Pep talk prompts United into action
Manchester Utd 3 Stoke City 0
Manchester United appeared to have had a Pep-talk. Just over 24 hours after Pep Guardiola was announced as Manchester City's next manager here was a response from their less than noisy neighbours in recent times.
This was quite possibly United's best performance under Louis van Gaal. Finally it was something to shout about.
As disappointing as Stoke were, so United were dynamic. Full of threat and purpose, they appeared transformed in a game they had to win to stay in the hunt for a Champions League place even if the gap remains at five points.
Anthony Martial was the outstanding performer and there was also another goal for Wayne Rooney - seven in seven matches now for the captain as he continues one of those hot streaks and 14 for the season as he closes in on Bobby Charlton's all-time club record.
Rooney is now just five goals behind Charlton's 249 total and will surely break it this campaign. He has to if United are to finish higher.
For Van Gaal this was a relief as well as a vital result. He knows there will be plenty of questions about - and comparisons with - Guardiola in the next weeks and months and he desperately needed to find something positive, stylish even, here as an immediate response.
The only downside for the manager was the absence of Ryan Giggs in the dug-out alongside him. The United assistant manager was not here due to a family illness.
There was a first-half goal for United. Then, incredibly, there were two.
Writing about a home goal in the first period was the first time that this could be done since September - a sequence of 12 often mind-numbingly tedious matches - never mind writing about two of them.
What is more, they were a deserved reward for their attacking intent with Martial a constant threat although it was Juan Mata and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson who combined to create the first goal for Jesse Lingard.
There were mental scars for Stoke, who had lost on their previous seven visits to Old Trafford and, more immediately, exited both cup competitions within the last week.
And their task soon became even more daunting. United were rampant and then scored a superb counter-attacking goal.
Rooney cushioned the ball to Matteo Darmian, who played it down the byline to Mata.
Rooney carried on running and was picked out before intelligently switching play with a sweeping cross-field pass to Martial.
Glen Johnson had been sucked in and the Frenchman had time to arc a shot around Jack Butland and high into the net.
Two goals and some fine attacking play from United. Inside 23 minutes.
It was out of keeping with what had preceded it this season but provided more convincing evidence than the away victories over Liverpool and, in the FA Cup, at Derby County to back up Van Gaal's claim that United's confidence was finally, belatedly returning.
As impressive as United had been, so Stoke were disappointing. They appeared tired, leggy, going through the motions, even feeling sorry for themselves.
Maybe manager Mark Hughes, increasingly agitated on the sideline, had erred in not shaking his team up.
United believed they had scored a third when Rooney ran down Johnson barging him aside before finishing, but was pulled up for a push.
It was a late call by referee Roger East but it only delayed the inevitable.
United broke again with Mata and Martial once more combining with the France international crossing the ball low for Rooney to side-foot it home.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)