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Football transfer news and rumours: 'Cristiano Ronaldo wants Man Utd return'

Move aside Alexis Sanchez, there is a bigger transfer rumour brewing around Old Trafford which has the Arsenal and Chilean forward no where to be seen. Former Manchester United legend is once again being linked with a return to his old stage. Take a bow Cristiano Ronaldo, your Premier League comeback has moved another step closer. Before United fans get ahead of themselves, it is, for the time being, just a strong rumour doing the rounds in the Spanish press. Newspaper AS reports that Ronaldo is fed up with the unfulfilled promises being made by Real Madrid and said that apparently enough is enough. The Portuguese superstar has grown tired by the hold up to his new contract negotiations and is said to have told team-mates he will leave. Ronaldo is said to be keen on a return to Man Utd Credit: Reuters Real are fourth in La Liga this season, 19 points behind rivals Barcelona.  The future of Sanchez dominates most of the backpages after Manchester City's decision to pull out of a potential move with Chelsea now rivalling United for his signature this month. Yet Arsenal could lose another forward with Turkish newspaper Posta linking Danny Welbeck with a switch to Besiktas. The Turkish giants sold Cenk Tosun to Everton this month and are in need of a replacement with Welbeck high on their shortlist. Welbeck is wanted by Besiktas Credit: Reuters Arsenal are stepping up their efforts to bring in reinforcements with the club in talks to sign Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Our reporter Matt Law writes that the club's new head of recruitment, Sven Mislintat, insists the Gunners they will not be getting a bad boy. He writes: Aubameyang’s disruptive reputation set off some alarm bells inside the Emirates, but it is understood Mislintat, who worked as a scout at Dortmund for 10 years, has given the Gabon international a positive character reference. Mislintat is believed to have assured Arsenal that Aubameyang is hard working and dedicated and that his current issues at Dortmund are not reflective of his normal personality. Chelsea outcast Michy Batshuayi could be heading for Spain this month with Sevilla keen on a loan move for the striker. Batshuayi isn't part of Anontio Conte's plans and has been overlooked by the Italian coach in recent weeks despite Chelsea's goalscoring issues. Michy Batshuayi could boost his season with a loan spell in Seville Credit: PA Now the 24-year-old could give his season a much needed boost with a switch to the La Liga outfit. The story in ESPN says that Chelsea would only be willing to let Batshuayi leave if the Blues can bring in a replacement. January 2018 transfer window And the rest... Alan Pardew wants to make Fulham's Tom Cairney his first signing at West Brom.  The Sun says that the Baggies will lodge a £12m bid but could up it to £15m if they don't hear back from the Championship club soon. Cairney joined Fulham from Blackburn for £2.8m in 2015. Crystal Palace want to sign Fiorentina's 24-year-old Senegal striker Khouma Babacar. The Guardian story adds that the Senegal striker is likely to be one of four January recruits for Palace. 

Football transfer news and rumours: 'Cristiano Ronaldo wants Man Utd return'

Move aside Alexis Sanchez, there is a bigger transfer rumour brewing around Old Trafford which has the Arsenal and Chilean forward no where to be seen. Former Manchester United legend is once again being linked with a return to his old stage. Take a bow Cristiano Ronaldo, your Premier League comeback has moved another step closer. Before United fans get ahead of themselves, it is, for the time being, just a strong rumour doing the rounds in the Spanish press. Newspaper AS reports that Ronaldo is fed up with the unfulfilled promises being made by Real Madrid and said that apparently enough is enough. The Portuguese superstar has grown tired by the hold up to his new contract negotiations and is said to have told team-mates he will leave. Ronaldo is said to be keen on a return to Man Utd Credit: Reuters Real are fourth in La Liga this season, 19 points behind rivals Barcelona.  The future of Sanchez dominates most of the backpages after Manchester City's decision to pull out of a potential move with Chelsea now rivalling United for his signature this month. Yet Arsenal could lose another forward with Turkish newspaper Posta linking Danny Welbeck with a switch to Besiktas. The Turkish giants sold Cenk Tosun to Everton this month and are in need of a replacement with Welbeck high on their shortlist. Welbeck is wanted by Besiktas Credit: Reuters Arsenal are stepping up their efforts to bring in reinforcements with the club in talks to sign Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Our reporter Matt Law writes that the club's new head of recruitment, Sven Mislintat, insists the Gunners they will not be getting a bad boy. He writes: Aubameyang’s disruptive reputation set off some alarm bells inside the Emirates, but it is understood Mislintat, who worked as a scout at Dortmund for 10 years, has given the Gabon international a positive character reference. Mislintat is believed to have assured Arsenal that Aubameyang is hard working and dedicated and that his current issues at Dortmund are not reflective of his normal personality. Chelsea outcast Michy Batshuayi could be heading for Spain this month with Sevilla keen on a loan move for the striker. Batshuayi isn't part of Anontio Conte's plans and has been overlooked by the Italian coach in recent weeks despite Chelsea's goalscoring issues. Michy Batshuayi could boost his season with a loan spell in Seville Credit: PA Now the 24-year-old could give his season a much needed boost with a switch to the La Liga outfit. The story in ESPN says that Chelsea would only be willing to let Batshuayi leave if the Blues can bring in a replacement. January 2018 transfer window And the rest... Alan Pardew wants to make Fulham's Tom Cairney his first signing at West Brom.  The Sun says that the Baggies will lodge a £12m bid but could up it to £15m if they don't hear back from the Championship club soon. Cairney joined Fulham from Blackburn for £2.8m in 2015. Crystal Palace want to sign Fiorentina's 24-year-old Senegal striker Khouma Babacar. The Guardian story adds that the Senegal striker is likely to be one of four January recruits for Palace. 

Football transfer news and rumours: 'Cristiano Ronaldo wants Man Utd return'

Move aside Alexis Sanchez, there is a bigger transfer rumour brewing around Old Trafford which has the Arsenal and Chilean forward no where to be seen. Former Manchester United legend is once again being linked with a return to his old stage. Take a bow Cristiano Ronaldo, your Premier League comeback has moved another step closer. Before United fans get ahead of themselves, it is, for the time being, just a strong rumour doing the rounds in the Spanish press. Newspaper AS reports that Ronaldo is fed up with the unfulfilled promises being made by Real Madrid and said that apparently enough is enough. The Portuguese superstar has grown tired by the hold up to his new contract negotiations and is said to have told team-mates he will leave. Ronaldo is said to be keen on a return to Man Utd Credit: Reuters Real are fourth in La Liga this season, 19 points behind rivals Barcelona.  The future of Sanchez dominates most of the backpages after Manchester City's decision to pull out of a potential move with Chelsea now rivalling United for his signature this month. Yet Arsenal could lose another forward with Turkish newspaper Posta linking Danny Welbeck with a switch to Besiktas. The Turkish giants sold Cenk Tosun to Everton this month and are in need of a replacement with Welbeck high on their shortlist. Welbeck is wanted by Besiktas Credit: Reuters Arsenal are stepping up their efforts to bring in reinforcements with the club in talks to sign Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Our reporter Matt Law writes that the club's new head of recruitment, Sven Mislintat, insists the Gunners they will not be getting a bad boy. He writes: Aubameyang’s disruptive reputation set off some alarm bells inside the Emirates, but it is understood Mislintat, who worked as a scout at Dortmund for 10 years, has given the Gabon international a positive character reference. Mislintat is believed to have assured Arsenal that Aubameyang is hard working and dedicated and that his current issues at Dortmund are not reflective of his normal personality. Chelsea outcast Michy Batshuayi could be heading for Spain this month with Sevilla keen on a loan move for the striker. Batshuayi isn't part of Anontio Conte's plans and has been overlooked by the Italian coach in recent weeks despite Chelsea's goalscoring issues. Michy Batshuayi could boost his season with a loan spell in Seville Credit: PA Now the 24-year-old could give his season a much needed boost with a switch to the La Liga outfit. The story in ESPN says that Chelsea would only be willing to let Batshuayi leave if the Blues can bring in a replacement. January 2018 transfer window And the rest... Alan Pardew wants to make Fulham's Tom Cairney his first signing at West Brom.  The Sun says that the Baggies will lodge a £12m bid but could up it to £15m if they don't hear back from the Championship club soon. Cairney joined Fulham from Blackburn for £2.8m in 2015. Crystal Palace want to sign Fiorentina's 24-year-old Senegal striker Khouma Babacar. The Guardian story adds that the Senegal striker is likely to be one of four January recruits for Palace. 

Football transfer news and rumours: 'Cristiano Ronaldo wants Man Utd return'

Move aside Alexis Sanchez, there is a bigger transfer rumour brewing around Old Trafford which has the Arsenal and Chilean forward no where to be seen. Former Manchester United legend is once again being linked with a return to his old stage. Take a bow Cristiano Ronaldo, your Premier League comeback has moved another step closer. Before United fans get ahead of themselves, it is, for the time being, just a strong rumour doing the rounds in the Spanish press. Newspaper AS reports that Ronaldo is fed up with the unfulfilled promises being made by Real Madrid and said that apparently enough is enough. The Portuguese superstar has grown tired by the hold up to his new contract negotiations and is said to have told team-mates he will leave. Ronaldo is said to be keen on a return to Man Utd Credit: Reuters Real are fourth in La Liga this season, 19 points behind rivals Barcelona.  The future of Sanchez dominates most of the backpages after Manchester City's decision to pull out of a potential move with Chelsea now rivalling United for his signature this month. Yet Arsenal could lose another forward with Turkish newspaper Posta linking Danny Welbeck with a switch to Besiktas. The Turkish giants sold Cenk Tosun to Everton this month and are in need of a replacement with Welbeck high on their shortlist. Welbeck is wanted by Besiktas Credit: Reuters Arsenal are stepping up their efforts to bring in reinforcements with the club in talks to sign Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Our reporter Matt Law writes that the club's new head of recruitment, Sven Mislintat, insists the Gunners they will not be getting a bad boy. He writes: Aubameyang’s disruptive reputation set off some alarm bells inside the Emirates, but it is understood Mislintat, who worked as a scout at Dortmund for 10 years, has given the Gabon international a positive character reference. Mislintat is believed to have assured Arsenal that Aubameyang is hard working and dedicated and that his current issues at Dortmund are not reflective of his normal personality. Chelsea outcast Michy Batshuayi could be heading for Spain this month with Sevilla keen on a loan move for the striker. Batshuayi isn't part of Anontio Conte's plans and has been overlooked by the Italian coach in recent weeks despite Chelsea's goalscoring issues. Michy Batshuayi could boost his season with a loan spell in Seville Credit: PA Now the 24-year-old could give his season a much needed boost with a switch to the La Liga outfit. The story in ESPN says that Chelsea would only be willing to let Batshuayi leave if the Blues can bring in a replacement. January 2018 transfer window And the rest... Alan Pardew wants to make Fulham's Tom Cairney his first signing at West Brom.  The Sun says that the Baggies will lodge a £12m bid but could up it to £15m if they don't hear back from the Championship club soon. Cairney joined Fulham from Blackburn for £2.8m in 2015. Crystal Palace want to sign Fiorentina's 24-year-old Senegal striker Khouma Babacar. The Guardian story adds that the Senegal striker is likely to be one of four January recruits for Palace. 

Manchester United 3 Stoke City 0: Paul Pogba masterclass brings swagger back

He has the confidence, the ability and the swagger to play for Manchester United. But enough of Alexis Sanchez. This was Paul Pogba’s night – and he also possesses those formidable qualities - with the United midfielder dominating a sorry Stoke side. Plucky Potters? Not against Pogba who provided two clever assists and ran the game as United consolidated themselves in second place in the Premier League and cut Manchester City’s lead to 12 points. United have beaten City in the race to sign Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal or, rather, City have pulled out of that contest believing the finances just do not stack up and, barring a late intervention from Chelsea, it appears the Chilean forward will be another of Pogba’s team-mates hoping to profit from his sharp creativity. For United’s fans there is the tantalising vision of Pogba in a free role – finally Jose Mourinho has come to realise that is the best use of him – opening up defences for the alert movement and relentlessness of Sanchez and the bludgeoning power of Romelu Lukaku. Suddenly, they will hope, the future looks brighter for them as they continue that chase to reduce City’s dominance, to fend off Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, and to give themselves momentum going into the remainder of this season and the next campaign. Antonio Valencia curled in the first with his left foot Credit:  Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images Whether they will face Stoke in the Premier League again next season remains to be seen. Stoke are in the relegation places but, finally, they appointed a successor to Mark Hughes and hours later Paul Lambert took his place in the Old Trafford directors' box, watching on as caretaker Eddie Niedzwiecki, for his one game in charge, produced a demob-happy coaching performance by putting out an attacking team and opening up the game. It worked only in that it created chances – and Stoke did that, and it would have been interesting had they drawn level in the first-half, when just a goal down, as surely they should have done – but not in defending. The three goals conceded here mean, in fact, that Stoke have become the first team in any of Europe’s top five leagues to let in 50 goals this season. With 23 matches played that is more than two a game – not good enough for a team that spent heavily in bringing in defenders last summer. Lambert has work to do. But then he knew that. And he also knew that this was, in all probability, little more than a fixture to fulfil. Damage had to be limited and, in that, they owed a debt again to their goalkeeper Jack Butland who once more produced a series of saves even if he was quickly beaten. Pogba was central to it. He collected possession, after some fine build-up play, and ran across the face of the penalty area before pushing the ball out wide to Antonio Valencia. The United captain was returning, after four weeks out with a hamstring injury, and celebrated by cutting inside and arcing a left-foot shot (yes, left foot from Valencia) around Butland from just inside the area. It was a superb strike; a well-worked goal. Stephen Ireland snatched at a couple of first-half chances Credit: REUTERS/Andrew Yates Cue the cameras cutting to Lambert, attempting to elicit a response. The Scot buried his head in his coat – but that was more to do with responding to the cold, the hail and the swirling rain. But there was no downpour on his new team. Instead they carved United open. There was an overhead kick from Xherdan Shaqiri, held by David De Gea, and then Stephen Ireland – making his first league start in almost two years – spurned two chances. He snatched at both, dragging his shots wide, when he had space and time to do better. Stoke came closest of all when their new signing, Austrian full-back Moritz Bauer, on his debut, hoisted a high cross into the area and Peter Crouch beat De Gea to it. The ball dropped to Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, who seemed certain to score, only for his half-volley to be deflected over the cross-bar by a lunging Phil Jones. “I didn’t like the first half. I only liked the two amazing goals,” Mourinho later said, and United’s second was as good as their first with Lukaku running down the right, turning the ball back inside to Pogba who had the presence of mind and vision to move it across goal, with a ‘no-look pass’, where it was met by Anthony Martial who struck a precise first-time, side-footed shot that curled around Butland and high into the net. Anthony Martial made it 2-0 Credit: Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images As a contest, it was over. Stoke appeared dispirited. It was a question, then, of how many United would score but – instead - they were wasteful. Firstly Pogba almost claimed his third assist when he intercepted a sloppy pass by Kurt Zouma and stabbed the ball through to Martial. Butland blocked. Then Martial wriggled clear only for Butland to deny him, again, before Juan Mata turned the ball wide and, soon after, shot over. Butland thwarted Lukaku with his legs but was finally beaten by the striker when Jesse Lingard broke, Martial fired the ball into the Belgium international and the Stoke defenders stood off as he picked his spot and drilled his shot low inside the post. There should have been a goal back when substitute Mame Biram Diouf chested down Shaqiri’s flighted pass only for De Gea to block his first shot, and the former United forward to send his second into the side-netting. There would be no consolation. 9:52PM Full time Manchester United narrow the gap to 12 points with a resounding victory orchestrated by a fine performance from Paul Pogba. Stoke had several moments of inspiration going forward but need some bodies as well as some younger legs in defence and defensive midfield.  9:50PM 90+2 min McTominay tries to glide past Martins Indi who bundles him over at the edge of the D. Time enough for Pogba to take the free-kick ... which he scoops miles over and the referee blows for time's up.  9:49PM 90+1 min The first of two added minutes begins with man-of-the-match Pogba pinging a long pass up to Rashford on the left but he lets it leak out for a throw.  9:48PM 89 min Rashford has a dainty-footed dribble through the box from the left then bobbles a tame shot at Butland as he tried to open his body and arrow it in at the back post. Mishit it.  9:47PM 87 min Ach, Stoke. Shaqiri picks out a diaginal cross towards the penalty spot from the left and Diouf beats Smalling to it and controls it sufficiently well to allow him an unimpeded left-foot shot at goal from 12 yards. But he scuffs it, De Gea saves with his legs and gives him a second chance. Ireland, unmarked, screams for him to square it for a tap-in but Diouf goes his own way and scuds a left-foot shot wide.  Attempt Saved: Man Utd 3 - 0 Stoke (Mame Biram Diouf, 86 min)   9:44PM 84 min Another glorious pass from Pogba on halfway, chipping the ball over Wimmer who manages to reach it with the odd strand of hair. Valencia, bullocking down the whitewash takes it in his stride  and fires in a cross through the six-yard box. Rashford makes a near-post run and tries to back-flick it in with his right foot. Good save from Butland.  9:40PM 82 min Third United substitution: Mata off, McTominay on.  9:39PM 81 min Double United substitution: Lingard and Martial depart to be replaced by Fellaini and Rashford.  9:38PM 79 min United enjoy such a dominant spell of possession that poor old Stoke 'don't now what day it is'. It ends with a left-wing cross towards the penalty spot and Mata does a 'shut-that-door' flick that almost squeaks in at the right post. Lukaku, who cannot resist the temptation to lunge at the rebound off the woodwork, was offside.  Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   9:34PM 77 min After twenty-odd passes, though, Martial blunders his trap and the ball squirts to Zouma who clears.  9:34PM 76 min United are strolling now, metaphorically, and pinging passes around in Stoke's half.  9:32PM 73 min Lingard brings the ball forward through the middle from the centre-circle, sprinting towards the box. He lays it off to the left for Martial who cuts inside and then fires in a very heavy pass - shades of Gerrard there - but Lukaku controls it superbly with his chest (Stoke think it was his hand), turns to his right with his back to goal and skelps in a fierce left-foot shot past Butland who had no chance. Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   9:29PM GOAL!! Manchester United 3-0 Stoke City (Lukaku) Lukaku smashes in the third Credit: Matthew Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images   9:28PM 69 min Peter Crouch departs. Mame Biram Diouf enters.  9:25PM 68 min Lukaku is booked for a retaliation on Martins Indi then Ireland by his doppelganger Anthony Taylor for going through Mata.  9:24PM 66 min Butland makes a fine save with his feet from Lukaku after United overwhelm Stoke with their pace and movement. The ball rebounds out to the edge of the area. Lingard strikes it low on the volley, Butland saves again and Mata backheels in the rebound from an offside position 9:23PM 64 min Choupo-Moting off Sobhi on. Lingard is booked on the totting up principle for bundling Fletcher over.  9:21PM 61 min Lukaku centres to Lingard in the D from the left. He rolls the pass out to Mata who is charging into the box from the right. He tries to curl a left-footer inside the far post but can't get it to bend in at the last. Lingard had robbed Zouma to start the rapid counter.    9:18PM 59 min More Pogba brilliance, beating Bauer and clipping a left-foot cross into the box. Martial controls it, dinks it inside to try to throw Butland off balance but cannot find the room to squeeze it under the keeper who tries to smother it but it bobbles free. Lukaku  has another effort at poking it past but Butland is up to it.  9:16PM 57 min United corner taken short again and Lingard, who hasn't been at his best tonight, loses the ball as he tries to get into the box. Now it's 'Delilah' from the visiting fans. United are penning them in.  9:13PM 55 min Lukaku attempts to control the ball and hook it back over his shoulder for Pogba but succeeds only in eating the ball as he spanks it into his own mouth.  9:11PM 53 min The cries of 'Paul Lambert's barmy army' drowns out any United response. The home crowd, it has to be said, is preposterously quiet these days.  9:10PM 51 min Shaqiri is unamused when shoved into an advertising hoarding perhaps inadvertently, perhaps not, by Shaw. Shaqiri takes it out on the flashing sign in anti-capitalist rage and hurts his hand after slapping it.  9:08PM 49 min Zouma wins the ball off Shaw and gives it straight back to Pogba who threads a pass up the inside-left channel. The weight perhaps takes it too close to Butland even for swift-footed Achilles Martial at full pelt. Butland manages to get down on the ground, like a draught excluder, to block Martial's stabbed shot.  9:05PM 47 min Ireland has dropped deeper, too. Matic picks out Shaw who works it back to Pogba. The United No6 drills a diagonal over to Mata who cuts it back but there's no one arriving at the edge of the box.  9:03PM 46 min Wimmer - Daniel Levy saw them coming - slots straight in at left-back.  9:02PM Half-time substitution Kevin Wimmer replaces Josh Tymon.  8:56PM Martial's goal Anthony Martial scores United's second Credit: REUTERS/Andrew Yates  Here are the average touch positions to show you Pogba's influence (6) and Ireland's (7). Average touch positions (half time) Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   8:51PM Half time Stoke had their moments, Manchester United scored with two tremendous shots and have looked dominant in the last third and vulnerable around their own box. Pogba has all the space he needs to run this match and seems certain to carry on in the second-half. Ireland and Shaqiri are playing very well and Bauer looks very promising but the movement of Lingard, Martial, Lukaku and Mata is too much for Stoke's defence to contain. .  8:47PM 45+1 min De Gea dives low to his left to save Shaqiri's left-foot shot, an opportunity created by his wonderful control as he stunned the pass from the left to the D then drilled a scorching low shot towards goal. Excellent save that proves to be the last touch of the half.  8:46PM 44 min Pogba plays the same right to left pass for Martial that bypasses and isolates the middle of the Stoke defence but this time Martial was too hasty and bolted offside.  8:45PM 42 min United adopt sheer liquid football and Stoke's defence don't know what day it is. Pogba floats a pass from right-half to outside left for Shaw who lays it off to Martial. After scoring with that lovely strike he must think his boots are made of jam so tries an outrageous outisde of the foot chip to the back post for Lukaku who nods it back across goal. Lingard can't reach it but nobbut just.  8:41PM 40 min Valencia wins the ball off Choupo-Moting on halfway and on the right, drives forward and picks out Lukaku who holds it up  and takes it outside, pursued by Martins Indi then turns to roll a pass to Pogba by the right angle of the box. Pogba sees Martial to the left of the D in the space created by Lukaku's run, sweeps a pass over to him and the winger arcs in a shot, bending in a parabola unstoppably past Butland.  Man Utd 2 - 0 Stoke (Anthony Martial, 38 min)   8:38PM GOAL!! Man Utd 2-0 Stoke (Martial) 8:38PM 36 min Pogba torpedoes a 50-yard ball from right to left to pick out Shaw's run to the byline. The left-back pulls the ball back to Martial who shoots into Zouma. Deflection leads to corner. United take it short for the umpteenth time and Stoke scuttle it away. Why so many short corners? Stoke's height?  8:35PM 34 min Mata does that thing after falling over in the box to indicate that he's slipped - serves two purposes (A) No penalty and (B) I didn't dive. It looked as though he did 'go over easily' but because it's the paragon Juan, it couldn't possibly have been anything but a slip.  8:33PM 32 min United fans spark into life when Ireland, once of City, is struck amidships by Lingard's fierce drive but the bounce favours Stoke and Valencia has to bring Allen down to stop them breaking past halfway.  8:31PM 30 min Fletcher uses his resilience and experience to hold off Pogba at the price of a corner on the right that United take short from Mata to Lingard who hangs it up at the back post. Butland drops the slithery ball but pocks it up at the second attempt. Pogba was offside in any case.  8:29PM 28 min United break quickly up the left and Mata, at the end of a slick passing move, cuts a pass back to Martial who balloons a wanton shot over the bar.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 21 min)   8:27PM 25 min Stoke move it out to the right for Shaqiri and his wand. He bends in a cross to the back post and De Gea comes for it but, rare for him, flaps under the challenge of Crouch who nods it back across the now unguarded net. Choupo-Moting meets it on the volley but Jones throws himself in to block from point-blank range and saves a certain goal. Corner. Small wonder Jose Mourinho is off the bench and shouting. Stoke have made four good chances in the past 10 minutes.  Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   8:25PM 24 min Very quiet at Old Trafford as Stoke enjoy a good five minutes. Ireland makes another interception, motors forward and Pogba kicks him up the back of his thigh. Free kick.  8:24PM 22 min What a chance for Stoke - all made by Martial's indolence in helping Shaw out when attacked by Allen and Bauer who looks a decent player. The right-back responds to Shaqiri's run inside with a square pass across the 18-yard line that he controls immaculately then dinks the perfect throughball to Ireland who has made a great run. Ireland, 15 yards out, stretches to shoot and pokes it wide. Not exactly a sitter but a chance you have to take.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 21 min)   8:21PM 20 min Here's the goal: Valencia scores Credit:  Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images  Choupo-Moting squanders possession and United break.  8:19PM 18 min Bauer's cross from the right finds Ireland in the United box just shy of the penalty spot and in space. But as he traps the centre it sticks under his feet and gobbles up precious time so that when he does manage to shoot he was being closed down and scuffs it wide.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 16 min)   8:17PM 16 min Clever interception from Ireland thwarts Shaw's cross and he scurries out of defence, laying it off to Choupo-Moting then positioning himself for the return. He kills the pass and pushes the ball out to the right into Shaqiri's path. Shaqiri bends in a left-footer towards the back post that Crouch wins but can't get any power on it. He does enough to retain possession, lay it back and Stoke come again.  8:14PM 14 min The ball is sticking to Lukaku tonight and he is astutely bringing Martial, Lingard, Mata and Pogba into play as attacking threats.  8:12PM 12 min Shaqiri shows us his exquisite technique with a spectacular bicycle kick to meet an outswinging left-wing cross. He meets it crisply but De Gea gets down low to his left to smother it.  8:11PM 10 min Made by Pogba's crossfield chip. Valencia leaves Choupo-Moting stranded, drifts inside on to his left, losing Tymon with a dip of the shoulder before finishing with a 16-yard sweetly-struck, unstoppable curler. Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Antonio Valencia, 9 min) 8:09PM GOAL!! Manchester United 1-0 Stoke (Valencia) 8:08PM 7 min Mata chips a curling left-foot pass from inside-right over the central defenders and Martial makes the run to head it. Bauer, who had his arm on Martial's back, slipped and fell, taking his opponent with him. Big shout for a penalty that the referee ignores but the replay has heads nodding in unison with the fatuous 'I've seen 'em given'' verdict.  8:06PM 6 min Tymon tries to turn Valencia on halfway but can't drive past him once he'd turned back to face him. Valencia kicks the ball on to his shins to take the throw-in. It's sheeting down.  8:04PM 4 min Pogba shifts it up the inside left channel, sweeping it 20 yards upfield. Lukaku takes it in his stride and lays it out to the left for Martial then heads for the six-yard box. Lingard makes the near-post run but the United winger drags his centre behind his team-mate and Stoke work it clear.  8:02PM 2 min Stoke recycle, bang it up to Crouch who is penalised for clattering Jones as he shielded the ball. United take the free-kick, move it up to Lukaku who lats it off to Lingard. Shaqiri hacks him down. Free kick 10 yards inside the Stoke half.  8:01PM 1 min Stoke, in blue, kick off and Stephen Ireland takes it and instigates a move up the right that has to go backwards to go forward. Martins Indi whacks it long and Valencia fires it back, over the top, and beyond Lukaku.  7:58PM Out come the teams Kick off is now just moments away. And the commentator is Alan Parry, just as it was for the Cyrille Regis clip below.  7:48PM Paul Lambert is present and correct Paul Lambert watches his new side at old Trafford Credit: Gareth Copley/Getty Images  He did pretty well at Wolves last season and was terrific at Norwich. Villa, though, was a trial for every supporter who was forced to watch austerity football while Randy Lerner tried to sell. Having said that Ron Vlaar, Christian Benteke and Karim El Anmadi were decent signings.  7:19PM Henrikh Mkhitaryan Is not in Manchester United's XVIII apparently because his head 'is not in the right place'. Or is it his body that's in N5/N7?  Jose Mourinho on Mkhitaryan's omission from tonight's squad: "I would lie if I said it was a pure tactical decision." #mufc [sky]— utdhq (@utdhq) January 15, 2018   7:17PM Those teams in black and white Man Utd De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Shaw; Pogba, Matic; Mata, Lingard, Martial; Lukaku.  Substitutes Joel Pereira, Lindelof, Rojo, Ander Herrera, Fellaini, McTominay, Rashford. It's chucking it down at Old Trafford Credit: Michael Regan/Getty Images Stoke City Butland; Bauer, Zouma, Martins Indi, Tymon; Fletcher, Allen; Shaqiri, Ireland, Choupo-Moting; Crouch.  Substitutes Grant, Edwards, Wimmer, Afellay, Adam, Diouf, Sobhi.  Referee Anthony Taylor (Wythenshawe). 7:02PM Antonio Valencia is back for Man Utd Here is how the Reds line up for #MUNSTK... �� pic.twitter.com/otGid7EQkS— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 15, 2018   7:02PM You know that business about Eddie Niedzwiecki not making many changes ... Ignore it. He's made seven and Moritz Bauer makes his Premier League debut.  Eddie Niedzwiecki makes 7⃣ changes to tonight's team that faces @ManUtd at Old Trafford. �� Bauer, Martins Indi, Tymon, Fletcher, Shaqiri, Choupo-Moting and Crouch all make the starting XI. City line-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation.#SCFC ��⚪️ pic.twitter.com/2CIECRjITg— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) January 15, 2018   6:59PM In memoriam   6:56PM Good evening And welcome to coverage of Manchester United vs Stoke City, the last Premier League match of what those people who we need to cut out of our lives would call ‘round 23’ of the ‘EPL’. We find both clubs loitering around in a kind of threshold. Stoke, obviously, having been turned down by Gary Rowett, Quique Sanchez Flores and Martin O’Neill, are ready to embark on the Paul Lambert era though tonight his will be a watching brief. Given that caretaker Eddie Niedzwiecki has been at Mark Hughes’ side with Wales, Blackburn, Man City, Fulham, QPR and the Oatcake Eaters, he’s hardly likely to pick a radically altered side because to do so would be an implicit rebuke of his friend and former and future boss. So tonight may just be a case of limbo until Lambert makes his mark or purgatory if your view of Lambert’s appointment is as pessimistic as some on that twerps’ trumpet, Twitter, are lamenting. As for Manchester United, it seems that they stand on the verge of signing Alexis Sánchez which will add some much needed dynamism into their attack though I’m not sure how tameable his talent and instincts will be for Jose Mourinho. He certainly won’t step on the throat of his own song like, say, Joe Cole did at Chelsea to track back or Samuel Eto’o at Inter but he may be employed in the manner of Wesley Sneijder or Arjen Robben - indulged if never wholly embraced. Rarely for a Mourinho side, tonight begs a performance more than the result. They played well in the second half at Goodison and there were fluent passages in the draw with Leicester and the victory over West Brom but it has been far too sporadic for the past two months. Ali Sanchez Manchester City’s defeat on Sunday gives United the opportunity to narrow the gap between first and second to 12 points with a win here. It’s still an enormous lead but for those Reds looking for comfort, it was exactly the position United found themselves in 21 years ago behind Newcastle United with 15 games to play and they ended up winning the title by three points. City are not Newcastle obviously but it’s worth pointing out. And a comfortable victory would surely be the only outcome a sane person would accept a wager on tonight. It’s 42 years since Stoke have won at Old Trafford, when Bomber Sheldon set up Bluto Bloor to glance in an 87th-minute winner and end United’s 14-month home unbeaten record and their chances of winning the Double with a couple of games of the season to go. As any fule kno, Southampton, then of Division Two, did for them in the Cup to make it a miserable April and May for Tommy Docherty’s side. Mourinho, with two trophies last year and Sánchez to come, will not be as vulnerable to Alan Bloor and Bobby Stokes type figures in April and May 2018.

