On a weekend where Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea dropped points, José Mourinho needed a big, reaffirming performance from his team to cement their place in the top four.
The Portuguese boss got just that with a romping victory over Stoke at Old Trafford, which has set them up nicely in second place and has closed the gap to the league leaders to 12 points.
Here are five things we learned from Manchester United 3-0 Stoke:
Paul Pogba is the driving force
There was no better player out on that Old Trafford pitch than Paul Pogba.
READ MORE: How Man Utd 3 Stoke 0 unfolded
The former Juventus midfielder dominated the game from start to finish and ran the show for Manchester United. It is simply a luxury to watch a player with such grace and elegance play the game so simply.
Pogba’s intelligence to pick out a pass is unbelievable but it is his execution of said pass that stands him out from the convoluted crowd in the Premier League.
With his two assists, Pogba joins Leroy Sané and Kevin De Bruyne on nine assists in the domestic competition this season. If the Frenchman had not missed 10 games through injury and suspension, he might well be well in front given the form he has been in.
Pogba is breathtaking, that is all.
Antonio Valencia is Mr Reliable
The Ecuador captain returned to Manchester United’s starting XI after being sidelined in late December with a hamstring injury.
Antonio Valencia was, as he has been throughout this season, one of the Red Devils’ best players during the 90 minutes, carrying out defensive duties diligently as well as making a positive impact in attack.
Man United’s first goal was scored by Valencia, who curled it beautifully into the corner out of Jack Butland’s reach.
The right back has a knack of scoring beauties this season and this one was right up there.
Romelu Lukaku’s link up play phenomenal
The Belgian has faced a load of criticism since joining Man United in the summer from Everton for £75m.
However, slowly, but surely, Romelu Lukaku is starting to turn the tide and cement his place on the list for the best strikers in Europe.
Points have been made over Lukaku’s first touch and general link up player, with critics suggesting they are not up to scratch. Yet, once again for the Red Devils, the Belgium international’s general, all-round play was sensational.
Lukaku was holding up the ball comfortably, bringing others into play and pinning Stoke’s centre backs deep in their own half. He has also made selfless runs into the channels to draw the defence away and create space for his teammates.
The former Everton forward deserved his goal tonight primarily because of his tireless effort to create spaces in-behind Stoke’s defence.
Anthony Martial is here to stay
There was talk earlier in the day suggesting that Arsenal requested Anthony Martial to be apart of the potential Alexis Sánchez deal that is set to take place.
Manchester United’s stance was a clear ‘absolutely not’, and it is easy to see why the Red Devils Board as well as Mourinho do not want to sell the French starlet.
It is so easy to forget that Martial is in fact only 22, still some years off his prime, and yet he has such immense composure in front of goal. That was highlighted through Manchester United’s second goal, where the ball was rolled into his path with pace from Pogba and he curled it with pace first time into the top corner.
It was an audacious finish and emphasised the natural talent that Martial possesses in his locker. There is no reason why Martial cannot go on to genuinely compete for the Ballon d’Or, he is that good.
Manchester United have big plans for Martial and will, obviously, want to keep him throughout his prime. For now, it does not look like the former Monaco star will be going anywhere.
Manchester United shut up shop far too early
There was a period after Manchester United scored the opening goal where they shut up shop and looked disinterested in playing out the remaining 80 minutes.
This, in turn, allowed Stoke to attack, attack and attack some more which made it an uneasy 20 minutes for the Red Devils. Mourinho’s men sat back far too deep and invited pressure onto themselves, creating all sorts of needless problems.
Stephen Ireland, arguably, should have scored a brace with the chances that were presented to him by Man United’s midfield and defensive mistakes.
This has been a regular theme throughout United’s season, where they take the initial lead only to resort to panic stations and sit far too deep in their own half, waiting for the final whistle. Mourinho has to change this tactic and keep the tempo up – just like he instructed them to do so in the second half. The reward of doing so was a comfortable 3-0 win.