal's arrival. Juan Mata should've added a third with just over five minutes of the half remaining, though he nodded a Matteo Darmian cross over the bar.
United thought they'd signed and sealed the victory within five minutes of the restart, when Wayne Rooney barged Glen Johnson off the ball and slotted inside Stoke's near post. However, much to the anger of the United bench, referee Roger East rather harshly disallowed the goal, and the celebrations were put on hold. But not for long. Within a couple of minutes Rooney did have his goal, tapping inside the far post after a fine Martial assist.
Stoke retreated a little deeper after going three behind, with Mark Hughes' side seemingly slipping into damage limitation mode. It was successful. Neither goalkeeper had any serious saves to make before the final whistle, with the home supporters leaving Old Trafford satisfied for the first time in a very long while.