Manchester United 3 Stoke City 0: Paul Pogba masterclass brings swagger back

He has the confidence, the ability and the swagger to play for Manchester United. But enough of Alexis Sanchez. This was Paul Pogba’s night – and he also possesses those formidable qualities - with the United midfielder dominating a sorry Stoke side. Plucky Potters? Not against Pogba who provided two clever assists and ran the game as United consolidated themselves in second place in the Premier League and cut Manchester City’s lead to 12 points. United have beaten City in the race to sign Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal or, rather, City have pulled out of that contest believing the finances just do not stack up and, barring a late intervention from Chelsea, it appears the Chilean forward will be another of Pogba’s team-mates hoping to profit from his sharp creativity. For United’s fans there is the tantalising vision of Pogba in a free role – finally Jose Mourinho has come to realise that is the best use of him – opening up defences for the alert movement and relentlessness of Sanchez and the bludgeoning power of Romelu Lukaku. Suddenly, they will hope, the future looks brighter for them as they continue that chase to reduce City’s dominance, to fend off Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, and to give themselves momentum going into the remainder of this season and the next campaign. Antonio Valencia curled in the first with his left foot Credit:  Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images Whether they will face Stoke in the Premier League again next season remains to be seen. Stoke are in the relegation places but, finally, they appointed a successor to Mark Hughes and hours later Paul Lambert took his place in the Old Trafford directors' box, watching on as caretaker Eddie Niedzwiecki, for his one game in charge, produced a demob-happy coaching performance by putting out an attacking team and opening up the game. It worked only in that it created chances – and Stoke did that, and it would have been interesting had they drawn level in the first-half, when just a goal down, as surely they should have done – but not in defending. The three goals conceded here mean, in fact, that Stoke have become the first team in any of Europe’s top five leagues to let in 50 goals this season. With 23 matches played that is more than two a game – not good enough for a team that spent heavily in bringing in defenders last summer. Lambert has work to do. But then he knew that. And he also knew that this was, in all probability, little more than a fixture to fulfil. Damage had to be limited and, in that, they owed a debt again to their goalkeeper Jack Butland who once more produced a series of saves even if he was quickly beaten. Pogba was central to it. He collected possession, after some fine build-up play, and ran across the face of the penalty area before pushing the ball out wide to Antonio Valencia. The United captain was returning, after four weeks out with a hamstring injury, and celebrated by cutting inside and arcing a left-foot shot (yes, left foot from Valencia) around Butland from just inside the area. It was a superb strike; a well-worked goal. Stephen Ireland snatched at a couple of first-half chances Credit: REUTERS/Andrew Yates Cue the cameras cutting to Lambert, attempting to elicit a response. The Scot buried his head in his coat – but that was more to do with responding to the cold, the hail and the swirling rain. But there was no downpour on his new team. Instead they carved United open. There was an overhead kick from Xherdan Shaqiri, held by David De Gea, and then Stephen Ireland – making his first league start in almost two years – spurned two chances. He snatched at both, dragging his shots wide, when he had space and time to do better. Stoke came closest of all when their new signing, Austrian full-back Moritz Bauer, on his debut, hoisted a high cross into the area and Peter Crouch beat De Gea to it. The ball dropped to Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, who seemed certain to score, only for his half-volley to be deflected over the cross-bar by a lunging Phil Jones. “I didn’t like the first half. I only liked the two amazing goals,” Mourinho later said, and United’s second was as good as their first with Lukaku running down the right, turning the ball back inside to Pogba who had the presence of mind and vision to move it across goal, with a ‘no-look pass’, where it was met by Anthony Martial who struck a precise first-time, side-footed shot that curled around Butland and high into the net. Anthony Martial made it 2-0 Credit: Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images As a contest, it was over. Stoke appeared dispirited. It was a question, then, of how many United would score but – instead - they were wasteful. Firstly Pogba almost claimed his third assist when he intercepted a sloppy pass by Kurt Zouma and stabbed the ball through to Martial. Butland blocked. Then Martial wriggled clear only for Butland to deny him, again, before Juan Mata turned the ball wide and, soon after, shot over. Butland thwarted Lukaku with his legs but was finally beaten by the striker when Jesse Lingard broke, Martial fired the ball into the Belgium international and the Stoke defenders stood off as he picked his spot and drilled his shot low inside the post. There should have been a goal back when substitute Mame Biram Diouf chested down Shaqiri’s flighted pass only for De Gea to block his first shot, and the former United forward to send his second into the side-netting. There would be no consolation. 9:52PM Full time Manchester United narrow the gap to 12 points with a resounding victory orchestrated by a fine performance from Paul Pogba. Stoke had several moments of inspiration going forward but need some bodies as well as some younger legs in defence and defensive midfield.  9:50PM 90+2 min McTominay tries to glide past Martins Indi who bundles him over at the edge of the D. Time enough for Pogba to take the free-kick ... which he scoops miles over and the referee blows for time's up.  9:49PM 90+1 min The first of two added minutes begins with man-of-the-match Pogba pinging a long pass up to Rashford on the left but he lets it leak out for a throw.  9:48PM 89 min Rashford has a dainty-footed dribble through the box from the left then bobbles a tame shot at Butland as he tried to open his body and arrow it in at the back post. Mishit it.  9:47PM 87 min Ach, Stoke. Shaqiri picks out a diaginal cross towards the penalty spot from the left and Diouf beats Smalling to it and controls it sufficiently well to allow him an unimpeded left-foot shot at goal from 12 yards. But he scuffs it, De Gea saves with his legs and gives him a second chance. Ireland, unmarked, screams for him to square it for a tap-in but Diouf goes his own way and scuds a left-foot shot wide.  Attempt Saved: Man Utd 3 - 0 Stoke (Mame Biram Diouf, 86 min)   9:44PM 84 min Another glorious pass from Pogba on halfway, chipping the ball over Wimmer who manages to reach it with the odd strand of hair. Valencia, bullocking down the whitewash takes it in his stride  and fires in a cross through the six-yard box. Rashford makes a near-post run and tries to back-flick it in with his right foot. Good save from Butland.  9:40PM 82 min Third United substitution: Mata off, McTominay on.  9:39PM 81 min Double United substitution: Lingard and Martial depart to be replaced by Fellaini and Rashford.  9:38PM 79 min United enjoy such a dominant spell of possession that poor old Stoke 'don't now what day it is'. It ends with a left-wing cross towards the penalty spot and Mata does a 'shut-that-door' flick that almost squeaks in at the right post. Lukaku, who cannot resist the temptation to lunge at the rebound off the woodwork, was offside.  Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   9:34PM 77 min After twenty-odd passes, though, Martial blunders his trap and the ball squirts to Zouma who clears.  9:34PM 76 min United are strolling now, metaphorically, and pinging passes around in Stoke's half.  9:32PM 73 min Lingard brings the ball forward through the middle from the centre-circle, sprinting towards the box. He lays it off to the left for Martial who cuts inside and then fires in a very heavy pass - shades of Gerrard there - but Lukaku controls it superbly with his chest (Stoke think it was his hand), turns to his right with his back to goal and skelps in a fierce left-foot shot past Butland who had no chance. Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   9:29PM GOAL!! Manchester United 3-0 Stoke City (Lukaku) Lukaku smashes in the third Credit: Matthew Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images   9:28PM 69 min Peter Crouch departs. Mame Biram Diouf enters.  9:25PM 68 min Lukaku is booked for a retaliation on Martins Indi then Ireland by his doppelganger Anthony Taylor for going through Mata.  9:24PM 66 min Butland makes a fine save with his feet from Lukaku after United overwhelm Stoke with their pace and movement. The ball rebounds out to the edge of the area. Lingard strikes it low on the volley, Butland saves again and Mata backheels in the rebound from an offside position 9:23PM 64 min Choupo-Moting off Sobhi on. Lingard is booked on the totting up principle for bundling Fletcher over.  9:21PM 61 min Lukaku centres to Lingard in the D from the left. He rolls the pass out to Mata who is charging into the box from the right. He tries to curl a left-footer inside the far post but can't get it to bend in at the last. Lingard had robbed Zouma to start the rapid counter.    9:18PM 59 min More Pogba brilliance, beating Bauer and clipping a left-foot cross into the box. Martial controls it, dinks it inside to try to throw Butland off balance but cannot find the room to squeeze it under the keeper who tries to smother it but it bobbles free. Lukaku  has another effort at poking it past but Butland is up to it.  9:16PM 57 min United corner taken short again and Lingard, who hasn't been at his best tonight, loses the ball as he tries to get into the box. Now it's 'Delilah' from the visiting fans. United are penning them in.  9:13PM 55 min Lukaku attempts to control the ball and hook it back over his shoulder for Pogba but succeeds only in eating the ball as he spanks it into his own mouth.  9:11PM 53 min The cries of 'Paul Lambert's barmy army' drowns out any United response. The home crowd, it has to be said, is preposterously quiet these days.  9:10PM 51 min Shaqiri is unamused when shoved into an advertising hoarding perhaps inadvertently, perhaps not, by Shaw. Shaqiri takes it out on the flashing sign in anti-capitalist rage and hurts his hand after slapping it.  9:08PM 49 min Zouma wins the ball off Shaw and gives it straight back to Pogba who threads a pass up the inside-left channel. The weight perhaps takes it too close to Butland even for swift-footed Achilles Martial at full pelt. Butland manages to get down on the ground, like a draught excluder, to block Martial's stabbed shot.  9:05PM 47 min Ireland has dropped deeper, too. Matic picks out Shaw who works it back to Pogba. The United No6 drills a diagonal over to Mata who cuts it back but there's no one arriving at the edge of the box.  9:03PM 46 min Wimmer - Daniel Levy saw them coming - slots straight in at left-back.  9:02PM Half-time substitution Kevin Wimmer replaces Josh Tymon.  8:56PM Martial's goal Anthony Martial scores United's second Credit: REUTERS/Andrew Yates  Here are the average touch positions to show you Pogba's influence (6) and Ireland's (7). Average touch positions (half time) Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   8:51PM Half time Stoke had their moments, Manchester United scored with two tremendous shots and have looked dominant in the last third and vulnerable around their own box. Pogba has all the space he needs to run this match and seems certain to carry on in the second-half. Ireland and Shaqiri are playing very well and Bauer looks very promising but the movement of Lingard, Martial, Lukaku and Mata is too much for Stoke's defence to contain. .  8:47PM 45+1 min De Gea dives low to his left to save Shaqiri's left-foot shot, an opportunity created by his wonderful control as he stunned the pass from the left to the D then drilled a scorching low shot towards goal. Excellent save that proves to be the last touch of the half.  8:46PM 44 min Pogba plays the same right to left pass for Martial that bypasses and isolates the middle of the Stoke defence but this time Martial was too hasty and bolted offside.  8:45PM 42 min United adopt sheer liquid football and Stoke's defence don't know what day it is. Pogba floats a pass from right-half to outside left for Shaw who lays it off to Martial. After scoring with that lovely strike he must think his boots are made of jam so tries an outrageous outisde of the foot chip to the back post for Lukaku who nods it back across goal. Lingard can't reach it but nobbut just.  8:41PM 40 min Valencia wins the ball off Choupo-Moting on halfway and on the right, drives forward and picks out Lukaku who holds it up  and takes it outside, pursued by Martins Indi then turns to roll a pass to Pogba by the right angle of the box. Pogba sees Martial to the left of the D in the space created by Lukaku's run, sweeps a pass over to him and the winger arcs in a shot, bending in a parabola unstoppably past Butland.  Man Utd 2 - 0 Stoke (Anthony Martial, 38 min)   8:38PM GOAL!! Man Utd 2-0 Stoke (Martial) 8:38PM 36 min Pogba torpedoes a 50-yard ball from right to left to pick out Shaw's run to the byline. The left-back pulls the ball back to Martial who shoots into Zouma. Deflection leads to corner. United take it short for the umpteenth time and Stoke scuttle it away. Why so many short corners? Stoke's height?  8:35PM 34 min Mata does that thing after falling over in the box to indicate that he's slipped - serves two purposes (A) No penalty and (B) I didn't dive. It looked as though he did 'go over easily' but because it's the paragon Juan, it couldn't possibly have been anything but a slip.  8:33PM 32 min United fans spark into life when Ireland, once of City, is struck amidships by Lingard's fierce drive but the bounce favours Stoke and Valencia has to bring Allen down to stop them breaking past halfway.  8:31PM 30 min Fletcher uses his resilience and experience to hold off Pogba at the price of a corner on the right that United take short from Mata to Lingard who hangs it up at the back post. Butland drops the slithery ball but pocks it up at the second attempt. Pogba was offside in any case.  8:29PM 28 min United break quickly up the left and Mata, at the end of a slick passing move, cuts a pass back to Martial who balloons a wanton shot over the bar.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 21 min)   8:27PM 25 min Stoke move it out to the right for Shaqiri and his wand. He bends in a cross to the back post and De Gea comes for it but, rare for him, flaps under the challenge of Crouch who nods it back across the now unguarded net. Choupo-Moting meets it on the volley but Jones throws himself in to block from point-blank range and saves a certain goal. Corner. Small wonder Jose Mourinho is off the bench and shouting. Stoke have made four good chances in the past 10 minutes.  Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   8:25PM 24 min Very quiet at Old Trafford as Stoke enjoy a good five minutes. Ireland makes another interception, motors forward and Pogba kicks him up the back of his thigh. Free kick.  8:24PM 22 min What a chance for Stoke - all made by Martial's indolence in helping Shaw out when attacked by Allen and Bauer who looks a decent player. The right-back responds to Shaqiri's run inside with a square pass across the 18-yard line that he controls immaculately then dinks the perfect throughball to Ireland who has made a great run. Ireland, 15 yards out, stretches to shoot and pokes it wide. Not exactly a sitter but a chance you have to take.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 21 min)   8:21PM 20 min Here's the goal: Valencia scores Credit:  Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images  Choupo-Moting squanders possession and United break.  8:19PM 18 min Bauer's cross from the right finds Ireland in the United box just shy of the penalty spot and in space. But as he traps the centre it sticks under his feet and gobbles up precious time so that when he does manage to shoot he was being closed down and scuffs it wide.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 16 min)   8:17PM 16 min Clever interception from Ireland thwarts Shaw's cross and he scurries out of defence, laying it off to Choupo-Moting then positioning himself for the return. He kills the pass and pushes the ball out to the right into Shaqiri's path. Shaqiri bends in a left-footer towards the back post that Crouch wins but can't get any power on it. He does enough to retain possession, lay it back and Stoke come again.  8:14PM 14 min The ball is sticking to Lukaku tonight and he is astutely bringing Martial, Lingard, Mata and Pogba into play as attacking threats.  8:12PM 12 min Shaqiri shows us his exquisite technique with a spectacular bicycle kick to meet an outswinging left-wing cross. He meets it crisply but De Gea gets down low to his left to smother it.  8:11PM 10 min Made by Pogba's crossfield chip. Valencia leaves Choupo-Moting stranded, drifts inside on to his left, losing Tymon with a dip of the shoulder before finishing with a 16-yard sweetly-struck, unstoppable curler. Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Antonio Valencia, 9 min) 8:09PM GOAL!! Manchester United 1-0 Stoke (Valencia) 8:08PM 7 min Mata chips a curling left-foot pass from inside-right over the central defenders and Martial makes the run to head it. Bauer, who had his arm on Martial's back, slipped and fell, taking his opponent with him. Big shout for a penalty that the referee ignores but the replay has heads nodding in unison with the fatuous 'I've seen 'em given'' verdict.  8:06PM 6 min Tymon tries to turn Valencia on halfway but can't drive past him once he'd turned back to face him. Valencia kicks the ball on to his shins to take the throw-in. It's sheeting down.  8:04PM 4 min Pogba shifts it up the inside left channel, sweeping it 20 yards upfield. Lukaku takes it in his stride and lays it out to the left for Martial then heads for the six-yard box. Lingard makes the near-post run but the United winger drags his centre behind his team-mate and Stoke work it clear.  8:02PM 2 min Stoke recycle, bang it up to Crouch who is penalised for clattering Jones as he shielded the ball. United take the free-kick, move it up to Lukaku who lats it off to Lingard. Shaqiri hacks him down. Free kick 10 yards inside the Stoke half.  8:01PM 1 min Stoke, in blue, kick off and Stephen Ireland takes it and instigates a move up the right that has to go backwards to go forward. Martins Indi whacks it long and Valencia fires it back, over the top, and beyond Lukaku.  7:58PM Out come the teams Kick off is now just moments away. And the commentator is Alan Parry, just as it was for the Cyrille Regis clip below.  7:48PM Paul Lambert is present and correct Paul Lambert watches his new side at old Trafford Credit: Gareth Copley/Getty Images  He did pretty well at Wolves last season and was terrific at Norwich. Villa, though, was a trial for every supporter who was forced to watch austerity football while Randy Lerner tried to sell. Having said that Ron Vlaar, Christian Benteke and Karim El Anmadi were decent signings.  7:19PM Henrikh Mkhitaryan Is not in Manchester United's XVIII apparently because his head 'is not in the right place'. Or is it his body that's in N5/N7?  Jose Mourinho on Mkhitaryan's omission from tonight's squad: "I would lie if I said it was a pure tactical decision." #mufc [sky]— utdhq (@utdhq) January 15, 2018   7:17PM Those teams in black and white Man Utd De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Shaw; Pogba, Matic; Mata, Lingard, Martial; Lukaku.  Substitutes Joel Pereira, Lindelof, Rojo, Ander Herrera, Fellaini, McTominay, Rashford. It's chucking it down at Old Trafford Credit: Michael Regan/Getty Images Stoke City Butland; Bauer, Zouma, Martins Indi, Tymon; Fletcher, Allen; Shaqiri, Ireland, Choupo-Moting; Crouch.  Substitutes Grant, Edwards, Wimmer, Afellay, Adam, Diouf, Sobhi.  Referee Anthony Taylor (Wythenshawe). 7:02PM Antonio Valencia is back for Man Utd Here is how the Reds line up for #MUNSTK... �� pic.twitter.com/otGid7EQkS— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 15, 2018   7:02PM You know that business about Eddie Niedzwiecki not making many changes ... Ignore it. He's made seven and Moritz Bauer makes his Premier League debut.  Eddie Niedzwiecki makes 7⃣ changes to tonight's team that faces @ManUtd at Old Trafford. �� Bauer, Martins Indi, Tymon, Fletcher, Shaqiri, Choupo-Moting and Crouch all make the starting XI. City line-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation.#SCFC ��⚪️ pic.twitter.com/2CIECRjITg— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) January 15, 2018   6:59PM In memoriam   6:56PM Good evening And welcome to coverage of Manchester United vs Stoke City, the last Premier League match of what those people who we need to cut out of our lives would call ‘round 23’ of the ‘EPL’. We find both clubs loitering around in a kind of threshold. Stoke, obviously, having been turned down by Gary Rowett, Quique Sanchez Flores and Martin O’Neill, are ready to embark on the Paul Lambert era though tonight his will be a watching brief. Given that caretaker Eddie Niedzwiecki has been at Mark Hughes’ side with Wales, Blackburn, Man City, Fulham, QPR and the Oatcake Eaters, he’s hardly likely to pick a radically altered side because to do so would be an implicit rebuke of his friend and former and future boss. So tonight may just be a case of limbo until Lambert makes his mark or purgatory if your view of Lambert’s appointment is as pessimistic as some on that twerps’ trumpet, Twitter, are lamenting. As for Manchester United, it seems that they stand on the verge of signing Alexis Sánchez which will add some much needed dynamism into their attack though I’m not sure how tameable his talent and instincts will be for Jose Mourinho. He certainly won’t step on the throat of his own song like, say, Joe Cole did at Chelsea to track back or Samuel Eto’o at Inter but he may be employed in the manner of Wesley Sneijder or Arjen Robben - indulged if never wholly embraced. Rarely for a Mourinho side, tonight begs a performance more than the result. They played well in the second half at Goodison and there were fluent passages in the draw with Leicester and the victory over West Brom but it has been far too sporadic for the past two months. Ali Sanchez Manchester City’s defeat on Sunday gives United the opportunity to narrow the gap between first and second to 12 points with a win here. It’s still an enormous lead but for those Reds looking for comfort, it was exactly the position United found themselves in 21 years ago behind Newcastle United with 15 games to play and they ended up winning the title by three points. City are not Newcastle obviously but it’s worth pointing out. And a comfortable victory would surely be the only outcome a sane person would accept a wager on tonight. It’s 42 years since Stoke have won at Old Trafford, when Bomber Sheldon set up Bluto Bloor to glance in an 87th-minute winner and end United’s 14-month home unbeaten record and their chances of winning the Double with a couple of games of the season to go. As any fule kno, Southampton, then of Division Two, did for them in the Cup to make it a miserable April and May for Tommy Docherty’s side. Mourinho, with two trophies last year and Sánchez to come, will not be as vulnerable to Alan Bloor and Bobby Stokes type figures in April and May 2018.

