Manchester United 3-0 Stoke City: 3 Lessons
Manchester United cruised to 3-0 victory against lowly Stoke City at Old Trafford. New Potters boss Paul Lambert watched from the shelter of the Ferguson stand with club chairman Peter Coates as torrential rain and hail punctuated the environment he is about to enter. In typically courteous fashion the Red Devils dismantled the visitors and laid all their problems bare for Lambert to see.
Here are three lessons that were on offer for the evening:
The same adjectives are recycled to describe Paul Pogba. He's aggressive, powerful, a complete athlete. While all those things are true, the Frenchman also possesses a skill few can rival. Against Stoke City, the midfielder showcased a cocktail of alluring tricks. These weren't useless spectacles designed purely to entertain. They were as effective as beguiling.
His sparkle on the ball was outdone by demonstrations of his enviable breadth of passing. Cute, sharp passes dovetailed with spraying, Paul Scholes-esque balls that raked over forty yards and triggered another United attack.
Pogba notched two assists on the evening setting up both Antonio Valencia and Anthony Martial. The squared ball across the box for Martial emphasised his remarkable vision. This was the £89 million man at his very best.
Phil Jones and Chris Smalling no match made in heaven
Phil Jones made an outstanding block with the game poised at 1-0. Had Eric Choupo-Moting fired home, the game would've been precariously balanced. As it was the English international bravely threw his body at it. The Stoke player's shot deflected wide.
Not to undermine the brilliance of this block, but it's precisely Jones' game. Last ditch shows of fearlessness, scything tackles and roughness. He is not technically gifted, neither spatially nor tactically aware. He certainly does not possess the concentration necessary in a Manchester United player.
Chris Smalling is no better. Though giving the impression of a ball-playing centre-back, his awareness is lamentable.
Twice Stoke could have scored through Steven Ireland, making his first Premier League start in 18 months. Twice it was because Jones and Smalling failed to form a cohesive partnership. They left acres of space between them, tempting Ireland to make runs into unmarked territory. He obliged. Such defending is criminal.
Stoke obliging opponents
The Potters entered the clash with the worst defensive record in the division. They had conceded the most goals by far and significantly widened the gap between them and Watford, the next most-generous side. United had only to turn up and drop down into second gear.
Praise should be mitigated by this factor. United were devastating at times. Anthony Martial and Antonio Valencia's brilliant finishes and Romelu Lukaku's brute strength in warding off two defenders to bury his were evidence. Still, it was largely down to the soft underbelly the visitors did not even pretend to conceal. Stoke came to Old Trafford with a daring side and was exposed.
The Red Devils swaggered only because they were given the jewelry, baggy jeans, snapback and glittering watch requisite for such a gait. This result should not coat over the stuttering festive period United endured. Rather it must be a catalyst for second-term success. The Red Devils will need momentum to compete for the FA Cup and the Champions League. There is work to be done. A steady win like this will do much for confidence. United owe their opponents a deal of thanks.
Paul Lambert must address this glaring problem if he is to keep Stoke City in the top flight. Organisation must be the mantra; discipline the instruction; Industry the creed, clean sheets the holy grail. The Potters possess the talent offensively but must be functional at the back.