Manchester United 3 Stoke City 0: Paul Pogba masterclass brings swagger back

He has the confidence, the ability and the swagger to play for Manchester United. But enough of Alexis Sanchez. This was Paul Pogba’s night – and he also possesses those formidable qualities - with the United midfielder dominating a sorry Stoke side. Plucky Potters? Not against Pogba who provided two clever assists and ran the game as United consolidated themselves in second place in the Premier League and cut Manchester City’s lead to 12 points. United have beaten City in the race to sign Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal or, rather, City have pulled out of that contest believing the finances just do not stack up and, barring a late intervention from Chelsea, it appears the Chilean forward will be another of Pogba’s team-mates hoping to profit from his sharp creativity. For United’s fans there is the tantalising vision of Pogba in a free role – finally Jose Mourinho has come to realise that is the best use of him – opening up defences for the alert movement and relentlessness of Sanchez and the bludgeoning power of Romelu Lukaku. Suddenly, they will hope, the future looks brighter for them as they continue that chase to reduce City’s dominance, to fend off Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, and to give themselves momentum going into the remainder of this season and the next campaign. Antonio Valencia curled in the first with his left foot Credit:  Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images Whether they will face Stoke in the Premier League again next season remains to be seen. Stoke are in the relegation places but, finally, they appointed a successor to Mark Hughes and hours later Paul Lambert took his place in the Old Trafford directors' box, watching on as caretaker Eddie Niedzwiecki, for his one game in charge, produced a demob-happy coaching performance by putting out an attacking team and opening up the game. It worked only in that it created chances – and Stoke did that, and it would have been interesting had they drawn level in the first-half, when just a goal down, as surely they should have done – but not in defending. The three goals conceded here mean, in fact, that Stoke have become the first team in any of Europe’s top five leagues to let in 50 goals this season. With 23 matches played that is more than two a game – not good enough for a team that spent heavily in bringing in defenders last summer. Lambert has work to do. But then he knew that. And he also knew that this was, in all probability, little more than a fixture to fulfil. Damage had to be limited and, in that, they owed a debt again to their goalkeeper Jack Butland who once more produced a series of saves even if he was quickly beaten. Pogba was central to it. He collected possession, after some fine build-up play, and ran across the face of the penalty area before pushing the ball out wide to Antonio Valencia. The United captain was returning, after four weeks out with a hamstring injury, and celebrated by cutting inside and arcing a left-foot shot (yes, left foot from Valencia) around Butland from just inside the area. It was a superb strike; a well-worked goal. Stephen Ireland snatched at a couple of first-half chances Credit: REUTERS/Andrew Yates Cue the cameras cutting to Lambert, attempting to elicit a response. The Scot buried his head in his coat – but that was more to do with responding to the cold, the hail and the swirling rain. But there was no downpour on his new team. Instead they carved United open. There was an overhead kick from Xherdan Shaqiri, held by David De Gea, and then Stephen Ireland – making his first league start in almost two years – spurned two chances. He snatched at both, dragging his shots wide, when he had space and time to do better. Stoke came closest of all when their new signing, Austrian full-back Moritz Bauer, on his debut, hoisted a high cross into the area and Peter Crouch beat De Gea to it. The ball dropped to Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, who seemed certain to score, only for his half-volley to be deflected over the cross-bar by a lunging Phil Jones. “I didn’t like the first half. I only liked the two amazing goals,” Mourinho later said, and United’s second was as good as their first with Lukaku running down the right, turning the ball back inside to Pogba who had the presence of mind and vision to move it across goal, with a ‘no-look pass’, where it was met by Anthony Martial who struck a precise first-time, side-footed shot that curled around Butland and high into the net. Anthony Martial made it 2-0 Credit: Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images As a contest, it was over. Stoke appeared dispirited. It was a question, then, of how many United would score but – instead - they were wasteful. Firstly Pogba almost claimed his third assist when he intercepted a sloppy pass by Kurt Zouma and stabbed the ball through to Martial. Butland blocked. Then Martial wriggled clear only for Butland to deny him, again, before Juan Mata turned the ball wide and, soon after, shot over. Butland thwarted Lukaku with his legs but was finally beaten by the striker when Jesse Lingard broke, Martial fired the ball into the Belgium international and the Stoke defenders stood off as he picked his spot and drilled his shot low inside the post. There should have been a goal back when substitute Mame Biram Diouf chested down Shaqiri’s flighted pass only for De Gea to block his first shot, and the former United forward to send his second into the side-netting. There would be no consolation. 9:52PM Full time Manchester United narrow the gap to 12 points with a resounding victory orchestrated by a fine performance from Paul Pogba. Stoke had several moments of inspiration going forward but need some bodies as well as some younger legs in defence and defensive midfield.  9:50PM 90+2 min McTominay tries to glide past Martins Indi who bundles him over at the edge of the D. Time enough for Pogba to take the free-kick ... which he scoops miles over and the referee blows for time's up.  9:49PM 90+1 min The first of two added minutes begins with man-of-the-match Pogba pinging a long pass up to Rashford on the left but he lets it leak out for a throw.  9:48PM 89 min Rashford has a dainty-footed dribble through the box from the left then bobbles a tame shot at Butland as he tried to open his body and arrow it in at the back post. Mishit it.  9:47PM 87 min Ach, Stoke. Shaqiri picks out a diaginal cross towards the penalty spot from the left and Diouf beats Smalling to it and controls it sufficiently well to allow him an unimpeded left-foot shot at goal from 12 yards. But he scuffs it, De Gea saves with his legs and gives him a second chance. Ireland, unmarked, screams for him to square it for a tap-in but Diouf goes his own way and scuds a left-foot shot wide.  Attempt Saved: Man Utd 3 - 0 Stoke (Mame Biram Diouf, 86 min)   9:44PM 84 min Another glorious pass from Pogba on halfway, chipping the ball over Wimmer who manages to reach it with the odd strand of hair. Valencia, bullocking down the whitewash takes it in his stride  and fires in a cross through the six-yard box. Rashford makes a near-post run and tries to back-flick it in with his right foot. Good save from Butland.  9:40PM 82 min Third United substitution: Mata off, McTominay on.  9:39PM 81 min Double United substitution: Lingard and Martial depart to be replaced by Fellaini and Rashford.  9:38PM 79 min United enjoy such a dominant spell of possession that poor old Stoke 'don't now what day it is'. It ends with a left-wing cross towards the penalty spot and Mata does a 'shut-that-door' flick that almost squeaks in at the right post. Lukaku, who cannot resist the temptation to lunge at the rebound off the woodwork, was offside.  Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   9:34PM 77 min After twenty-odd passes, though, Martial blunders his trap and the ball squirts to Zouma who clears.  9:34PM 76 min United are strolling now, metaphorically, and pinging passes around in Stoke's half.  9:32PM 73 min Lingard brings the ball forward through the middle from the centre-circle, sprinting towards the box. He lays it off to the left for Martial who cuts inside and then fires in a very heavy pass - shades of Gerrard there - but Lukaku controls it superbly with his chest (Stoke think it was his hand), turns to his right with his back to goal and skelps in a fierce left-foot shot past Butland who had no chance. Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   9:29PM GOAL!! Manchester United 3-0 Stoke City (Lukaku) Lukaku smashes in the third Credit: Matthew Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images   9:28PM 69 min Peter Crouch departs. Mame Biram Diouf enters.  9:25PM 68 min Lukaku is booked for a retaliation on Martins Indi then Ireland by his doppelganger Anthony Taylor for going through Mata.  9:24PM 66 min Butland makes a fine save with his feet from Lukaku after United overwhelm Stoke with their pace and movement. The ball rebounds out to the edge of the area. Lingard strikes it low on the volley, Butland saves again and Mata backheels in the rebound from an offside position 9:23PM 64 min Choupo-Moting off Sobhi on. Lingard is booked on the totting up principle for bundling Fletcher over.  9:21PM 61 min Lukaku centres to Lingard in the D from the left. He rolls the pass out to Mata who is charging into the box from the right. He tries to curl a left-footer inside the far post but can't get it to bend in at the last. Lingard had robbed Zouma to start the rapid counter.    9:18PM 59 min More Pogba brilliance, beating Bauer and clipping a left-foot cross into the box. Martial controls it, dinks it inside to try to throw Butland off balance but cannot find the room to squeeze it under the keeper who tries to smother it but it bobbles free. Lukaku  has another effort at poking it past but Butland is up to it.  9:16PM 57 min United corner taken short again and Lingard, who hasn't been at his best tonight, loses the ball as he tries to get into the box. Now it's 'Delilah' from the visiting fans. United are penning them in.  9:13PM 55 min Lukaku attempts to control the ball and hook it back over his shoulder for Pogba but succeeds only in eating the ball as he spanks it into his own mouth.  9:11PM 53 min The cries of 'Paul Lambert's barmy army' drowns out any United response. The home crowd, it has to be said, is preposterously quiet these days.  9:10PM 51 min Shaqiri is unamused when shoved into an advertising hoarding perhaps inadvertently, perhaps not, by Shaw. Shaqiri takes it out on the flashing sign in anti-capitalist rage and hurts his hand after slapping it.  9:08PM 49 min Zouma wins the ball off Shaw and gives it straight back to Pogba who threads a pass up the inside-left channel. The weight perhaps takes it too close to Butland even for swift-footed Achilles Martial at full pelt. Butland manages to get down on the ground, like a draught excluder, to block Martial's stabbed shot.  9:05PM 47 min Ireland has dropped deeper, too. Matic picks out Shaw who works it back to Pogba. The United No6 drills a diagonal over to Mata who cuts it back but there's no one arriving at the edge of the box.  9:03PM 46 min Wimmer - Daniel Levy saw them coming - slots straight in at left-back.  9:02PM Half-time substitution Kevin Wimmer replaces Josh Tymon.  8:56PM Martial's goal Anthony Martial scores United's second Credit: REUTERS/Andrew Yates  Here are the average touch positions to show you Pogba's influence (6) and Ireland's (7). Average touch positions (half time) Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   8:51PM Half time Stoke had their moments, Manchester United scored with two tremendous shots and have looked dominant in the last third and vulnerable around their own box. Pogba has all the space he needs to run this match and seems certain to carry on in the second-half. Ireland and Shaqiri are playing very well and Bauer looks very promising but the movement of Lingard, Martial, Lukaku and Mata is too much for Stoke's defence to contain. .  8:47PM 45+1 min De Gea dives low to his left to save Shaqiri's left-foot shot, an opportunity created by his wonderful control as he stunned the pass from the left to the D then drilled a scorching low shot towards goal. Excellent save that proves to be the last touch of the half.  8:46PM 44 min Pogba plays the same right to left pass for Martial that bypasses and isolates the middle of the Stoke defence but this time Martial was too hasty and bolted offside.  8:45PM 42 min United adopt sheer liquid football and Stoke's defence don't know what day it is. Pogba floats a pass from right-half to outside left for Shaw who lays it off to Martial. After scoring with that lovely strike he must think his boots are made of jam so tries an outrageous outisde of the foot chip to the back post for Lukaku who nods it back across goal. Lingard can't reach it but nobbut just.  8:41PM 40 min Valencia wins the ball off Choupo-Moting on halfway and on the right, drives forward and picks out Lukaku who holds it up  and takes it outside, pursued by Martins Indi then turns to roll a pass to Pogba by the right angle of the box. Pogba sees Martial to the left of the D in the space created by Lukaku's run, sweeps a pass over to him and the winger arcs in a shot, bending in a parabola unstoppably past Butland.  Man Utd 2 - 0 Stoke (Anthony Martial, 38 min)   8:38PM GOAL!! Man Utd 2-0 Stoke (Martial) 8:38PM 36 min Pogba torpedoes a 50-yard ball from right to left to pick out Shaw's run to the byline. The left-back pulls the ball back to Martial who shoots into Zouma. Deflection leads to corner. United take it short for the umpteenth time and Stoke scuttle it away. Why so many short corners? Stoke's height?  8:35PM 34 min Mata does that thing after falling over in the box to indicate that he's slipped - serves two purposes (A) No penalty and (B) I didn't dive. It looked as though he did 'go over easily' but because it's the paragon Juan, it couldn't possibly have been anything but a slip.  8:33PM 32 min United fans spark into life when Ireland, once of City, is struck amidships by Lingard's fierce drive but the bounce favours Stoke and Valencia has to bring Allen down to stop them breaking past halfway.  8:31PM 30 min Fletcher uses his resilience and experience to hold off Pogba at the price of a corner on the right that United take short from Mata to Lingard who hangs it up at the back post. Butland drops the slithery ball but pocks it up at the second attempt. Pogba was offside in any case.  8:29PM 28 min United break quickly up the left and Mata, at the end of a slick passing move, cuts a pass back to Martial who balloons a wanton shot over the bar.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 21 min)   8:27PM 25 min Stoke move it out to the right for Shaqiri and his wand. He bends in a cross to the back post and De Gea comes for it but, rare for him, flaps under the challenge of Crouch who nods it back across the now unguarded net. Choupo-Moting meets it on the volley but Jones throws himself in to block from point-blank range and saves a certain goal. Corner. Small wonder Jose Mourinho is off the bench and shouting. Stoke have made four good chances in the past 10 minutes.  Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   8:25PM 24 min Very quiet at Old Trafford as Stoke enjoy a good five minutes. Ireland makes another interception, motors forward and Pogba kicks him up the back of his thigh. Free kick.  8:24PM 22 min What a chance for Stoke - all made by Martial's indolence in helping Shaw out when attacked by Allen and Bauer who looks a decent player. The right-back responds to Shaqiri's run inside with a square pass across the 18-yard line that he controls immaculately then dinks the perfect throughball to Ireland who has made a great run. Ireland, 15 yards out, stretches to shoot and pokes it wide. Not exactly a sitter but a chance you have to take.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 21 min)   8:21PM 20 min Here's the goal: Valencia scores Credit:  Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images  Choupo-Moting squanders possession and United break.  8:19PM 18 min Bauer's cross from the right finds Ireland in the United box just shy of the penalty spot and in space. But as he traps the centre it sticks under his feet and gobbles up precious time so that when he does manage to shoot he was being closed down and scuffs it wide.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 16 min)   8:17PM 16 min Clever interception from Ireland thwarts Shaw's cross and he scurries out of defence, laying it off to Choupo-Moting then positioning himself for the return. He kills the pass and pushes the ball out to the right into Shaqiri's path. Shaqiri bends in a left-footer towards the back post that Crouch wins but can't get any power on it. He does enough to retain possession, lay it back and Stoke come again.  8:14PM 14 min The ball is sticking to Lukaku tonight and he is astutely bringing Martial, Lingard, Mata and Pogba into play as attacking threats.  8:12PM 12 min Shaqiri shows us his exquisite technique with a spectacular bicycle kick to meet an outswinging left-wing cross. He meets it crisply but De Gea gets down low to his left to smother it.  8:11PM 10 min Made by Pogba's crossfield chip. Valencia leaves Choupo-Moting stranded, drifts inside on to his left, losing Tymon with a dip of the shoulder before finishing with a 16-yard sweetly-struck, unstoppable curler. Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Antonio Valencia, 9 min) 8:09PM GOAL!! Manchester United 1-0 Stoke (Valencia) 8:08PM 7 min Mata chips a curling left-foot pass from inside-right over the central defenders and Martial makes the run to head it. Bauer, who had his arm on Martial's back, slipped and fell, taking his opponent with him. Big shout for a penalty that the referee ignores but the replay has heads nodding in unison with the fatuous 'I've seen 'em given'' verdict.  8:06PM 6 min Tymon tries to turn Valencia on halfway but can't drive past him once he'd turned back to face him. Valencia kicks the ball on to his shins to take the throw-in. It's sheeting down.  8:04PM 4 min Pogba shifts it up the inside left channel, sweeping it 20 yards upfield. Lukaku takes it in his stride and lays it out to the left for Martial then heads for the six-yard box. Lingard makes the near-post run but the United winger drags his centre behind his team-mate and Stoke work it clear.  8:02PM 2 min Stoke recycle, bang it up to Crouch who is penalised for clattering Jones as he shielded the ball. United take the free-kick, move it up to Lukaku who lats it off to Lingard. Shaqiri hacks him down. Free kick 10 yards inside the Stoke half.  8:01PM 1 min Stoke, in blue, kick off and Stephen Ireland takes it and instigates a move up the right that has to go backwards to go forward. Martins Indi whacks it long and Valencia fires it back, over the top, and beyond Lukaku.  7:58PM Out come the teams Kick off is now just moments away. And the commentator is Alan Parry, just as it was for the Cyrille Regis clip below.  7:48PM Paul Lambert is present and correct Paul Lambert watches his new side at old Trafford Credit: Gareth Copley/Getty Images  He did pretty well at Wolves last season and was terrific at Norwich. Villa, though, was a trial for every supporter who was forced to watch austerity football while Randy Lerner tried to sell. Having said that Ron Vlaar, Christian Benteke and Karim El Anmadi were decent signings.  7:19PM Henrikh Mkhitaryan Is not in Manchester United's XVIII apparently because his head 'is not in the right place'. Or is it his body that's in N5/N7?  Jose Mourinho on Mkhitaryan's omission from tonight's squad: "I would lie if I said it was a pure tactical decision." #mufc [sky]— utdhq (@utdhq) January 15, 2018   7:17PM Those teams in black and white Man Utd De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Shaw; Pogba, Matic; Mata, Lingard, Martial; Lukaku.  Substitutes Joel Pereira, Lindelof, Rojo, Ander Herrera, Fellaini, McTominay, Rashford. It's chucking it down at Old Trafford Credit: Michael Regan/Getty Images Stoke City Butland; Bauer, Zouma, Martins Indi, Tymon; Fletcher, Allen; Shaqiri, Ireland, Choupo-Moting; Crouch.  Substitutes Grant, Edwards, Wimmer, Afellay, Adam, Diouf, Sobhi.  Referee Anthony Taylor (Wythenshawe). 7:02PM Antonio Valencia is back for Man Utd Here is how the Reds line up for #MUNSTK... �� pic.twitter.com/otGid7EQkS— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 15, 2018   7:02PM You know that business about Eddie Niedzwiecki not making many changes ... Ignore it. He's made seven and Moritz Bauer makes his Premier League debut.  Eddie Niedzwiecki makes 7⃣ changes to tonight's team that faces @ManUtd at Old Trafford. �� Bauer, Martins Indi, Tymon, Fletcher, Shaqiri, Choupo-Moting and Crouch all make the starting XI. City line-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation.#SCFC ��⚪️ pic.twitter.com/2CIECRjITg— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) January 15, 2018   6:59PM In memoriam   6:56PM Good evening And welcome to coverage of Manchester United vs Stoke City, the last Premier League match of what those people who we need to cut out of our lives would call ‘round 23’ of the ‘EPL’. We find both clubs loitering around in a kind of threshold. Stoke, obviously, having been turned down by Gary Rowett, Quique Sanchez Flores and Martin O’Neill, are ready to embark on the Paul Lambert era though tonight his will be a watching brief. Given that caretaker Eddie Niedzwiecki has been at Mark Hughes’ side with Wales, Blackburn, Man City, Fulham, QPR and the Oatcake Eaters, he’s hardly likely to pick a radically altered side because to do so would be an implicit rebuke of his friend and former and future boss. So tonight may just be a case of limbo until Lambert makes his mark or purgatory if your view of Lambert’s appointment is as pessimistic as some on that twerps’ trumpet, Twitter, are lamenting. As for Manchester United, it seems that they stand on the verge of signing Alexis Sánchez which will add some much needed dynamism into their attack though I’m not sure how tameable his talent and instincts will be for Jose Mourinho. He certainly won’t step on the throat of his own song like, say, Joe Cole did at Chelsea to track back or Samuel Eto’o at Inter but he may be employed in the manner of Wesley Sneijder or Arjen Robben - indulged if never wholly embraced. Rarely for a Mourinho side, tonight begs a performance more than the result. They played well in the second half at Goodison and there were fluent passages in the draw with Leicester and the victory over West Brom but it has been far too sporadic for the past two months. Ali Sanchez Manchester City’s defeat on Sunday gives United the opportunity to narrow the gap between first and second to 12 points with a win here. It’s still an enormous lead but for those Reds looking for comfort, it was exactly the position United found themselves in 21 years ago behind Newcastle United with 15 games to play and they ended up winning the title by three points. City are not Newcastle obviously but it’s worth pointing out. And a comfortable victory would surely be the only outcome a sane person would accept a wager on tonight. It’s 42 years since Stoke have won at Old Trafford, when Bomber Sheldon set up Bluto Bloor to glance in an 87th-minute winner and end United’s 14-month home unbeaten record and their chances of winning the Double with a couple of games of the season to go. As any fule kno, Southampton, then of Division Two, did for them in the Cup to make it a miserable April and May for Tommy Docherty’s side. Mourinho, with two trophies last year and Sánchez to come, will not be as vulnerable to Alan Bloor and Bobby Stokes type figures in April and May 2018.

Manchester United 3 Stoke City 0: Paul Pogba masterclass brings swagger back

He has the confidence, the ability and the swagger to play for Manchester United. But enough of Alexis Sanchez. This was Paul Pogba’s night – and he also possesses those formidable qualities - with the United midfielder dominating a sorry Stoke side. Plucky Potters? Not against Pogba who provided two clever assists and ran the game as United consolidated themselves in second place in the Premier League and cut Manchester City’s lead to 12 points. United have beaten City in the race to sign Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal or, rather, City have pulled out of that contest believing the finances just do not stack up and, barring a late intervention from Chelsea, it appears the Chilean forward will be another of Pogba’s team-mates hoping to profit from his sharp creativity. For United’s fans there is the tantalising vision of Pogba in a free role – finally Jose Mourinho has come to realise that is the best use of him – opening up defences for the alert movement and relentlessness of Sanchez and the bludgeoning power of Romelu Lukaku. Suddenly, they will hope, the future looks brighter for them as they continue that chase to reduce City’s dominance, to fend off Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, and to give themselves momentum going into the remainder of this season and the next campaign. Antonio Valencia curled in the first with his left foot Credit:  Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images Whether they will face Stoke in the Premier League again next season remains to be seen. Stoke are in the relegation places but, finally, they appointed a successor to Mark Hughes and hours later Paul Lambert took his place in the Old Trafford directors' box, watching on as caretaker Eddie Niedzwiecki, for his one game in charge, produced a demob-happy coaching performance by putting out an attacking team and opening up the game. It worked only in that it created chances – and Stoke did that, and it would have been interesting had they drawn level in the first-half, when just a goal down, as surely they should have done – but not in defending. The three goals conceded here mean, in fact, that Stoke have become the first team in any of Europe’s top five leagues to let in 50 goals this season. With 23 matches played that is more than two a game – not good enough for a team that spent heavily in bringing in defenders last summer. Lambert has work to do. But then he knew that. And he also knew that this was, in all probability, little more than a fixture to fulfil. Damage had to be limited and, in that, they owed a debt again to their goalkeeper Jack Butland who once more produced a series of saves even if he was quickly beaten. Pogba was central to it. He collected possession, after some fine build-up play, and ran across the face of the penalty area before pushing the ball out wide to Antonio Valencia. The United captain was returning, after four weeks out with a hamstring injury, and celebrated by cutting inside and arcing a left-foot shot (yes, left foot from Valencia) around Butland from just inside the area. It was a superb strike; a well-worked goal. Stephen Ireland snatched at a couple of first-half chances Credit: REUTERS/Andrew Yates Cue the cameras cutting to Lambert, attempting to elicit a response. The Scot buried his head in his coat – but that was more to do with responding to the cold, the hail and the swirling rain. But there was no downpour on his new team. Instead they carved United open. There was an overhead kick from Xherdan Shaqiri, held by David De Gea, and then Stephen Ireland – making his first league start in almost two years – spurned two chances. He snatched at both, dragging his shots wide, when he had space and time to do better. Stoke came closest of all when their new signing, Austrian full-back Moritz Bauer, on his debut, hoisted a high cross into the area and Peter Crouch beat De Gea to it. The ball dropped to Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, who seemed certain to score, only for his half-volley to be deflected over the cross-bar by a lunging Phil Jones. “I didn’t like the first half. I only liked the two amazing goals,” Mourinho later said, and United’s second was as good as their first with Lukaku running down the right, turning the ball back inside to Pogba who had the presence of mind and vision to move it across goal, with a ‘no-look pass’, where it was met by Anthony Martial who struck a precise first-time, side-footed shot that curled around Butland and high into the net. Anthony Martial made it 2-0 Credit: Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images As a contest, it was over. Stoke appeared dispirited. It was a question, then, of how many United would score but – instead - they were wasteful. Firstly Pogba almost claimed his third assist when he intercepted a sloppy pass by Kurt Zouma and stabbed the ball through to Martial. Butland blocked. Then Martial wriggled clear only for Butland to deny him, again, before Juan Mata turned the ball wide and, soon after, shot over. Butland thwarted Lukaku with his legs but was finally beaten by the striker when Jesse Lingard broke, Martial fired the ball into the Belgium international and the Stoke defenders stood off as he picked his spot and drilled his shot low inside the post. There should have been a goal back when substitute Mame Biram Diouf chested down Shaqiri’s flighted pass only for De Gea to block his first shot, and the former United forward to send his second into the side-netting. There would be no consolation. 9:52PM Full time Manchester United narrow the gap to 12 points with a resounding victory orchestrated by a fine performance from Paul Pogba. Stoke had several moments of inspiration going forward but need some bodies as well as some younger legs in defence and defensive midfield.  9:50PM 90+2 min McTominay tries to glide past Martins Indi who bundles him over at the edge of the D. Time enough for Pogba to take the free-kick ... which he scoops miles over and the referee blows for time's up.  9:49PM 90+1 min The first of two added minutes begins with man-of-the-match Pogba pinging a long pass up to Rashford on the left but he lets it leak out for a throw.  9:48PM 89 min Rashford has a dainty-footed dribble through the box from the left then bobbles a tame shot at Butland as he tried to open his body and arrow it in at the back post. Mishit it.  9:47PM 87 min Ach, Stoke. Shaqiri picks out a diaginal cross towards the penalty spot from the left and Diouf beats Smalling to it and controls it sufficiently well to allow him an unimpeded left-foot shot at goal from 12 yards. But he scuffs it, De Gea saves with his legs and gives him a second chance. Ireland, unmarked, screams for him to square it for a tap-in but Diouf goes his own way and scuds a left-foot shot wide.  Attempt Saved: Man Utd 3 - 0 Stoke (Mame Biram Diouf, 86 min)   9:44PM 84 min Another glorious pass from Pogba on halfway, chipping the ball over Wimmer who manages to reach it with the odd strand of hair. Valencia, bullocking down the whitewash takes it in his stride  and fires in a cross through the six-yard box. Rashford makes a near-post run and tries to back-flick it in with his right foot. Good save from Butland.  9:40PM 82 min Third United substitution: Mata off, McTominay on.  9:39PM 81 min Double United substitution: Lingard and Martial depart to be replaced by Fellaini and Rashford.  9:38PM 79 min United enjoy such a dominant spell of possession that poor old Stoke 'don't now what day it is'. It ends with a left-wing cross towards the penalty spot and Mata does a 'shut-that-door' flick that almost squeaks in at the right post. Lukaku, who cannot resist the temptation to lunge at the rebound off the woodwork, was offside.  Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   9:34PM 77 min After twenty-odd passes, though, Martial blunders his trap and the ball squirts to Zouma who clears.  9:34PM 76 min United are strolling now, metaphorically, and pinging passes around in Stoke's half.  9:32PM 73 min Lingard brings the ball forward through the middle from the centre-circle, sprinting towards the box. He lays it off to the left for Martial who cuts inside and then fires in a very heavy pass - shades of Gerrard there - but Lukaku controls it superbly with his chest (Stoke think it was his hand), turns to his right with his back to goal and skelps in a fierce left-foot shot past Butland who had no chance. Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   9:29PM GOAL!! Manchester United 3-0 Stoke City (Lukaku) Lukaku smashes in the third Credit: Matthew Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images   9:28PM 69 min Peter Crouch departs. Mame Biram Diouf enters.  9:25PM 68 min Lukaku is booked for a retaliation on Martins Indi then Ireland by his doppelganger Anthony Taylor for going through Mata.  9:24PM 66 min Butland makes a fine save with his feet from Lukaku after United overwhelm Stoke with their pace and movement. The ball rebounds out to the edge of the area. Lingard strikes it low on the volley, Butland saves again and Mata backheels in the rebound from an offside position 9:23PM 64 min Choupo-Moting off Sobhi on. Lingard is booked on the totting up principle for bundling Fletcher over.  9:21PM 61 min Lukaku centres to Lingard in the D from the left. He rolls the pass out to Mata who is charging into the box from the right. He tries to curl a left-footer inside the far post but can't get it to bend in at the last. Lingard had robbed Zouma to start the rapid counter.    9:18PM 59 min More Pogba brilliance, beating Bauer and clipping a left-foot cross into the box. Martial controls it, dinks it inside to try to throw Butland off balance but cannot find the room to squeeze it under the keeper who tries to smother it but it bobbles free. Lukaku  has another effort at poking it past but Butland is up to it.  9:16PM 57 min United corner taken short again and Lingard, who hasn't been at his best tonight, loses the ball as he tries to get into the box. Now it's 'Delilah' from the visiting fans. United are penning them in.  9:13PM 55 min Lukaku attempts to control the ball and hook it back over his shoulder for Pogba but succeeds only in eating the ball as he spanks it into his own mouth.  9:11PM 53 min The cries of 'Paul Lambert's barmy army' drowns out any United response. The home crowd, it has to be said, is preposterously quiet these days.  9:10PM 51 min Shaqiri is unamused when shoved into an advertising hoarding perhaps inadvertently, perhaps not, by Shaw. Shaqiri takes it out on the flashing sign in anti-capitalist rage and hurts his hand after slapping it.  9:08PM 49 min Zouma wins the ball off Shaw and gives it straight back to Pogba who threads a pass up the inside-left channel. The weight perhaps takes it too close to Butland even for swift-footed Achilles Martial at full pelt. Butland manages to get down on the ground, like a draught excluder, to block Martial's stabbed shot.  9:05PM 47 min Ireland has dropped deeper, too. Matic picks out Shaw who works it back to Pogba. The United No6 drills a diagonal over to Mata who cuts it back but there's no one arriving at the edge of the box.  9:03PM 46 min Wimmer - Daniel Levy saw them coming - slots straight in at left-back.  9:02PM Half-time substitution Kevin Wimmer replaces Josh Tymon.  8:56PM Martial's goal Anthony Martial scores United's second Credit: REUTERS/Andrew Yates  Here are the average touch positions to show you Pogba's influence (6) and Ireland's (7). Average touch positions (half time) Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   8:51PM Half time Stoke had their moments, Manchester United scored with two tremendous shots and have looked dominant in the last third and vulnerable around their own box. Pogba has all the space he needs to run this match and seems certain to carry on in the second-half. Ireland and Shaqiri are playing very well and Bauer looks very promising but the movement of Lingard, Martial, Lukaku and Mata is too much for Stoke's defence to contain. .  8:47PM 45+1 min De Gea dives low to his left to save Shaqiri's left-foot shot, an opportunity created by his wonderful control as he stunned the pass from the left to the D then drilled a scorching low shot towards goal. Excellent save that proves to be the last touch of the half.  8:46PM 44 min Pogba plays the same right to left pass for Martial that bypasses and isolates the middle of the Stoke defence but this time Martial was too hasty and bolted offside.  8:45PM 42 min United adopt sheer liquid football and Stoke's defence don't know what day it is. Pogba floats a pass from right-half to outside left for Shaw who lays it off to Martial. After scoring with that lovely strike he must think his boots are made of jam so tries an outrageous outisde of the foot chip to the back post for Lukaku who nods it back across goal. Lingard can't reach it but nobbut just.  8:41PM 40 min Valencia wins the ball off Choupo-Moting on halfway and on the right, drives forward and picks out Lukaku who holds it up  and takes it outside, pursued by Martins Indi then turns to roll a pass to Pogba by the right angle of the box. Pogba sees Martial to the left of the D in the space created by Lukaku's run, sweeps a pass over to him and the winger arcs in a shot, bending in a parabola unstoppably past Butland.  Man Utd 2 - 0 Stoke (Anthony Martial, 38 min)   8:38PM GOAL!! Man Utd 2-0 Stoke (Martial) 8:38PM 36 min Pogba torpedoes a 50-yard ball from right to left to pick out Shaw's run to the byline. The left-back pulls the ball back to Martial who shoots into Zouma. Deflection leads to corner. United take it short for the umpteenth time and Stoke scuttle it away. Why so many short corners? Stoke's height?  8:35PM 34 min Mata does that thing after falling over in the box to indicate that he's slipped - serves two purposes (A) No penalty and (B) I didn't dive. It looked as though he did 'go over easily' but because it's the paragon Juan, it couldn't possibly have been anything but a slip.  8:33PM 32 min United fans spark into life when Ireland, once of City, is struck amidships by Lingard's fierce drive but the bounce favours Stoke and Valencia has to bring Allen down to stop them breaking past halfway.  8:31PM 30 min Fletcher uses his resilience and experience to hold off Pogba at the price of a corner on the right that United take short from Mata to Lingard who hangs it up at the back post. Butland drops the slithery ball but pocks it up at the second attempt. Pogba was offside in any case.  8:29PM 28 min United break quickly up the left and Mata, at the end of a slick passing move, cuts a pass back to Martial who balloons a wanton shot over the bar.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 21 min)   8:27PM 25 min Stoke move it out to the right for Shaqiri and his wand. He bends in a cross to the back post and De Gea comes for it but, rare for him, flaps under the challenge of Crouch who nods it back across the now unguarded net. Choupo-Moting meets it on the volley but Jones throws himself in to block from point-blank range and saves a certain goal. Corner. Small wonder Jose Mourinho is off the bench and shouting. Stoke have made four good chances in the past 10 minutes.  Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   8:25PM 24 min Very quiet at Old Trafford as Stoke enjoy a good five minutes. Ireland makes another interception, motors forward and Pogba kicks him up the back of his thigh. Free kick.  8:24PM 22 min What a chance for Stoke - all made by Martial's indolence in helping Shaw out when attacked by Allen and Bauer who looks a decent player. The right-back responds to Shaqiri's run inside with a square pass across the 18-yard line that he controls immaculately then dinks the perfect throughball to Ireland who has made a great run. Ireland, 15 yards out, stretches to shoot and pokes it wide. Not exactly a sitter but a chance you have to take.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 21 min)   8:21PM 20 min Here's the goal: Valencia scores Credit:  Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images  Choupo-Moting squanders possession and United break.  8:19PM 18 min Bauer's cross from the right finds Ireland in the United box just shy of the penalty spot and in space. But as he traps the centre it sticks under his feet and gobbles up precious time so that when he does manage to shoot he was being closed down and scuffs it wide.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 16 min)   8:17PM 16 min Clever interception from Ireland thwarts Shaw's cross and he scurries out of defence, laying it off to Choupo-Moting then positioning himself for the return. He kills the pass and pushes the ball out to the right into Shaqiri's path. Shaqiri bends in a left-footer towards the back post that Crouch wins but can't get any power on it. He does enough to retain possession, lay it back and Stoke come again.  8:14PM 14 min The ball is sticking to Lukaku tonight and he is astutely bringing Martial, Lingard, Mata and Pogba into play as attacking threats.  8:12PM 12 min Shaqiri shows us his exquisite technique with a spectacular bicycle kick to meet an outswinging left-wing cross. He meets it crisply but De Gea gets down low to his left to smother it.  8:11PM 10 min Made by Pogba's crossfield chip. Valencia leaves Choupo-Moting stranded, drifts inside on to his left, losing Tymon with a dip of the shoulder before finishing with a 16-yard sweetly-struck, unstoppable curler. Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Antonio Valencia, 9 min) 8:09PM GOAL!! Manchester United 1-0 Stoke (Valencia) 8:08PM 7 min Mata chips a curling left-foot pass from inside-right over the central defenders and Martial makes the run to head it. Bauer, who had his arm on Martial's back, slipped and fell, taking his opponent with him. Big shout for a penalty that the referee ignores but the replay has heads nodding in unison with the fatuous 'I've seen 'em given'' verdict.  8:06PM 6 min Tymon tries to turn Valencia on halfway but can't drive past him once he'd turned back to face him. Valencia kicks the ball on to his shins to take the throw-in. It's sheeting down.  8:04PM 4 min Pogba shifts it up the inside left channel, sweeping it 20 yards upfield. Lukaku takes it in his stride and lays it out to the left for Martial then heads for the six-yard box. Lingard makes the near-post run but the United winger drags his centre behind his team-mate and Stoke work it clear.  8:02PM 2 min Stoke recycle, bang it up to Crouch who is penalised for clattering Jones as he shielded the ball. United take the free-kick, move it up to Lukaku who lats it off to Lingard. Shaqiri hacks him down. Free kick 10 yards inside the Stoke half.  8:01PM 1 min Stoke, in blue, kick off and Stephen Ireland takes it and instigates a move up the right that has to go backwards to go forward. Martins Indi whacks it long and Valencia fires it back, over the top, and beyond Lukaku.  7:58PM Out come the teams Kick off is now just moments away. And the commentator is Alan Parry, just as it was for the Cyrille Regis clip below.  7:48PM Paul Lambert is present and correct Paul Lambert watches his new side at old Trafford Credit: Gareth Copley/Getty Images  He did pretty well at Wolves last season and was terrific at Norwich. Villa, though, was a trial for every supporter who was forced to watch austerity football while Randy Lerner tried to sell. Having said that Ron Vlaar, Christian Benteke and Karim El Anmadi were decent signings.  7:19PM Henrikh Mkhitaryan Is not in Manchester United's XVIII apparently because his head 'is not in the right place'. Or is it his body that's in N5/N7?  Jose Mourinho on Mkhitaryan's omission from tonight's squad: "I would lie if I said it was a pure tactical decision." #mufc [sky]— utdhq (@utdhq) January 15, 2018   7:17PM Those teams in black and white Man Utd De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Shaw; Pogba, Matic; Mata, Lingard, Martial; Lukaku.  Substitutes Joel Pereira, Lindelof, Rojo, Ander Herrera, Fellaini, McTominay, Rashford. It's chucking it down at Old Trafford Credit: Michael Regan/Getty Images Stoke City Butland; Bauer, Zouma, Martins Indi, Tymon; Fletcher, Allen; Shaqiri, Ireland, Choupo-Moting; Crouch.  Substitutes Grant, Edwards, Wimmer, Afellay, Adam, Diouf, Sobhi.  Referee Anthony Taylor (Wythenshawe). 7:02PM Antonio Valencia is back for Man Utd Here is how the Reds line up for #MUNSTK... �� pic.twitter.com/otGid7EQkS— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 15, 2018   7:02PM You know that business about Eddie Niedzwiecki not making many changes ... Ignore it. He's made seven and Moritz Bauer makes his Premier League debut.  Eddie Niedzwiecki makes 7⃣ changes to tonight's team that faces @ManUtd at Old Trafford. �� Bauer, Martins Indi, Tymon, Fletcher, Shaqiri, Choupo-Moting and Crouch all make the starting XI. City line-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation.#SCFC ��⚪️ pic.twitter.com/2CIECRjITg— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) January 15, 2018   6:59PM In memoriam   6:56PM Good evening And welcome to coverage of Manchester United vs Stoke City, the last Premier League match of what those people who we need to cut out of our lives would call ‘round 23’ of the ‘EPL’. We find both clubs loitering around in a kind of threshold. Stoke, obviously, having been turned down by Gary Rowett, Quique Sanchez Flores and Martin O’Neill, are ready to embark on the Paul Lambert era though tonight his will be a watching brief. Given that caretaker Eddie Niedzwiecki has been at Mark Hughes’ side with Wales, Blackburn, Man City, Fulham, QPR and the Oatcake Eaters, he’s hardly likely to pick a radically altered side because to do so would be an implicit rebuke of his friend and former and future boss. So tonight may just be a case of limbo until Lambert makes his mark or purgatory if your view of Lambert’s appointment is as pessimistic as some on that twerps’ trumpet, Twitter, are lamenting. As for Manchester United, it seems that they stand on the verge of signing Alexis Sánchez which will add some much needed dynamism into their attack though I’m not sure how tameable his talent and instincts will be for Jose Mourinho. He certainly won’t step on the throat of his own song like, say, Joe Cole did at Chelsea to track back or Samuel Eto’o at Inter but he may be employed in the manner of Wesley Sneijder or Arjen Robben - indulged if never wholly embraced. Rarely for a Mourinho side, tonight begs a performance more than the result. They played well in the second half at Goodison and there were fluent passages in the draw with Leicester and the victory over West Brom but it has been far too sporadic for the past two months. Ali Sanchez Manchester City’s defeat on Sunday gives United the opportunity to narrow the gap between first and second to 12 points with a win here. It’s still an enormous lead but for those Reds looking for comfort, it was exactly the position United found themselves in 21 years ago behind Newcastle United with 15 games to play and they ended up winning the title by three points. City are not Newcastle obviously but it’s worth pointing out. And a comfortable victory would surely be the only outcome a sane person would accept a wager on tonight. It’s 42 years since Stoke have won at Old Trafford, when Bomber Sheldon set up Bluto Bloor to glance in an 87th-minute winner and end United’s 14-month home unbeaten record and their chances of winning the Double with a couple of games of the season to go. As any fule kno, Southampton, then of Division Two, did for them in the Cup to make it a miserable April and May for Tommy Docherty’s side. Mourinho, with two trophies last year and Sánchez to come, will not be as vulnerable to Alan Bloor and Bobby Stokes type figures in April and May 2018.

Manchester United 3 Stoke City 0: Paul Pogba masterclass brings swagger back

He has the confidence, the ability and the swagger to play for Manchester United. But enough of Alexis Sanchez. This was Paul Pogba’s night – and he also possesses those formidable qualities - with the United midfielder dominating a sorry Stoke side. Plucky Potters? Not against Pogba who provided two clever assists and ran the game as United consolidated themselves in second place in the Premier League and cut Manchester City’s lead to 12 points. United have beaten City in the race to sign Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal or, rather, City have pulled out of that contest believing the finances just do not stack up and, barring a late intervention from Chelsea, it appears the Chilean forward will be another of Pogba’s team-mates hoping to profit from his sharp creativity. For United’s fans there is the tantalising vision of Pogba in a free role – finally Jose Mourinho has come to realise that is the best use of him – opening up defences for the alert movement and relentlessness of Sanchez and the bludgeoning power of Romelu Lukaku. Suddenly, they will hope, the future looks brighter for them as they continue that chase to reduce City’s dominance, to fend off Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, and to give themselves momentum going into the remainder of this season and the next campaign. Antonio Valencia curled in the first with his left foot Credit:  Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images Whether they will face Stoke in the Premier League again next season remains to be seen. Stoke are in the relegation places but, finally, they appointed a successor to Mark Hughes and hours later Paul Lambert took his place in the Old Trafford directors' box, watching on as caretaker Eddie Niedzwiecki, for his one game in charge, produced a demob-happy coaching performance by putting out an attacking team and opening up the game. It worked only in that it created chances – and Stoke did that, and it would have been interesting had they drawn level in the first-half, when just a goal down, as surely they should have done – but not in defending. The three goals conceded here mean, in fact, that Stoke have become the first team in any of Europe’s top five leagues to let in 50 goals this season. With 23 matches played that is more than two a game – not good enough for a team that spent heavily in bringing in defenders last summer. Lambert has work to do. But then he knew that. And he also knew that this was, in all probability, little more than a fixture to fulfil. Damage had to be limited and, in that, they owed a debt again to their goalkeeper Jack Butland who once more produced a series of saves even if he was quickly beaten. Pogba was central to it. He collected possession, after some fine build-up play, and ran across the face of the penalty area before pushing the ball out wide to Antonio Valencia. The United captain was returning, after four weeks out with a hamstring injury, and celebrated by cutting inside and arcing a left-foot shot (yes, left foot from Valencia) around Butland from just inside the area. It was a superb strike; a well-worked goal. Stephen Ireland snatched at a couple of first-half chances Credit: REUTERS/Andrew Yates Cue the cameras cutting to Lambert, attempting to elicit a response. The Scot buried his head in his coat – but that was more to do with responding to the cold, the hail and the swirling rain. But there was no downpour on his new team. Instead they carved United open. There was an overhead kick from Xherdan Shaqiri, held by David De Gea, and then Stephen Ireland – making his first league start in almost two years – spurned two chances. He snatched at both, dragging his shots wide, when he had space and time to do better. Stoke came closest of all when their new signing, Austrian full-back Moritz Bauer, on his debut, hoisted a high cross into the area and Peter Crouch beat De Gea to it. The ball dropped to Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, who seemed certain to score, only for his half-volley to be deflected over the cross-bar by a lunging Phil Jones. “I didn’t like the first half. I only liked the two amazing goals,” Mourinho later said, and United’s second was as good as their first with Lukaku running down the right, turning the ball back inside to Pogba who had the presence of mind and vision to move it across goal, with a ‘no-look pass’, where it was met by Anthony Martial who struck a precise first-time, side-footed shot that curled around Butland and high into the net. Anthony Martial made it 2-0 Credit: Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images As a contest, it was over. Stoke appeared dispirited. It was a question, then, of how many United would score but – instead - they were wasteful. Firstly Pogba almost claimed his third assist when he intercepted a sloppy pass by Kurt Zouma and stabbed the ball through to Martial. Butland blocked. Then Martial wriggled clear only for Butland to deny him, again, before Juan Mata turned the ball wide and, soon after, shot over. Butland thwarted Lukaku with his legs but was finally beaten by the striker when Jesse Lingard broke, Martial fired the ball into the Belgium international and the Stoke defenders stood off as he picked his spot and drilled his shot low inside the post. There should have been a goal back when substitute Mame Biram Diouf chested down Shaqiri’s flighted pass only for De Gea to block his first shot, and the former United forward to send his second into the side-netting. There would be no consolation. 9:52PM Full time Manchester United narrow the gap to 12 points with a resounding victory orchestrated by a fine performance from Paul Pogba. Stoke had several moments of inspiration going forward but need some bodies as well as some younger legs in defence and defensive midfield.  9:50PM 90+2 min McTominay tries to glide past Martins Indi who bundles him over at the edge of the D. Time enough for Pogba to take the free-kick ... which he scoops miles over and the referee blows for time's up.  9:49PM 90+1 min The first of two added minutes begins with man-of-the-match Pogba pinging a long pass up to Rashford on the left but he lets it leak out for a throw.  9:48PM 89 min Rashford has a dainty-footed dribble through the box from the left then bobbles a tame shot at Butland as he tried to open his body and arrow it in at the back post. Mishit it.  9:47PM 87 min Ach, Stoke. Shaqiri picks out a diaginal cross towards the penalty spot from the left and Diouf beats Smalling to it and controls it sufficiently well to allow him an unimpeded left-foot shot at goal from 12 yards. But he scuffs it, De Gea saves with his legs and gives him a second chance. Ireland, unmarked, screams for him to square it for a tap-in but Diouf goes his own way and scuds a left-foot shot wide.  Attempt Saved: Man Utd 3 - 0 Stoke (Mame Biram Diouf, 86 min)   9:44PM 84 min Another glorious pass from Pogba on halfway, chipping the ball over Wimmer who manages to reach it with the odd strand of hair. Valencia, bullocking down the whitewash takes it in his stride  and fires in a cross through the six-yard box. Rashford makes a near-post run and tries to back-flick it in with his right foot. Good save from Butland.  9:40PM 82 min Third United substitution: Mata off, McTominay on.  9:39PM 81 min Double United substitution: Lingard and Martial depart to be replaced by Fellaini and Rashford.  9:38PM 79 min United enjoy such a dominant spell of possession that poor old Stoke 'don't now what day it is'. It ends with a left-wing cross towards the penalty spot and Mata does a 'shut-that-door' flick that almost squeaks in at the right post. Lukaku, who cannot resist the temptation to lunge at the rebound off the woodwork, was offside.  Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   9:34PM 77 min After twenty-odd passes, though, Martial blunders his trap and the ball squirts to Zouma who clears.  9:34PM 76 min United are strolling now, metaphorically, and pinging passes around in Stoke's half.  9:32PM 73 min Lingard brings the ball forward through the middle from the centre-circle, sprinting towards the box. He lays it off to the left for Martial who cuts inside and then fires in a very heavy pass - shades of Gerrard there - but Lukaku controls it superbly with his chest (Stoke think it was his hand), turns to his right with his back to goal and skelps in a fierce left-foot shot past Butland who had no chance. Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   9:29PM GOAL!! Manchester United 3-0 Stoke City (Lukaku) Lukaku smashes in the third Credit: Matthew Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images   9:28PM 69 min Peter Crouch departs. Mame Biram Diouf enters.  9:25PM 68 min Lukaku is booked for a retaliation on Martins Indi then Ireland by his doppelganger Anthony Taylor for going through Mata.  9:24PM 66 min Butland makes a fine save with his feet from Lukaku after United overwhelm Stoke with their pace and movement. The ball rebounds out to the edge of the area. Lingard strikes it low on the volley, Butland saves again and Mata backheels in the rebound from an offside position 9:23PM 64 min Choupo-Moting off Sobhi on. Lingard is booked on the totting up principle for bundling Fletcher over.  9:21PM 61 min Lukaku centres to Lingard in the D from the left. He rolls the pass out to Mata who is charging into the box from the right. He tries to curl a left-footer inside the far post but can't get it to bend in at the last. Lingard had robbed Zouma to start the rapid counter.    9:18PM 59 min More Pogba brilliance, beating Bauer and clipping a left-foot cross into the box. Martial controls it, dinks it inside to try to throw Butland off balance but cannot find the room to squeeze it under the keeper who tries to smother it but it bobbles free. Lukaku  has another effort at poking it past but Butland is up to it.  9:16PM 57 min United corner taken short again and Lingard, who hasn't been at his best tonight, loses the ball as he tries to get into the box. Now it's 'Delilah' from the visiting fans. United are penning them in.  9:13PM 55 min Lukaku attempts to control the ball and hook it back over his shoulder for Pogba but succeeds only in eating the ball as he spanks it into his own mouth.  9:11PM 53 min The cries of 'Paul Lambert's barmy army' drowns out any United response. The home crowd, it has to be said, is preposterously quiet these days.  9:10PM 51 min Shaqiri is unamused when shoved into an advertising hoarding perhaps inadvertently, perhaps not, by Shaw. Shaqiri takes it out on the flashing sign in anti-capitalist rage and hurts his hand after slapping it.  9:08PM 49 min Zouma wins the ball off Shaw and gives it straight back to Pogba who threads a pass up the inside-left channel. The weight perhaps takes it too close to Butland even for swift-footed Achilles Martial at full pelt. Butland manages to get down on the ground, like a draught excluder, to block Martial's stabbed shot.  9:05PM 47 min Ireland has dropped deeper, too. Matic picks out Shaw who works it back to Pogba. The United No6 drills a diagonal over to Mata who cuts it back but there's no one arriving at the edge of the box.  9:03PM 46 min Wimmer - Daniel Levy saw them coming - slots straight in at left-back.  9:02PM Half-time substitution Kevin Wimmer replaces Josh Tymon.  8:56PM Martial's goal Anthony Martial scores United's second Credit: REUTERS/Andrew Yates  Here are the average touch positions to show you Pogba's influence (6) and Ireland's (7). Average touch positions (half time) Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   8:51PM Half time Stoke had their moments, Manchester United scored with two tremendous shots and have looked dominant in the last third and vulnerable around their own box. Pogba has all the space he needs to run this match and seems certain to carry on in the second-half. Ireland and Shaqiri are playing very well and Bauer looks very promising but the movement of Lingard, Martial, Lukaku and Mata is too much for Stoke's defence to contain. .  8:47PM 45+1 min De Gea dives low to his left to save Shaqiri's left-foot shot, an opportunity created by his wonderful control as he stunned the pass from the left to the D then drilled a scorching low shot towards goal. Excellent save that proves to be the last touch of the half.  8:46PM 44 min Pogba plays the same right to left pass for Martial that bypasses and isolates the middle of the Stoke defence but this time Martial was too hasty and bolted offside.  8:45PM 42 min United adopt sheer liquid football and Stoke's defence don't know what day it is. Pogba floats a pass from right-half to outside left for Shaw who lays it off to Martial. After scoring with that lovely strike he must think his boots are made of jam so tries an outrageous outisde of the foot chip to the back post for Lukaku who nods it back across goal. Lingard can't reach it but nobbut just.  8:41PM 40 min Valencia wins the ball off Choupo-Moting on halfway and on the right, drives forward and picks out Lukaku who holds it up  and takes it outside, pursued by Martins Indi then turns to roll a pass to Pogba by the right angle of the box. Pogba sees Martial to the left of the D in the space created by Lukaku's run, sweeps a pass over to him and the winger arcs in a shot, bending in a parabola unstoppably past Butland.  Man Utd 2 - 0 Stoke (Anthony Martial, 38 min)   8:38PM GOAL!! Man Utd 2-0 Stoke (Martial) 8:38PM 36 min Pogba torpedoes a 50-yard ball from right to left to pick out Shaw's run to the byline. The left-back pulls the ball back to Martial who shoots into Zouma. Deflection leads to corner. United take it short for the umpteenth time and Stoke scuttle it away. Why so many short corners? Stoke's height?  8:35PM 34 min Mata does that thing after falling over in the box to indicate that he's slipped - serves two purposes (A) No penalty and (B) I didn't dive. It looked as though he did 'go over easily' but because it's the paragon Juan, it couldn't possibly have been anything but a slip.  8:33PM 32 min United fans spark into life when Ireland, once of City, is struck amidships by Lingard's fierce drive but the bounce favours Stoke and Valencia has to bring Allen down to stop them breaking past halfway.  8:31PM 30 min Fletcher uses his resilience and experience to hold off Pogba at the price of a corner on the right that United take short from Mata to Lingard who hangs it up at the back post. Butland drops the slithery ball but pocks it up at the second attempt. Pogba was offside in any case.  8:29PM 28 min United break quickly up the left and Mata, at the end of a slick passing move, cuts a pass back to Martial who balloons a wanton shot over the bar.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 21 min)   8:27PM 25 min Stoke move it out to the right for Shaqiri and his wand. He bends in a cross to the back post and De Gea comes for it but, rare for him, flaps under the challenge of Crouch who nods it back across the now unguarded net. Choupo-Moting meets it on the volley but Jones throws himself in to block from point-blank range and saves a certain goal. Corner. Small wonder Jose Mourinho is off the bench and shouting. Stoke have made four good chances in the past 10 minutes.  Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   8:25PM 24 min Very quiet at Old Trafford as Stoke enjoy a good five minutes. Ireland makes another interception, motors forward and Pogba kicks him up the back of his thigh. Free kick.  8:24PM 22 min What a chance for Stoke - all made by Martial's indolence in helping Shaw out when attacked by Allen and Bauer who looks a decent player. The right-back responds to Shaqiri's run inside with a square pass across the 18-yard line that he controls immaculately then dinks the perfect throughball to Ireland who has made a great run. Ireland, 15 yards out, stretches to shoot and pokes it wide. Not exactly a sitter but a chance you have to take.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 21 min)   8:21PM 20 min Here's the goal: Valencia scores Credit:  Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images  Choupo-Moting squanders possession and United break.  8:19PM 18 min Bauer's cross from the right finds Ireland in the United box just shy of the penalty spot and in space. But as he traps the centre it sticks under his feet and gobbles up precious time so that when he does manage to shoot he was being closed down and scuffs it wide.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 16 min)   8:17PM 16 min Clever interception from Ireland thwarts Shaw's cross and he scurries out of defence, laying it off to Choupo-Moting then positioning himself for the return. He kills the pass and pushes the ball out to the right into Shaqiri's path. Shaqiri bends in a left-footer towards the back post that Crouch wins but can't get any power on it. He does enough to retain possession, lay it back and Stoke come again.  8:14PM 14 min The ball is sticking to Lukaku tonight and he is astutely bringing Martial, Lingard, Mata and Pogba into play as attacking threats.  8:12PM 12 min Shaqiri shows us his exquisite technique with a spectacular bicycle kick to meet an outswinging left-wing cross. He meets it crisply but De Gea gets down low to his left to smother it.  8:11PM 10 min Made by Pogba's crossfield chip. Valencia leaves Choupo-Moting stranded, drifts inside on to his left, losing Tymon with a dip of the shoulder before finishing with a 16-yard sweetly-struck, unstoppable curler. Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Antonio Valencia, 9 min) 8:09PM GOAL!! Manchester United 1-0 Stoke (Valencia) 8:08PM 7 min Mata chips a curling left-foot pass from inside-right over the central defenders and Martial makes the run to head it. Bauer, who had his arm on Martial's back, slipped and fell, taking his opponent with him. Big shout for a penalty that the referee ignores but the replay has heads nodding in unison with the fatuous 'I've seen 'em given'' verdict.  8:06PM 6 min Tymon tries to turn Valencia on halfway but can't drive past him once he'd turned back to face him. Valencia kicks the ball on to his shins to take the throw-in. It's sheeting down.  8:04PM 4 min Pogba shifts it up the inside left channel, sweeping it 20 yards upfield. Lukaku takes it in his stride and lays it out to the left for Martial then heads for the six-yard box. Lingard makes the near-post run but the United winger drags his centre behind his team-mate and Stoke work it clear.  8:02PM 2 min Stoke recycle, bang it up to Crouch who is penalised for clattering Jones as he shielded the ball. United take the free-kick, move it up to Lukaku who lats it off to Lingard. Shaqiri hacks him down. Free kick 10 yards inside the Stoke half.  8:01PM 1 min Stoke, in blue, kick off and Stephen Ireland takes it and instigates a move up the right that has to go backwards to go forward. Martins Indi whacks it long and Valencia fires it back, over the top, and beyond Lukaku.  7:58PM Out come the teams Kick off is now just moments away. And the commentator is Alan Parry, just as it was for the Cyrille Regis clip below.  7:48PM Paul Lambert is present and correct Paul Lambert watches his new side at old Trafford Credit: Gareth Copley/Getty Images  He did pretty well at Wolves last season and was terrific at Norwich. Villa, though, was a trial for every supporter who was forced to watch austerity football while Randy Lerner tried to sell. Having said that Ron Vlaar, Christian Benteke and Karim El Anmadi were decent signings.  7:19PM Henrikh Mkhitaryan Is not in Manchester United's XVIII apparently because his head 'is not in the right place'. Or is it his body that's in N5/N7?  Jose Mourinho on Mkhitaryan's omission from tonight's squad: "I would lie if I said it was a pure tactical decision." #mufc [sky]— utdhq (@utdhq) January 15, 2018   7:17PM Those teams in black and white Man Utd De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Shaw; Pogba, Matic; Mata, Lingard, Martial; Lukaku.  Substitutes Joel Pereira, Lindelof, Rojo, Ander Herrera, Fellaini, McTominay, Rashford. It's chucking it down at Old Trafford Credit: Michael Regan/Getty Images Stoke City Butland; Bauer, Zouma, Martins Indi, Tymon; Fletcher, Allen; Shaqiri, Ireland, Choupo-Moting; Crouch.  Substitutes Grant, Edwards, Wimmer, Afellay, Adam, Diouf, Sobhi.  Referee Anthony Taylor (Wythenshawe). 7:02PM Antonio Valencia is back for Man Utd Here is how the Reds line up for #MUNSTK... �� pic.twitter.com/otGid7EQkS— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 15, 2018   7:02PM You know that business about Eddie Niedzwiecki not making many changes ... Ignore it. He's made seven and Moritz Bauer makes his Premier League debut.  Eddie Niedzwiecki makes 7⃣ changes to tonight's team that faces @ManUtd at Old Trafford. �� Bauer, Martins Indi, Tymon, Fletcher, Shaqiri, Choupo-Moting and Crouch all make the starting XI. City line-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation.#SCFC ��⚪️ pic.twitter.com/2CIECRjITg— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) January 15, 2018   6:59PM In memoriam   6:56PM Good evening And welcome to coverage of Manchester United vs Stoke City, the last Premier League match of what those people who we need to cut out of our lives would call ‘round 23’ of the ‘EPL’. We find both clubs loitering around in a kind of threshold. Stoke, obviously, having been turned down by Gary Rowett, Quique Sanchez Flores and Martin O’Neill, are ready to embark on the Paul Lambert era though tonight his will be a watching brief. Given that caretaker Eddie Niedzwiecki has been at Mark Hughes’ side with Wales, Blackburn, Man City, Fulham, QPR and the Oatcake Eaters, he’s hardly likely to pick a radically altered side because to do so would be an implicit rebuke of his friend and former and future boss. So tonight may just be a case of limbo until Lambert makes his mark or purgatory if your view of Lambert’s appointment is as pessimistic as some on that twerps’ trumpet, Twitter, are lamenting. As for Manchester United, it seems that they stand on the verge of signing Alexis Sánchez which will add some much needed dynamism into their attack though I’m not sure how tameable his talent and instincts will be for Jose Mourinho. He certainly won’t step on the throat of his own song like, say, Joe Cole did at Chelsea to track back or Samuel Eto’o at Inter but he may be employed in the manner of Wesley Sneijder or Arjen Robben - indulged if never wholly embraced. Rarely for a Mourinho side, tonight begs a performance more than the result. They played well in the second half at Goodison and there were fluent passages in the draw with Leicester and the victory over West Brom but it has been far too sporadic for the past two months. Ali Sanchez Manchester City’s defeat on Sunday gives United the opportunity to narrow the gap between first and second to 12 points with a win here. It’s still an enormous lead but for those Reds looking for comfort, it was exactly the position United found themselves in 21 years ago behind Newcastle United with 15 games to play and they ended up winning the title by three points. City are not Newcastle obviously but it’s worth pointing out. And a comfortable victory would surely be the only outcome a sane person would accept a wager on tonight. It’s 42 years since Stoke have won at Old Trafford, when Bomber Sheldon set up Bluto Bloor to glance in an 87th-minute winner and end United’s 14-month home unbeaten record and their chances of winning the Double with a couple of games of the season to go. As any fule kno, Southampton, then of Division Two, did for them in the Cup to make it a miserable April and May for Tommy Docherty’s side. Mourinho, with two trophies last year and Sánchez to come, will not be as vulnerable to Alan Bloor and Bobby Stokes type figures in April and May 2018.

Manchester United 3 Stoke City 0: Paul Pogba masterclass brings swagger back

He has the confidence, the ability and the swagger to play for Manchester United. But enough of Alexis Sanchez. This was Paul Pogba’s night – and he also possesses those formidable qualities - with the United midfielder dominating a sorry Stoke side. Plucky Potters? Not against Pogba who provided two clever assists and ran the game as United consolidated themselves in second place in the Premier League and cut Manchester City’s lead to 12 points. United have beaten City in the race to sign Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal or, rather, City have pulled out of that contest believing the finances just do not stack up and, barring a late intervention from Chelsea, it appears the Chilean forward will be another of Pogba’s team-mates hoping to profit from his sharp creativity. For United’s fans there is the tantalising vision of Pogba in a free role – finally Jose Mourinho has come to realise that is the best use of him – opening up defences for the alert movement and relentlessness of Sanchez and the bludgeoning power of Romelu Lukaku. Suddenly, they will hope, the future looks brighter for them as they continue that chase to reduce City’s dominance, to fend off Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, and to give themselves momentum going into the remainder of this season and the next campaign. Antonio Valencia curled in the first with his left foot Credit:  Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images Whether they will face Stoke in the Premier League again next season remains to be seen. Stoke are in the relegation places but, finally, they appointed a successor to Mark Hughes and hours later Paul Lambert took his place in the Old Trafford directors' box, watching on as caretaker Eddie Niedzwiecki, for his one game in charge, produced a demob-happy coaching performance by putting out an attacking team and opening up the game. It worked only in that it created chances – and Stoke did that, and it would have been interesting had they drawn level in the first-half, when just a goal down, as surely they should have done – but not in defending. The three goals conceded here mean, in fact, that Stoke have become the first team in any of Europe’s top five leagues to let in 50 goals this season. With 23 matches played that is more than two a game – not good enough for a team that spent heavily in bringing in defenders last summer. Lambert has work to do. But then he knew that. And he also knew that this was, in all probability, little more than a fixture to fulfil. Damage had to be limited and, in that, they owed a debt again to their goalkeeper Jack Butland who once more produced a series of saves even if he was quickly beaten. Pogba was central to it. He collected possession, after some fine build-up play, and ran across the face of the penalty area before pushing the ball out wide to Antonio Valencia. The United captain was returning, after four weeks out with a hamstring injury, and celebrated by cutting inside and arcing a left-foot shot (yes, left foot from Valencia) around Butland from just inside the area. It was a superb strike; a well-worked goal. Stephen Ireland snatched at a couple of first-half chances Credit: REUTERS/Andrew Yates Cue the cameras cutting to Lambert, attempting to elicit a response. The Scot buried his head in his coat – but that was more to do with responding to the cold, the hail and the swirling rain. But there was no downpour on his new team. Instead they carved United open. There was an overhead kick from Xherdan Shaqiri, held by David De Gea, and then Stephen Ireland – making his first league start in almost two years – spurned two chances. He snatched at both, dragging his shots wide, when he had space and time to do better. Stoke came closest of all when their new signing, Austrian full-back Moritz Bauer, on his debut, hoisted a high cross into the area and Peter Crouch beat De Gea to it. The ball dropped to Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, who seemed certain to score, only for his half-volley to be deflected over the cross-bar by a lunging Phil Jones. “I didn’t like the first half. I only liked the two amazing goals,” Mourinho later said, and United’s second was as good as their first with Lukaku running down the right, turning the ball back inside to Pogba who had the presence of mind and vision to move it across goal, with a ‘no-look pass’, where it was met by Anthony Martial who struck a precise first-time, side-footed shot that curled around Butland and high into the net. Anthony Martial made it 2-0 Credit: Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images As a contest, it was over. Stoke appeared dispirited. It was a question, then, of how many United would score but – instead - they were wasteful. Firstly Pogba almost claimed his third assist when he intercepted a sloppy pass by Kurt Zouma and stabbed the ball through to Martial. Butland blocked. Then Martial wriggled clear only for Butland to deny him, again, before Juan Mata turned the ball wide and, soon after, shot over. Butland thwarted Lukaku with his legs but was finally beaten by the striker when Jesse Lingard broke, Martial fired the ball into the Belgium international and the Stoke defenders stood off as he picked his spot and drilled his shot low inside the post. There should have been a goal back when substitute Mame Biram Diouf chested down Shaqiri’s flighted pass only for De Gea to block his first shot, and the former United forward to send his second into the side-netting. There would be no consolation. 9:52PM Full time Manchester United narrow the gap to 12 points with a resounding victory orchestrated by a fine performance from Paul Pogba. Stoke had several moments of inspiration going forward but need some bodies as well as some younger legs in defence and defensive midfield.  9:50PM 90+2 min McTominay tries to glide past Martins Indi who bundles him over at the edge of the D. Time enough for Pogba to take the free-kick ... which he scoops miles over and the referee blows for time's up.  9:49PM 90+1 min The first of two added minutes begins with man-of-the-match Pogba pinging a long pass up to Rashford on the left but he lets it leak out for a throw.  9:48PM 89 min Rashford has a dainty-footed dribble through the box from the left then bobbles a tame shot at Butland as he tried to open his body and arrow it in at the back post. Mishit it.  9:47PM 87 min Ach, Stoke. Shaqiri picks out a diaginal cross towards the penalty spot from the left and Diouf beats Smalling to it and controls it sufficiently well to allow him an unimpeded left-foot shot at goal from 12 yards. But he scuffs it, De Gea saves with his legs and gives him a second chance. Ireland, unmarked, screams for him to square it for a tap-in but Diouf goes his own way and scuds a left-foot shot wide.  Attempt Saved: Man Utd 3 - 0 Stoke (Mame Biram Diouf, 86 min)   9:44PM 84 min Another glorious pass from Pogba on halfway, chipping the ball over Wimmer who manages to reach it with the odd strand of hair. Valencia, bullocking down the whitewash takes it in his stride  and fires in a cross through the six-yard box. Rashford makes a near-post run and tries to back-flick it in with his right foot. Good save from Butland.  9:40PM 82 min Third United substitution: Mata off, McTominay on.  9:39PM 81 min Double United substitution: Lingard and Martial depart to be replaced by Fellaini and Rashford.  9:38PM 79 min United enjoy such a dominant spell of possession that poor old Stoke 'don't now what day it is'. It ends with a left-wing cross towards the penalty spot and Mata does a 'shut-that-door' flick that almost squeaks in at the right post. Lukaku, who cannot resist the temptation to lunge at the rebound off the woodwork, was offside.  Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   9:34PM 77 min After twenty-odd passes, though, Martial blunders his trap and the ball squirts to Zouma who clears.  9:34PM 76 min United are strolling now, metaphorically, and pinging passes around in Stoke's half.  9:32PM 73 min Lingard brings the ball forward through the middle from the centre-circle, sprinting towards the box. He lays it off to the left for Martial who cuts inside and then fires in a very heavy pass - shades of Gerrard there - but Lukaku controls it superbly with his chest (Stoke think it was his hand), turns to his right with his back to goal and skelps in a fierce left-foot shot past Butland who had no chance. Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   9:29PM GOAL!! Manchester United 3-0 Stoke City (Lukaku) Lukaku smashes in the third Credit: Matthew Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images   9:28PM 69 min Peter Crouch departs. Mame Biram Diouf enters.  9:25PM 68 min Lukaku is booked for a retaliation on Martins Indi then Ireland by his doppelganger Anthony Taylor for going through Mata.  9:24PM 66 min Butland makes a fine save with his feet from Lukaku after United overwhelm Stoke with their pace and movement. The ball rebounds out to the edge of the area. Lingard strikes it low on the volley, Butland saves again and Mata backheels in the rebound from an offside position 9:23PM 64 min Choupo-Moting off Sobhi on. Lingard is booked on the totting up principle for bundling Fletcher over.  9:21PM 61 min Lukaku centres to Lingard in the D from the left. He rolls the pass out to Mata who is charging into the box from the right. He tries to curl a left-footer inside the far post but can't get it to bend in at the last. Lingard had robbed Zouma to start the rapid counter.    9:18PM 59 min More Pogba brilliance, beating Bauer and clipping a left-foot cross into the box. Martial controls it, dinks it inside to try to throw Butland off balance but cannot find the room to squeeze it under the keeper who tries to smother it but it bobbles free. Lukaku  has another effort at poking it past but Butland is up to it.  9:16PM 57 min United corner taken short again and Lingard, who hasn't been at his best tonight, loses the ball as he tries to get into the box. Now it's 'Delilah' from the visiting fans. United are penning them in.  9:13PM 55 min Lukaku attempts to control the ball and hook it back over his shoulder for Pogba but succeeds only in eating the ball as he spanks it into his own mouth.  9:11PM 53 min The cries of 'Paul Lambert's barmy army' drowns out any United response. The home crowd, it has to be said, is preposterously quiet these days.  9:10PM 51 min Shaqiri is unamused when shoved into an advertising hoarding perhaps inadvertently, perhaps not, by Shaw. Shaqiri takes it out on the flashing sign in anti-capitalist rage and hurts his hand after slapping it.  9:08PM 49 min Zouma wins the ball off Shaw and gives it straight back to Pogba who threads a pass up the inside-left channel. The weight perhaps takes it too close to Butland even for swift-footed Achilles Martial at full pelt. Butland manages to get down on the ground, like a draught excluder, to block Martial's stabbed shot.  9:05PM 47 min Ireland has dropped deeper, too. Matic picks out Shaw who works it back to Pogba. The United No6 drills a diagonal over to Mata who cuts it back but there's no one arriving at the edge of the box.  9:03PM 46 min Wimmer - Daniel Levy saw them coming - slots straight in at left-back.  9:02PM Half-time substitution Kevin Wimmer replaces Josh Tymon.  8:56PM Martial's goal Anthony Martial scores United's second Credit: REUTERS/Andrew Yates  Here are the average touch positions to show you Pogba's influence (6) and Ireland's (7). Average touch positions (half time) Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   8:51PM Half time Stoke had their moments, Manchester United scored with two tremendous shots and have looked dominant in the last third and vulnerable around their own box. Pogba has all the space he needs to run this match and seems certain to carry on in the second-half. Ireland and Shaqiri are playing very well and Bauer looks very promising but the movement of Lingard, Martial, Lukaku and Mata is too much for Stoke's defence to contain. .  8:47PM 45+1 min De Gea dives low to his left to save Shaqiri's left-foot shot, an opportunity created by his wonderful control as he stunned the pass from the left to the D then drilled a scorching low shot towards goal. Excellent save that proves to be the last touch of the half.  8:46PM 44 min Pogba plays the same right to left pass for Martial that bypasses and isolates the middle of the Stoke defence but this time Martial was too hasty and bolted offside.  8:45PM 42 min United adopt sheer liquid football and Stoke's defence don't know what day it is. Pogba floats a pass from right-half to outside left for Shaw who lays it off to Martial. After scoring with that lovely strike he must think his boots are made of jam so tries an outrageous outisde of the foot chip to the back post for Lukaku who nods it back across goal. Lingard can't reach it but nobbut just.  8:41PM 40 min Valencia wins the ball off Choupo-Moting on halfway and on the right, drives forward and picks out Lukaku who holds it up  and takes it outside, pursued by Martins Indi then turns to roll a pass to Pogba by the right angle of the box. Pogba sees Martial to the left of the D in the space created by Lukaku's run, sweeps a pass over to him and the winger arcs in a shot, bending in a parabola unstoppably past Butland.  Man Utd 2 - 0 Stoke (Anthony Martial, 38 min)   8:38PM GOAL!! Man Utd 2-0 Stoke (Martial) 8:38PM 36 min Pogba torpedoes a 50-yard ball from right to left to pick out Shaw's run to the byline. The left-back pulls the ball back to Martial who shoots into Zouma. Deflection leads to corner. United take it short for the umpteenth time and Stoke scuttle it away. Why so many short corners? Stoke's height?  8:35PM 34 min Mata does that thing after falling over in the box to indicate that he's slipped - serves two purposes (A) No penalty and (B) I didn't dive. It looked as though he did 'go over easily' but because it's the paragon Juan, it couldn't possibly have been anything but a slip.  8:33PM 32 min United fans spark into life when Ireland, once of City, is struck amidships by Lingard's fierce drive but the bounce favours Stoke and Valencia has to bring Allen down to stop them breaking past halfway.  8:31PM 30 min Fletcher uses his resilience and experience to hold off Pogba at the price of a corner on the right that United take short from Mata to Lingard who hangs it up at the back post. Butland drops the slithery ball but pocks it up at the second attempt. Pogba was offside in any case.  8:29PM 28 min United break quickly up the left and Mata, at the end of a slick passing move, cuts a pass back to Martial who balloons a wanton shot over the bar.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 21 min)   8:27PM 25 min Stoke move it out to the right for Shaqiri and his wand. He bends in a cross to the back post and De Gea comes for it but, rare for him, flaps under the challenge of Crouch who nods it back across the now unguarded net. Choupo-Moting meets it on the volley but Jones throws himself in to block from point-blank range and saves a certain goal. Corner. Small wonder Jose Mourinho is off the bench and shouting. Stoke have made four good chances in the past 10 minutes.  Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   8:25PM 24 min Very quiet at Old Trafford as Stoke enjoy a good five minutes. Ireland makes another interception, motors forward and Pogba kicks him up the back of his thigh. Free kick.  8:24PM 22 min What a chance for Stoke - all made by Martial's indolence in helping Shaw out when attacked by Allen and Bauer who looks a decent player. The right-back responds to Shaqiri's run inside with a square pass across the 18-yard line that he controls immaculately then dinks the perfect throughball to Ireland who has made a great run. Ireland, 15 yards out, stretches to shoot and pokes it wide. Not exactly a sitter but a chance you have to take.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 21 min)   8:21PM 20 min Here's the goal: Valencia scores Credit:  Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images  Choupo-Moting squanders possession and United break.  8:19PM 18 min Bauer's cross from the right finds Ireland in the United box just shy of the penalty spot and in space. But as he traps the centre it sticks under his feet and gobbles up precious time so that when he does manage to shoot he was being closed down and scuffs it wide.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 16 min)   8:17PM 16 min Clever interception from Ireland thwarts Shaw's cross and he scurries out of defence, laying it off to Choupo-Moting then positioning himself for the return. He kills the pass and pushes the ball out to the right into Shaqiri's path. Shaqiri bends in a left-footer towards the back post that Crouch wins but can't get any power on it. He does enough to retain possession, lay it back and Stoke come again.  8:14PM 14 min The ball is sticking to Lukaku tonight and he is astutely bringing Martial, Lingard, Mata and Pogba into play as attacking threats.  8:12PM 12 min Shaqiri shows us his exquisite technique with a spectacular bicycle kick to meet an outswinging left-wing cross. He meets it crisply but De Gea gets down low to his left to smother it.  8:11PM 10 min Made by Pogba's crossfield chip. Valencia leaves Choupo-Moting stranded, drifts inside on to his left, losing Tymon with a dip of the shoulder before finishing with a 16-yard sweetly-struck, unstoppable curler. Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Antonio Valencia, 9 min) 8:09PM GOAL!! Manchester United 1-0 Stoke (Valencia) 8:08PM 7 min Mata chips a curling left-foot pass from inside-right over the central defenders and Martial makes the run to head it. Bauer, who had his arm on Martial's back, slipped and fell, taking his opponent with him. Big shout for a penalty that the referee ignores but the replay has heads nodding in unison with the fatuous 'I've seen 'em given'' verdict.  8:06PM 6 min Tymon tries to turn Valencia on halfway but can't drive past him once he'd turned back to face him. Valencia kicks the ball on to his shins to take the throw-in. It's sheeting down.  8:04PM 4 min Pogba shifts it up the inside left channel, sweeping it 20 yards upfield. Lukaku takes it in his stride and lays it out to the left for Martial then heads for the six-yard box. Lingard makes the near-post run but the United winger drags his centre behind his team-mate and Stoke work it clear.  8:02PM 2 min Stoke recycle, bang it up to Crouch who is penalised for clattering Jones as he shielded the ball. United take the free-kick, move it up to Lukaku who lats it off to Lingard. Shaqiri hacks him down. Free kick 10 yards inside the Stoke half.  8:01PM 1 min Stoke, in blue, kick off and Stephen Ireland takes it and instigates a move up the right that has to go backwards to go forward. Martins Indi whacks it long and Valencia fires it back, over the top, and beyond Lukaku.  7:58PM Out come the teams Kick off is now just moments away. And the commentator is Alan Parry, just as it was for the Cyrille Regis clip below.  7:48PM Paul Lambert is present and correct Paul Lambert watches his new side at old Trafford Credit: Gareth Copley/Getty Images  He did pretty well at Wolves last season and was terrific at Norwich. Villa, though, was a trial for every supporter who was forced to watch austerity football while Randy Lerner tried to sell. Having said that Ron Vlaar, Christian Benteke and Karim El Anmadi were decent signings.  7:19PM Henrikh Mkhitaryan Is not in Manchester United's XVIII apparently because his head 'is not in the right place'. Or is it his body that's in N5/N7?  Jose Mourinho on Mkhitaryan's omission from tonight's squad: "I would lie if I said it was a pure tactical decision." #mufc [sky]— utdhq (@utdhq) January 15, 2018   7:17PM Those teams in black and white Man Utd De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Shaw; Pogba, Matic; Mata, Lingard, Martial; Lukaku.  Substitutes Joel Pereira, Lindelof, Rojo, Ander Herrera, Fellaini, McTominay, Rashford. It's chucking it down at Old Trafford Credit: Michael Regan/Getty Images Stoke City Butland; Bauer, Zouma, Martins Indi, Tymon; Fletcher, Allen; Shaqiri, Ireland, Choupo-Moting; Crouch.  Substitutes Grant, Edwards, Wimmer, Afellay, Adam, Diouf, Sobhi.  Referee Anthony Taylor (Wythenshawe). 7:02PM Antonio Valencia is back for Man Utd Here is how the Reds line up for #MUNSTK... �� pic.twitter.com/otGid7EQkS— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 15, 2018   7:02PM You know that business about Eddie Niedzwiecki not making many changes ... Ignore it. He's made seven and Moritz Bauer makes his Premier League debut.  Eddie Niedzwiecki makes 7⃣ changes to tonight's team that faces @ManUtd at Old Trafford. �� Bauer, Martins Indi, Tymon, Fletcher, Shaqiri, Choupo-Moting and Crouch all make the starting XI. City line-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation.#SCFC ��⚪️ pic.twitter.com/2CIECRjITg— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) January 15, 2018   6:59PM In memoriam   6:56PM Good evening And welcome to coverage of Manchester United vs Stoke City, the last Premier League match of what those people who we need to cut out of our lives would call ‘round 23’ of the ‘EPL’. We find both clubs loitering around in a kind of threshold. Stoke, obviously, having been turned down by Gary Rowett, Quique Sanchez Flores and Martin O’Neill, are ready to embark on the Paul Lambert era though tonight his will be a watching brief. Given that caretaker Eddie Niedzwiecki has been at Mark Hughes’ side with Wales, Blackburn, Man City, Fulham, QPR and the Oatcake Eaters, he’s hardly likely to pick a radically altered side because to do so would be an implicit rebuke of his friend and former and future boss. So tonight may just be a case of limbo until Lambert makes his mark or purgatory if your view of Lambert’s appointment is as pessimistic as some on that twerps’ trumpet, Twitter, are lamenting. As for Manchester United, it seems that they stand on the verge of signing Alexis Sánchez which will add some much needed dynamism into their attack though I’m not sure how tameable his talent and instincts will be for Jose Mourinho. He certainly won’t step on the throat of his own song like, say, Joe Cole did at Chelsea to track back or Samuel Eto’o at Inter but he may be employed in the manner of Wesley Sneijder or Arjen Robben - indulged if never wholly embraced. Rarely for a Mourinho side, tonight begs a performance more than the result. They played well in the second half at Goodison and there were fluent passages in the draw with Leicester and the victory over West Brom but it has been far too sporadic for the past two months. Ali Sanchez Manchester City’s defeat on Sunday gives United the opportunity to narrow the gap between first and second to 12 points with a win here. It’s still an enormous lead but for those Reds looking for comfort, it was exactly the position United found themselves in 21 years ago behind Newcastle United with 15 games to play and they ended up winning the title by three points. City are not Newcastle obviously but it’s worth pointing out. And a comfortable victory would surely be the only outcome a sane person would accept a wager on tonight. It’s 42 years since Stoke have won at Old Trafford, when Bomber Sheldon set up Bluto Bloor to glance in an 87th-minute winner and end United’s 14-month home unbeaten record and their chances of winning the Double with a couple of games of the season to go. As any fule kno, Southampton, then of Division Two, did for them in the Cup to make it a miserable April and May for Tommy Docherty’s side. Mourinho, with two trophies last year and Sánchez to come, will not be as vulnerable to Alan Bloor and Bobby Stokes type figures in April and May 2018.

Manchester United 3 Stoke City 0: Paul Pogba masterclass brings swagger back

He has the confidence, the ability and the swagger to play for Manchester United. But enough of Alexis Sanchez. This was Paul Pogba’s night – and he also possesses those formidable qualities - with the United midfielder dominating a sorry Stoke side. Plucky Potters? Not against Pogba who provided two clever assists and ran the game as United consolidated themselves in second place in the Premier League and cut Manchester City’s lead to 12 points. United have beaten City in the race to sign Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal or, rather, City have pulled out of that contest believing the finances just do not stack up and, barring a late intervention from Chelsea, it appears the Chilean forward will be another of Pogba’s team-mates hoping to profit from his sharp creativity. For United’s fans there is the tantalising vision of Pogba in a free role – finally Jose Mourinho has come to realise that is the best use of him – opening up defences for the alert movement and relentlessness of Sanchez and the bludgeoning power of Romelu Lukaku. Suddenly, they will hope, the future looks brighter for them as they continue that chase to reduce City’s dominance, to fend off Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, and to give themselves momentum going into the remainder of this season and the next campaign. Antonio Valencia curled in the first with his left foot Credit:  Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images Whether they will face Stoke in the Premier League again next season remains to be seen. Stoke are in the relegation places but, finally, they appointed a successor to Mark Hughes and hours later Paul Lambert took his place in the Old Trafford directors' box, watching on as caretaker Eddie Niedzwiecki, for his one game in charge, produced a demob-happy coaching performance by putting out an attacking team and opening up the game. It worked only in that it created chances – and Stoke did that, and it would have been interesting had they drawn level in the first-half, when just a goal down, as surely they should have done – but not in defending. The three goals conceded here mean, in fact, that Stoke have become the first team in any of Europe’s top five leagues to let in 50 goals this season. With 23 matches played that is more than two a game – not good enough for a team that spent heavily in bringing in defenders last summer. Lambert has work to do. But then he knew that. And he also knew that this was, in all probability, little more than a fixture to fulfil. Damage had to be limited and, in that, they owed a debt again to their goalkeeper Jack Butland who once more produced a series of saves even if he was quickly beaten. Pogba was central to it. He collected possession, after some fine build-up play, and ran across the face of the penalty area before pushing the ball out wide to Antonio Valencia. The United captain was returning, after four weeks out with a hamstring injury, and celebrated by cutting inside and arcing a left-foot shot (yes, left foot from Valencia) around Butland from just inside the area. It was a superb strike; a well-worked goal. Stephen Ireland snatched at a couple of first-half chances Credit: REUTERS/Andrew Yates Cue the cameras cutting to Lambert, attempting to elicit a response. The Scot buried his head in his coat – but that was more to do with responding to the cold, the hail and the swirling rain. But there was no downpour on his new team. Instead they carved United open. There was an overhead kick from Xherdan Shaqiri, held by David De Gea, and then Stephen Ireland – making his first league start in almost two years – spurned two chances. He snatched at both, dragging his shots wide, when he had space and time to do better. Stoke came closest of all when their new signing, Austrian full-back Moritz Bauer, on his debut, hoisted a high cross into the area and Peter Crouch beat De Gea to it. The ball dropped to Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, who seemed certain to score, only for his half-volley to be deflected over the cross-bar by a lunging Phil Jones. “I didn’t like the first half. I only liked the two amazing goals,” Mourinho later said, and United’s second was as good as their first with Lukaku running down the right, turning the ball back inside to Pogba who had the presence of mind and vision to move it across goal, with a ‘no-look pass’, where it was met by Anthony Martial who struck a precise first-time, side-footed shot that curled around Butland and high into the net. Anthony Martial made it 2-0 Credit: Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images As a contest, it was over. Stoke appeared dispirited. It was a question, then, of how many United would score but – instead - they were wasteful. Firstly Pogba almost claimed his third assist when he intercepted a sloppy pass by Kurt Zouma and stabbed the ball through to Martial. Butland blocked. Then Martial wriggled clear only for Butland to deny him, again, before Juan Mata turned the ball wide and, soon after, shot over. Butland thwarted Lukaku with his legs but was finally beaten by the striker when Jesse Lingard broke, Martial fired the ball into the Belgium international and the Stoke defenders stood off as he picked his spot and drilled his shot low inside the post. There should have been a goal back when substitute Mame Biram Diouf chested down Shaqiri’s flighted pass only for De Gea to block his first shot, and the former United forward to send his second into the side-netting. There would be no consolation. 9:52PM Full time Manchester United narrow the gap to 12 points with a resounding victory orchestrated by a fine performance from Paul Pogba. Stoke had several moments of inspiration going forward but need some bodies as well as some younger legs in defence and defensive midfield.  9:50PM 90+2 min McTominay tries to glide past Martins Indi who bundles him over at the edge of the D. Time enough for Pogba to take the free-kick ... which he scoops miles over and the referee blows for time's up.  9:49PM 90+1 min The first of two added minutes begins with man-of-the-match Pogba pinging a long pass up to Rashford on the left but he lets it leak out for a throw.  9:48PM 89 min Rashford has a dainty-footed dribble through the box from the left then bobbles a tame shot at Butland as he tried to open his body and arrow it in at the back post. Mishit it.  9:47PM 87 min Ach, Stoke. Shaqiri picks out a diaginal cross towards the penalty spot from the left and Diouf beats Smalling to it and controls it sufficiently well to allow him an unimpeded left-foot shot at goal from 12 yards. But he scuffs it, De Gea saves with his legs and gives him a second chance. Ireland, unmarked, screams for him to square it for a tap-in but Diouf goes his own way and scuds a left-foot shot wide.  Attempt Saved: Man Utd 3 - 0 Stoke (Mame Biram Diouf, 86 min)   9:44PM 84 min Another glorious pass from Pogba on halfway, chipping the ball over Wimmer who manages to reach it with the odd strand of hair. Valencia, bullocking down the whitewash takes it in his stride  and fires in a cross through the six-yard box. Rashford makes a near-post run and tries to back-flick it in with his right foot. Good save from Butland.  9:40PM 82 min Third United substitution: Mata off, McTominay on.  9:39PM 81 min Double United substitution: Lingard and Martial depart to be replaced by Fellaini and Rashford.  9:38PM 79 min United enjoy such a dominant spell of possession that poor old Stoke 'don't now what day it is'. It ends with a left-wing cross towards the penalty spot and Mata does a 'shut-that-door' flick that almost squeaks in at the right post. Lukaku, who cannot resist the temptation to lunge at the rebound off the woodwork, was offside.  Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   9:34PM 77 min After twenty-odd passes, though, Martial blunders his trap and the ball squirts to Zouma who clears.  9:34PM 76 min United are strolling now, metaphorically, and pinging passes around in Stoke's half.  9:32PM 73 min Lingard brings the ball forward through the middle from the centre-circle, sprinting towards the box. He lays it off to the left for Martial who cuts inside and then fires in a very heavy pass - shades of Gerrard there - but Lukaku controls it superbly with his chest (Stoke think it was his hand), turns to his right with his back to goal and skelps in a fierce left-foot shot past Butland who had no chance. Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   9:29PM GOAL!! Manchester United 3-0 Stoke City (Lukaku) Lukaku smashes in the third Credit: Matthew Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images   9:28PM 69 min Peter Crouch departs. Mame Biram Diouf enters.  9:25PM 68 min Lukaku is booked for a retaliation on Martins Indi then Ireland by his doppelganger Anthony Taylor for going through Mata.  9:24PM 66 min Butland makes a fine save with his feet from Lukaku after United overwhelm Stoke with their pace and movement. The ball rebounds out to the edge of the area. Lingard strikes it low on the volley, Butland saves again and Mata backheels in the rebound from an offside position 9:23PM 64 min Choupo-Moting off Sobhi on. Lingard is booked on the totting up principle for bundling Fletcher over.  9:21PM 61 min Lukaku centres to Lingard in the D from the left. He rolls the pass out to Mata who is charging into the box from the right. He tries to curl a left-footer inside the far post but can't get it to bend in at the last. Lingard had robbed Zouma to start the rapid counter.    9:18PM 59 min More Pogba brilliance, beating Bauer and clipping a left-foot cross into the box. Martial controls it, dinks it inside to try to throw Butland off balance but cannot find the room to squeeze it under the keeper who tries to smother it but it bobbles free. Lukaku  has another effort at poking it past but Butland is up to it.  9:16PM 57 min United corner taken short again and Lingard, who hasn't been at his best tonight, loses the ball as he tries to get into the box. Now it's 'Delilah' from the visiting fans. United are penning them in.  9:13PM 55 min Lukaku attempts to control the ball and hook it back over his shoulder for Pogba but succeeds only in eating the ball as he spanks it into his own mouth.  9:11PM 53 min The cries of 'Paul Lambert's barmy army' drowns out any United response. The home crowd, it has to be said, is preposterously quiet these days.  9:10PM 51 min Shaqiri is unamused when shoved into an advertising hoarding perhaps inadvertently, perhaps not, by Shaw. Shaqiri takes it out on the flashing sign in anti-capitalist rage and hurts his hand after slapping it.  9:08PM 49 min Zouma wins the ball off Shaw and gives it straight back to Pogba who threads a pass up the inside-left channel. The weight perhaps takes it too close to Butland even for swift-footed Achilles Martial at full pelt. Butland manages to get down on the ground, like a draught excluder, to block Martial's stabbed shot.  9:05PM 47 min Ireland has dropped deeper, too. Matic picks out Shaw who works it back to Pogba. The United No6 drills a diagonal over to Mata who cuts it back but there's no one arriving at the edge of the box.  9:03PM 46 min Wimmer - Daniel Levy saw them coming - slots straight in at left-back.  9:02PM Half-time substitution Kevin Wimmer replaces Josh Tymon.  8:56PM Martial's goal Anthony Martial scores United's second Credit: REUTERS/Andrew Yates  Here are the average touch positions to show you Pogba's influence (6) and Ireland's (7). Average touch positions (half time) Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   8:51PM Half time Stoke had their moments, Manchester United scored with two tremendous shots and have looked dominant in the last third and vulnerable around their own box. Pogba has all the space he needs to run this match and seems certain to carry on in the second-half. Ireland and Shaqiri are playing very well and Bauer looks very promising but the movement of Lingard, Martial, Lukaku and Mata is too much for Stoke's defence to contain. .  8:47PM 45+1 min De Gea dives low to his left to save Shaqiri's left-foot shot, an opportunity created by his wonderful control as he stunned the pass from the left to the D then drilled a scorching low shot towards goal. Excellent save that proves to be the last touch of the half.  8:46PM 44 min Pogba plays the same right to left pass for Martial that bypasses and isolates the middle of the Stoke defence but this time Martial was too hasty and bolted offside.  8:45PM 42 min United adopt sheer liquid football and Stoke's defence don't know what day it is. Pogba floats a pass from right-half to outside left for Shaw who lays it off to Martial. After scoring with that lovely strike he must think his boots are made of jam so tries an outrageous outisde of the foot chip to the back post for Lukaku who nods it back across goal. Lingard can't reach it but nobbut just.  8:41PM 40 min Valencia wins the ball off Choupo-Moting on halfway and on the right, drives forward and picks out Lukaku who holds it up  and takes it outside, pursued by Martins Indi then turns to roll a pass to Pogba by the right angle of the box. Pogba sees Martial to the left of the D in the space created by Lukaku's run, sweeps a pass over to him and the winger arcs in a shot, bending in a parabola unstoppably past Butland.  Man Utd 2 - 0 Stoke (Anthony Martial, 38 min)   8:38PM GOAL!! Man Utd 2-0 Stoke (Martial) 8:38PM 36 min Pogba torpedoes a 50-yard ball from right to left to pick out Shaw's run to the byline. The left-back pulls the ball back to Martial who shoots into Zouma. Deflection leads to corner. United take it short for the umpteenth time and Stoke scuttle it away. Why so many short corners? Stoke's height?  8:35PM 34 min Mata does that thing after falling over in the box to indicate that he's slipped - serves two purposes (A) No penalty and (B) I didn't dive. It looked as though he did 'go over easily' but because it's the paragon Juan, it couldn't possibly have been anything but a slip.  8:33PM 32 min United fans spark into life when Ireland, once of City, is struck amidships by Lingard's fierce drive but the bounce favours Stoke and Valencia has to bring Allen down to stop them breaking past halfway.  8:31PM 30 min Fletcher uses his resilience and experience to hold off Pogba at the price of a corner on the right that United take short from Mata to Lingard who hangs it up at the back post. Butland drops the slithery ball but pocks it up at the second attempt. Pogba was offside in any case.  8:29PM 28 min United break quickly up the left and Mata, at the end of a slick passing move, cuts a pass back to Martial who balloons a wanton shot over the bar.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 21 min)   8:27PM 25 min Stoke move it out to the right for Shaqiri and his wand. He bends in a cross to the back post and De Gea comes for it but, rare for him, flaps under the challenge of Crouch who nods it back across the now unguarded net. Choupo-Moting meets it on the volley but Jones throws himself in to block from point-blank range and saves a certain goal. Corner. Small wonder Jose Mourinho is off the bench and shouting. Stoke have made four good chances in the past 10 minutes.  Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   8:25PM 24 min Very quiet at Old Trafford as Stoke enjoy a good five minutes. Ireland makes another interception, motors forward and Pogba kicks him up the back of his thigh. Free kick.  8:24PM 22 min What a chance for Stoke - all made by Martial's indolence in helping Shaw out when attacked by Allen and Bauer who looks a decent player. The right-back responds to Shaqiri's run inside with a square pass across the 18-yard line that he controls immaculately then dinks the perfect throughball to Ireland who has made a great run. Ireland, 15 yards out, stretches to shoot and pokes it wide. Not exactly a sitter but a chance you have to take.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 21 min)   8:21PM 20 min Here's the goal: Valencia scores Credit:  Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images  Choupo-Moting squanders possession and United break.  8:19PM 18 min Bauer's cross from the right finds Ireland in the United box just shy of the penalty spot and in space. But as he traps the centre it sticks under his feet and gobbles up precious time so that when he does manage to shoot he was being closed down and scuffs it wide.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 16 min)   8:17PM 16 min Clever interception from Ireland thwarts Shaw's cross and he scurries out of defence, laying it off to Choupo-Moting then positioning himself for the return. He kills the pass and pushes the ball out to the right into Shaqiri's path. Shaqiri bends in a left-footer towards the back post that Crouch wins but can't get any power on it. He does enough to retain possession, lay it back and Stoke come again.  8:14PM 14 min The ball is sticking to Lukaku tonight and he is astutely bringing Martial, Lingard, Mata and Pogba into play as attacking threats.  8:12PM 12 min Shaqiri shows us his exquisite technique with a spectacular bicycle kick to meet an outswinging left-wing cross. He meets it crisply but De Gea gets down low to his left to smother it.  8:11PM 10 min Made by Pogba's crossfield chip. Valencia leaves Choupo-Moting stranded, drifts inside on to his left, losing Tymon with a dip of the shoulder before finishing with a 16-yard sweetly-struck, unstoppable curler. Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Antonio Valencia, 9 min) 8:09PM GOAL!! Manchester United 1-0 Stoke (Valencia) 8:08PM 7 min Mata chips a curling left-foot pass from inside-right over the central defenders and Martial makes the run to head it. Bauer, who had his arm on Martial's back, slipped and fell, taking his opponent with him. Big shout for a penalty that the referee ignores but the replay has heads nodding in unison with the fatuous 'I've seen 'em given'' verdict.  8:06PM 6 min Tymon tries to turn Valencia on halfway but can't drive past him once he'd turned back to face him. Valencia kicks the ball on to his shins to take the throw-in. It's sheeting down.  8:04PM 4 min Pogba shifts it up the inside left channel, sweeping it 20 yards upfield. Lukaku takes it in his stride and lays it out to the left for Martial then heads for the six-yard box. Lingard makes the near-post run but the United winger drags his centre behind his team-mate and Stoke work it clear.  8:02PM 2 min Stoke recycle, bang it up to Crouch who is penalised for clattering Jones as he shielded the ball. United take the free-kick, move it up to Lukaku who lats it off to Lingard. Shaqiri hacks him down. Free kick 10 yards inside the Stoke half.  8:01PM 1 min Stoke, in blue, kick off and Stephen Ireland takes it and instigates a move up the right that has to go backwards to go forward. Martins Indi whacks it long and Valencia fires it back, over the top, and beyond Lukaku.  7:58PM Out come the teams Kick off is now just moments away. And the commentator is Alan Parry, just as it was for the Cyrille Regis clip below.  7:48PM Paul Lambert is present and correct Paul Lambert watches his new side at old Trafford Credit: Gareth Copley/Getty Images  He did pretty well at Wolves last season and was terrific at Norwich. Villa, though, was a trial for every supporter who was forced to watch austerity football while Randy Lerner tried to sell. Having said that Ron Vlaar, Christian Benteke and Karim El Anmadi were decent signings.  7:19PM Henrikh Mkhitaryan Is not in Manchester United's XVIII apparently because his head 'is not in the right place'. Or is it his body that's in N5/N7?  Jose Mourinho on Mkhitaryan's omission from tonight's squad: "I would lie if I said it was a pure tactical decision." #mufc [sky]— utdhq (@utdhq) January 15, 2018   7:17PM Those teams in black and white Man Utd De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Shaw; Pogba, Matic; Mata, Lingard, Martial; Lukaku.  Substitutes Joel Pereira, Lindelof, Rojo, Ander Herrera, Fellaini, McTominay, Rashford. It's chucking it down at Old Trafford Credit: Michael Regan/Getty Images Stoke City Butland; Bauer, Zouma, Martins Indi, Tymon; Fletcher, Allen; Shaqiri, Ireland, Choupo-Moting; Crouch.  Substitutes Grant, Edwards, Wimmer, Afellay, Adam, Diouf, Sobhi.  Referee Anthony Taylor (Wythenshawe). 7:02PM Antonio Valencia is back for Man Utd Here is how the Reds line up for #MUNSTK... �� pic.twitter.com/otGid7EQkS— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 15, 2018   7:02PM You know that business about Eddie Niedzwiecki not making many changes ... Ignore it. He's made seven and Moritz Bauer makes his Premier League debut.  Eddie Niedzwiecki makes 7⃣ changes to tonight's team that faces @ManUtd at Old Trafford. �� Bauer, Martins Indi, Tymon, Fletcher, Shaqiri, Choupo-Moting and Crouch all make the starting XI. City line-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation.#SCFC ��⚪️ pic.twitter.com/2CIECRjITg— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) January 15, 2018   6:59PM In memoriam   6:56PM Good evening And welcome to coverage of Manchester United vs Stoke City, the last Premier League match of what those people who we need to cut out of our lives would call ‘round 23’ of the ‘EPL’. We find both clubs loitering around in a kind of threshold. Stoke, obviously, having been turned down by Gary Rowett, Quique Sanchez Flores and Martin O’Neill, are ready to embark on the Paul Lambert era though tonight his will be a watching brief. Given that caretaker Eddie Niedzwiecki has been at Mark Hughes’ side with Wales, Blackburn, Man City, Fulham, QPR and the Oatcake Eaters, he’s hardly likely to pick a radically altered side because to do so would be an implicit rebuke of his friend and former and future boss. So tonight may just be a case of limbo until Lambert makes his mark or purgatory if your view of Lambert’s appointment is as pessimistic as some on that twerps’ trumpet, Twitter, are lamenting. As for Manchester United, it seems that they stand on the verge of signing Alexis Sánchez which will add some much needed dynamism into their attack though I’m not sure how tameable his talent and instincts will be for Jose Mourinho. He certainly won’t step on the throat of his own song like, say, Joe Cole did at Chelsea to track back or Samuel Eto’o at Inter but he may be employed in the manner of Wesley Sneijder or Arjen Robben - indulged if never wholly embraced. Rarely for a Mourinho side, tonight begs a performance more than the result. They played well in the second half at Goodison and there were fluent passages in the draw with Leicester and the victory over West Brom but it has been far too sporadic for the past two months. Ali Sanchez Manchester City’s defeat on Sunday gives United the opportunity to narrow the gap between first and second to 12 points with a win here. It’s still an enormous lead but for those Reds looking for comfort, it was exactly the position United found themselves in 21 years ago behind Newcastle United with 15 games to play and they ended up winning the title by three points. City are not Newcastle obviously but it’s worth pointing out. And a comfortable victory would surely be the only outcome a sane person would accept a wager on tonight. It’s 42 years since Stoke have won at Old Trafford, when Bomber Sheldon set up Bluto Bloor to glance in an 87th-minute winner and end United’s 14-month home unbeaten record and their chances of winning the Double with a couple of games of the season to go. As any fule kno, Southampton, then of Division Two, did for them in the Cup to make it a miserable April and May for Tommy Docherty’s side. Mourinho, with two trophies last year and Sánchez to come, will not be as vulnerable to Alan Bloor and Bobby Stokes type figures in April and May 2018.

Manchester United 3 Stoke City 0: Paul Pogba masterclass brings swagger back

He has the confidence, the ability and the swagger to play for Manchester United. But enough of Alexis Sanchez. This was Paul Pogba’s night – and he also possesses those formidable qualities - with the United midfielder dominating a sorry Stoke side. Plucky Potters? Not against Pogba who provided two clever assists and ran the game as United consolidated themselves in second place in the Premier League and cut Manchester City’s lead to 12 points. United have beaten City in the race to sign Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal or, rather, City have pulled out of that contest believing the finances just do not stack up and, barring a late intervention from Chelsea, it appears the Chilean forward will be another of Pogba’s team-mates hoping to profit from his sharp creativity. For United’s fans there is the tantalising vision of Pogba in a free role – finally Jose Mourinho has come to realise that is the best use of him – opening up defences for the alert movement and relentlessness of Sanchez and the bludgeoning power of Romelu Lukaku. Suddenly, they will hope, the future looks brighter for them as they continue that chase to reduce City’s dominance, to fend off Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, and to give themselves momentum going into the remainder of this season and the next campaign. Antonio Valencia curled in the first with his left foot Credit:  Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images Whether they will face Stoke in the Premier League again next season remains to be seen. Stoke are in the relegation places but, finally, they appointed a successor to Mark Hughes and hours later Paul Lambert took his place in the Old Trafford directors' box, watching on as caretaker Eddie Niedzwiecki, for his one game in charge, produced a demob-happy coaching performance by putting out an attacking team and opening up the game. It worked only in that it created chances – and Stoke did that, and it would have been interesting had they drawn level in the first-half, when just a goal down, as surely they should have done – but not in defending. The three goals conceded here mean, in fact, that Stoke have become the first team in any of Europe’s top five leagues to let in 50 goals this season. With 23 matches played that is more than two a game – not good enough for a team that spent heavily in bringing in defenders last summer. Lambert has work to do. But then he knew that. And he also knew that this was, in all probability, little more than a fixture to fulfil. Damage had to be limited and, in that, they owed a debt again to their goalkeeper Jack Butland who once more produced a series of saves even if he was quickly beaten. Pogba was central to it. He collected possession, after some fine build-up play, and ran across the face of the penalty area before pushing the ball out wide to Antonio Valencia. The United captain was returning, after four weeks out with a hamstring injury, and celebrated by cutting inside and arcing a left-foot shot (yes, left foot from Valencia) around Butland from just inside the area. It was a superb strike; a well-worked goal. Stephen Ireland snatched at a couple of first-half chances Credit: REUTERS/Andrew Yates Cue the cameras cutting to Lambert, attempting to elicit a response. The Scot buried his head in his coat – but that was more to do with responding to the cold, the hail and the swirling rain. But there was no downpour on his new team. Instead they carved United open. There was an overhead kick from Xherdan Shaqiri, held by David De Gea, and then Stephen Ireland – making his first league start in almost two years – spurned two chances. He snatched at both, dragging his shots wide, when he had space and time to do better. Stoke came closest of all when their new signing, Austrian full-back Moritz Bauer, on his debut, hoisted a high cross into the area and Peter Crouch beat De Gea to it. The ball dropped to Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, who seemed certain to score, only for his half-volley to be deflected over the cross-bar by a lunging Phil Jones. “I didn’t like the first half. I only liked the two amazing goals,” Mourinho later said, and United’s second was as good as their first with Lukaku running down the right, turning the ball back inside to Pogba who had the presence of mind and vision to move it across goal, with a ‘no-look pass’, where it was met by Anthony Martial who struck a precise first-time, side-footed shot that curled around Butland and high into the net. Anthony Martial made it 2-0 Credit: Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images As a contest, it was over. Stoke appeared dispirited. It was a question, then, of how many United would score but – instead - they were wasteful. Firstly Pogba almost claimed his third assist when he intercepted a sloppy pass by Kurt Zouma and stabbed the ball through to Martial. Butland blocked. Then Martial wriggled clear only for Butland to deny him, again, before Juan Mata turned the ball wide and, soon after, shot over. Butland thwarted Lukaku with his legs but was finally beaten by the striker when Jesse Lingard broke, Martial fired the ball into the Belgium international and the Stoke defenders stood off as he picked his spot and drilled his shot low inside the post. There should have been a goal back when substitute Mame Biram Diouf chested down Shaqiri’s flighted pass only for De Gea to block his first shot, and the former United forward to send his second into the side-netting. There would be no consolation. 9:52PM Full time Manchester United narrow the gap to 12 points with a resounding victory orchestrated by a fine performance from Paul Pogba. Stoke had several moments of inspiration going forward but need some bodies as well as some younger legs in defence and defensive midfield.  9:50PM 90+2 min McTominay tries to glide past Martins Indi who bundles him over at the edge of the D. Time enough for Pogba to take the free-kick ... which he scoops miles over and the referee blows for time's up.  9:49PM 90+1 min The first of two added minutes begins with man-of-the-match Pogba pinging a long pass up to Rashford on the left but he lets it leak out for a throw.  9:48PM 89 min Rashford has a dainty-footed dribble through the box from the left then bobbles a tame shot at Butland as he tried to open his body and arrow it in at the back post. Mishit it.  9:47PM 87 min Ach, Stoke. Shaqiri picks out a diaginal cross towards the penalty spot from the left and Diouf beats Smalling to it and controls it sufficiently well to allow him an unimpeded left-foot shot at goal from 12 yards. But he scuffs it, De Gea saves with his legs and gives him a second chance. Ireland, unmarked, screams for him to square it for a tap-in but Diouf goes his own way and scuds a left-foot shot wide.  Attempt Saved: Man Utd 3 - 0 Stoke (Mame Biram Diouf, 86 min)   9:44PM 84 min Another glorious pass from Pogba on halfway, chipping the ball over Wimmer who manages to reach it with the odd strand of hair. Valencia, bullocking down the whitewash takes it in his stride  and fires in a cross through the six-yard box. Rashford makes a near-post run and tries to back-flick it in with his right foot. Good save from Butland.  9:40PM 82 min Third United substitution: Mata off, McTominay on.  9:39PM 81 min Double United substitution: Lingard and Martial depart to be replaced by Fellaini and Rashford.  9:38PM 79 min United enjoy such a dominant spell of possession that poor old Stoke 'don't now what day it is'. It ends with a left-wing cross towards the penalty spot and Mata does a 'shut-that-door' flick that almost squeaks in at the right post. Lukaku, who cannot resist the temptation to lunge at the rebound off the woodwork, was offside.  Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   9:34PM 77 min After twenty-odd passes, though, Martial blunders his trap and the ball squirts to Zouma who clears.  9:34PM 76 min United are strolling now, metaphorically, and pinging passes around in Stoke's half.  9:32PM 73 min Lingard brings the ball forward through the middle from the centre-circle, sprinting towards the box. He lays it off to the left for Martial who cuts inside and then fires in a very heavy pass - shades of Gerrard there - but Lukaku controls it superbly with his chest (Stoke think it was his hand), turns to his right with his back to goal and skelps in a fierce left-foot shot past Butland who had no chance. Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   9:29PM GOAL!! Manchester United 3-0 Stoke City (Lukaku) Lukaku smashes in the third Credit: Matthew Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images   9:28PM 69 min Peter Crouch departs. Mame Biram Diouf enters.  9:25PM 68 min Lukaku is booked for a retaliation on Martins Indi then Ireland by his doppelganger Anthony Taylor for going through Mata.  9:24PM 66 min Butland makes a fine save with his feet from Lukaku after United overwhelm Stoke with their pace and movement. The ball rebounds out to the edge of the area. Lingard strikes it low on the volley, Butland saves again and Mata backheels in the rebound from an offside position 9:23PM 64 min Choupo-Moting off Sobhi on. Lingard is booked on the totting up principle for bundling Fletcher over.  9:21PM 61 min Lukaku centres to Lingard in the D from the left. He rolls the pass out to Mata who is charging into the box from the right. He tries to curl a left-footer inside the far post but can't get it to bend in at the last. Lingard had robbed Zouma to start the rapid counter.    9:18PM 59 min More Pogba brilliance, beating Bauer and clipping a left-foot cross into the box. Martial controls it, dinks it inside to try to throw Butland off balance but cannot find the room to squeeze it under the keeper who tries to smother it but it bobbles free. Lukaku  has another effort at poking it past but Butland is up to it.  9:16PM 57 min United corner taken short again and Lingard, who hasn't been at his best tonight, loses the ball as he tries to get into the box. Now it's 'Delilah' from the visiting fans. United are penning them in.  9:13PM 55 min Lukaku attempts to control the ball and hook it back over his shoulder for Pogba but succeeds only in eating the ball as he spanks it into his own mouth.  9:11PM 53 min The cries of 'Paul Lambert's barmy army' drowns out any United response. The home crowd, it has to be said, is preposterously quiet these days.  9:10PM 51 min Shaqiri is unamused when shoved into an advertising hoarding perhaps inadvertently, perhaps not, by Shaw. Shaqiri takes it out on the flashing sign in anti-capitalist rage and hurts his hand after slapping it.  9:08PM 49 min Zouma wins the ball off Shaw and gives it straight back to Pogba who threads a pass up the inside-left channel. The weight perhaps takes it too close to Butland even for swift-footed Achilles Martial at full pelt. Butland manages to get down on the ground, like a draught excluder, to block Martial's stabbed shot.  9:05PM 47 min Ireland has dropped deeper, too. Matic picks out Shaw who works it back to Pogba. The United No6 drills a diagonal over to Mata who cuts it back but there's no one arriving at the edge of the box.  9:03PM 46 min Wimmer - Daniel Levy saw them coming - slots straight in at left-back.  9:02PM Half-time substitution Kevin Wimmer replaces Josh Tymon.  8:56PM Martial's goal Anthony Martial scores United's second Credit: REUTERS/Andrew Yates  Here are the average touch positions to show you Pogba's influence (6) and Ireland's (7). Average touch positions (half time) Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   8:51PM Half time Stoke had their moments, Manchester United scored with two tremendous shots and have looked dominant in the last third and vulnerable around their own box. Pogba has all the space he needs to run this match and seems certain to carry on in the second-half. Ireland and Shaqiri are playing very well and Bauer looks very promising but the movement of Lingard, Martial, Lukaku and Mata is too much for Stoke's defence to contain. .  8:47PM 45+1 min De Gea dives low to his left to save Shaqiri's left-foot shot, an opportunity created by his wonderful control as he stunned the pass from the left to the D then drilled a scorching low shot towards goal. Excellent save that proves to be the last touch of the half.  8:46PM 44 min Pogba plays the same right to left pass for Martial that bypasses and isolates the middle of the Stoke defence but this time Martial was too hasty and bolted offside.  8:45PM 42 min United adopt sheer liquid football and Stoke's defence don't know what day it is. Pogba floats a pass from right-half to outside left for Shaw who lays it off to Martial. After scoring with that lovely strike he must think his boots are made of jam so tries an outrageous outisde of the foot chip to the back post for Lukaku who nods it back across goal. Lingard can't reach it but nobbut just.  8:41PM 40 min Valencia wins the ball off Choupo-Moting on halfway and on the right, drives forward and picks out Lukaku who holds it up  and takes it outside, pursued by Martins Indi then turns to roll a pass to Pogba by the right angle of the box. Pogba sees Martial to the left of the D in the space created by Lukaku's run, sweeps a pass over to him and the winger arcs in a shot, bending in a parabola unstoppably past Butland.  Man Utd 2 - 0 Stoke (Anthony Martial, 38 min)   8:38PM GOAL!! Man Utd 2-0 Stoke (Martial) 8:38PM 36 min Pogba torpedoes a 50-yard ball from right to left to pick out Shaw's run to the byline. The left-back pulls the ball back to Martial who shoots into Zouma. Deflection leads to corner. United take it short for the umpteenth time and Stoke scuttle it away. Why so many short corners? Stoke's height?  8:35PM 34 min Mata does that thing after falling over in the box to indicate that he's slipped - serves two purposes (A) No penalty and (B) I didn't dive. It looked as though he did 'go over easily' but because it's the paragon Juan, it couldn't possibly have been anything but a slip.  8:33PM 32 min United fans spark into life when Ireland, once of City, is struck amidships by Lingard's fierce drive but the bounce favours Stoke and Valencia has to bring Allen down to stop them breaking past halfway.  8:31PM 30 min Fletcher uses his resilience and experience to hold off Pogba at the price of a corner on the right that United take short from Mata to Lingard who hangs it up at the back post. Butland drops the slithery ball but pocks it up at the second attempt. Pogba was offside in any case.  8:29PM 28 min United break quickly up the left and Mata, at the end of a slick passing move, cuts a pass back to Martial who balloons a wanton shot over the bar.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 21 min)   8:27PM 25 min Stoke move it out to the right for Shaqiri and his wand. He bends in a cross to the back post and De Gea comes for it but, rare for him, flaps under the challenge of Crouch who nods it back across the now unguarded net. Choupo-Moting meets it on the volley but Jones throws himself in to block from point-blank range and saves a certain goal. Corner. Small wonder Jose Mourinho is off the bench and shouting. Stoke have made four good chances in the past 10 minutes.  Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   8:25PM 24 min Very quiet at Old Trafford as Stoke enjoy a good five minutes. Ireland makes another interception, motors forward and Pogba kicks him up the back of his thigh. Free kick.  8:24PM 22 min What a chance for Stoke - all made by Martial's indolence in helping Shaw out when attacked by Allen and Bauer who looks a decent player. The right-back responds to Shaqiri's run inside with a square pass across the 18-yard line that he controls immaculately then dinks the perfect throughball to Ireland who has made a great run. Ireland, 15 yards out, stretches to shoot and pokes it wide. Not exactly a sitter but a chance you have to take.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 21 min)   8:21PM 20 min Here's the goal: Valencia scores Credit:  Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images  Choupo-Moting squanders possession and United break.  8:19PM 18 min Bauer's cross from the right finds Ireland in the United box just shy of the penalty spot and in space. But as he traps the centre it sticks under his feet and gobbles up precious time so that when he does manage to shoot he was being closed down and scuffs it wide.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 16 min)   8:17PM 16 min Clever interception from Ireland thwarts Shaw's cross and he scurries out of defence, laying it off to Choupo-Moting then positioning himself for the return. He kills the pass and pushes the ball out to the right into Shaqiri's path. Shaqiri bends in a left-footer towards the back post that Crouch wins but can't get any power on it. He does enough to retain possession, lay it back and Stoke come again.  8:14PM 14 min The ball is sticking to Lukaku tonight and he is astutely bringing Martial, Lingard, Mata and Pogba into play as attacking threats.  8:12PM 12 min Shaqiri shows us his exquisite technique with a spectacular bicycle kick to meet an outswinging left-wing cross. He meets it crisply but De Gea gets down low to his left to smother it.  8:11PM 10 min Made by Pogba's crossfield chip. Valencia leaves Choupo-Moting stranded, drifts inside on to his left, losing Tymon with a dip of the shoulder before finishing with a 16-yard sweetly-struck, unstoppable curler. Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Antonio Valencia, 9 min) 8:09PM GOAL!! Manchester United 1-0 Stoke (Valencia) 8:08PM 7 min Mata chips a curling left-foot pass from inside-right over the central defenders and Martial makes the run to head it. Bauer, who had his arm on Martial's back, slipped and fell, taking his opponent with him. Big shout for a penalty that the referee ignores but the replay has heads nodding in unison with the fatuous 'I've seen 'em given'' verdict.  8:06PM 6 min Tymon tries to turn Valencia on halfway but can't drive past him once he'd turned back to face him. Valencia kicks the ball on to his shins to take the throw-in. It's sheeting down.  8:04PM 4 min Pogba shifts it up the inside left channel, sweeping it 20 yards upfield. Lukaku takes it in his stride and lays it out to the left for Martial then heads for the six-yard box. Lingard makes the near-post run but the United winger drags his centre behind his team-mate and Stoke work it clear.  8:02PM 2 min Stoke recycle, bang it up to Crouch who is penalised for clattering Jones as he shielded the ball. United take the free-kick, move it up to Lukaku who lats it off to Lingard. Shaqiri hacks him down. Free kick 10 yards inside the Stoke half.  8:01PM 1 min Stoke, in blue, kick off and Stephen Ireland takes it and instigates a move up the right that has to go backwards to go forward. Martins Indi whacks it long and Valencia fires it back, over the top, and beyond Lukaku.  7:58PM Out come the teams Kick off is now just moments away. And the commentator is Alan Parry, just as it was for the Cyrille Regis clip below.  7:48PM Paul Lambert is present and correct Paul Lambert watches his new side at old Trafford Credit: Gareth Copley/Getty Images  He did pretty well at Wolves last season and was terrific at Norwich. Villa, though, was a trial for every supporter who was forced to watch austerity football while Randy Lerner tried to sell. Having said that Ron Vlaar, Christian Benteke and Karim El Anmadi were decent signings.  7:19PM Henrikh Mkhitaryan Is not in Manchester United's XVIII apparently because his head 'is not in the right place'. Or is it his body that's in N5/N7?  Jose Mourinho on Mkhitaryan's omission from tonight's squad: "I would lie if I said it was a pure tactical decision." #mufc [sky]— utdhq (@utdhq) January 15, 2018   7:17PM Those teams in black and white Man Utd De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Shaw; Pogba, Matic; Mata, Lingard, Martial; Lukaku.  Substitutes Joel Pereira, Lindelof, Rojo, Ander Herrera, Fellaini, McTominay, Rashford. It's chucking it down at Old Trafford Credit: Michael Regan/Getty Images Stoke City Butland; Bauer, Zouma, Martins Indi, Tymon; Fletcher, Allen; Shaqiri, Ireland, Choupo-Moting; Crouch.  Substitutes Grant, Edwards, Wimmer, Afellay, Adam, Diouf, Sobhi.  Referee Anthony Taylor (Wythenshawe). 7:02PM Antonio Valencia is back for Man Utd Here is how the Reds line up for #MUNSTK... �� pic.twitter.com/otGid7EQkS— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 15, 2018   7:02PM You know that business about Eddie Niedzwiecki not making many changes ... Ignore it. He's made seven and Moritz Bauer makes his Premier League debut.  Eddie Niedzwiecki makes 7⃣ changes to tonight's team that faces @ManUtd at Old Trafford. �� Bauer, Martins Indi, Tymon, Fletcher, Shaqiri, Choupo-Moting and Crouch all make the starting XI. City line-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation.#SCFC ��⚪️ pic.twitter.com/2CIECRjITg— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) January 15, 2018   6:59PM In memoriam   6:56PM Good evening And welcome to coverage of Manchester United vs Stoke City, the last Premier League match of what those people who we need to cut out of our lives would call ‘round 23’ of the ‘EPL’. We find both clubs loitering around in a kind of threshold. Stoke, obviously, having been turned down by Gary Rowett, Quique Sanchez Flores and Martin O’Neill, are ready to embark on the Paul Lambert era though tonight his will be a watching brief. Given that caretaker Eddie Niedzwiecki has been at Mark Hughes’ side with Wales, Blackburn, Man City, Fulham, QPR and the Oatcake Eaters, he’s hardly likely to pick a radically altered side because to do so would be an implicit rebuke of his friend and former and future boss. So tonight may just be a case of limbo until Lambert makes his mark or purgatory if your view of Lambert’s appointment is as pessimistic as some on that twerps’ trumpet, Twitter, are lamenting. As for Manchester United, it seems that they stand on the verge of signing Alexis Sánchez which will add some much needed dynamism into their attack though I’m not sure how tameable his talent and instincts will be for Jose Mourinho. He certainly won’t step on the throat of his own song like, say, Joe Cole did at Chelsea to track back or Samuel Eto’o at Inter but he may be employed in the manner of Wesley Sneijder or Arjen Robben - indulged if never wholly embraced. Rarely for a Mourinho side, tonight begs a performance more than the result. They played well in the second half at Goodison and there were fluent passages in the draw with Leicester and the victory over West Brom but it has been far too sporadic for the past two months. Ali Sanchez Manchester City’s defeat on Sunday gives United the opportunity to narrow the gap between first and second to 12 points with a win here. It’s still an enormous lead but for those Reds looking for comfort, it was exactly the position United found themselves in 21 years ago behind Newcastle United with 15 games to play and they ended up winning the title by three points. City are not Newcastle obviously but it’s worth pointing out. And a comfortable victory would surely be the only outcome a sane person would accept a wager on tonight. It’s 42 years since Stoke have won at Old Trafford, when Bomber Sheldon set up Bluto Bloor to glance in an 87th-minute winner and end United’s 14-month home unbeaten record and their chances of winning the Double with a couple of games of the season to go. As any fule kno, Southampton, then of Division Two, did for them in the Cup to make it a miserable April and May for Tommy Docherty’s side. Mourinho, with two trophies last year and Sánchez to come, will not be as vulnerable to Alan Bloor and Bobby Stokes type figures in April and May 2018.

Manchester United 3 Stoke City 0: Paul Pogba masterclass brings swagger back

He has the confidence, the ability and the swagger to play for Manchester United. But enough of Alexis Sanchez. This was Paul Pogba’s night – and he also possesses those formidable qualities - with the United midfielder dominating a sorry Stoke side. Plucky Potters? Not against Pogba who provided two clever assists and ran the game as United consolidated themselves in second place in the Premier League and cut Manchester City’s lead to 12 points. United have beaten City in the race to sign Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal or, rather, City have pulled out of that contest believing the finances just do not stack up and, barring a late intervention from Chelsea, it appears the Chilean forward will be another of Pogba’s team-mates hoping to profit from his sharp creativity. For United’s fans there is the tantalising vision of Pogba in a free role – finally Jose Mourinho has come to realise that is the best use of him – opening up defences for the alert movement and relentlessness of Sanchez and the bludgeoning power of Romelu Lukaku. Suddenly, they will hope, the future looks brighter for them as they continue that chase to reduce City’s dominance, to fend off Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, and to give themselves momentum going into the remainder of this season and the next campaign. Antonio Valencia curled in the first with his left foot Credit:  Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images Whether they will face Stoke in the Premier League again next season remains to be seen. Stoke are in the relegation places but, finally, they appointed a successor to Mark Hughes and hours later Paul Lambert took his place in the Old Trafford directors' box, watching on as caretaker Eddie Niedzwiecki, for his one game in charge, produced a demob-happy coaching performance by putting out an attacking team and opening up the game. It worked only in that it created chances – and Stoke did that, and it would have been interesting had they drawn level in the first-half, when just a goal down, as surely they should have done – but not in defending. The three goals conceded here mean, in fact, that Stoke have become the first team in any of Europe’s top five leagues to let in 50 goals this season. With 23 matches played that is more than two a game – not good enough for a team that spent heavily in bringing in defenders last summer. Lambert has work to do. But then he knew that. And he also knew that this was, in all probability, little more than a fixture to fulfil. Damage had to be limited and, in that, they owed a debt again to their goalkeeper Jack Butland who once more produced a series of saves even if he was quickly beaten. Pogba was central to it. He collected possession, after some fine build-up play, and ran across the face of the penalty area before pushing the ball out wide to Antonio Valencia. The United captain was returning, after four weeks out with a hamstring injury, and celebrated by cutting inside and arcing a left-foot shot (yes, left foot from Valencia) around Butland from just inside the area. It was a superb strike; a well-worked goal. Stephen Ireland snatched at a couple of first-half chances Credit: REUTERS/Andrew Yates Cue the cameras cutting to Lambert, attempting to elicit a response. The Scot buried his head in his coat – but that was more to do with responding to the cold, the hail and the swirling rain. But there was no downpour on his new team. Instead they carved United open. There was an overhead kick from Xherdan Shaqiri, held by David De Gea, and then Stephen Ireland – making his first league start in almost two years – spurned two chances. He snatched at both, dragging his shots wide, when he had space and time to do better. Stoke came closest of all when their new signing, Austrian full-back Moritz Bauer, on his debut, hoisted a high cross into the area and Peter Crouch beat De Gea to it. The ball dropped to Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, who seemed certain to score, only for his half-volley to be deflected over the cross-bar by a lunging Phil Jones. “I didn’t like the first half. I only liked the two amazing goals,” Mourinho later said, and United’s second was as good as their first with Lukaku running down the right, turning the ball back inside to Pogba who had the presence of mind and vision to move it across goal, with a ‘no-look pass’, where it was met by Anthony Martial who struck a precise first-time, side-footed shot that curled around Butland and high into the net. Anthony Martial made it 2-0 Credit: Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images As a contest, it was over. Stoke appeared dispirited. It was a question, then, of how many United would score but – instead - they were wasteful. Firstly Pogba almost claimed his third assist when he intercepted a sloppy pass by Kurt Zouma and stabbed the ball through to Martial. Butland blocked. Then Martial wriggled clear only for Butland to deny him, again, before Juan Mata turned the ball wide and, soon after, shot over. Butland thwarted Lukaku with his legs but was finally beaten by the striker when Jesse Lingard broke, Martial fired the ball into the Belgium international and the Stoke defenders stood off as he picked his spot and drilled his shot low inside the post. There should have been a goal back when substitute Mame Biram Diouf chested down Shaqiri’s flighted pass only for De Gea to block his first shot, and the former United forward to send his second into the side-netting. There would be no consolation. 9:52PM Full time Manchester United narrow the gap to 12 points with a resounding victory orchestrated by a fine performance from Paul Pogba. Stoke had several moments of inspiration going forward but need some bodies as well as some younger legs in defence and defensive midfield.  9:50PM 90+2 min McTominay tries to glide past Martins Indi who bundles him over at the edge of the D. Time enough for Pogba to take the free-kick ... which he scoops miles over and the referee blows for time's up.  9:49PM 90+1 min The first of two added minutes begins with man-of-the-match Pogba pinging a long pass up to Rashford on the left but he lets it leak out for a throw.  9:48PM 89 min Rashford has a dainty-footed dribble through the box from the left then bobbles a tame shot at Butland as he tried to open his body and arrow it in at the back post. Mishit it.  9:47PM 87 min Ach, Stoke. Shaqiri picks out a diaginal cross towards the penalty spot from the left and Diouf beats Smalling to it and controls it sufficiently well to allow him an unimpeded left-foot shot at goal from 12 yards. But he scuffs it, De Gea saves with his legs and gives him a second chance. Ireland, unmarked, screams for him to square it for a tap-in but Diouf goes his own way and scuds a left-foot shot wide.  Attempt Saved: Man Utd 3 - 0 Stoke (Mame Biram Diouf, 86 min)   9:44PM 84 min Another glorious pass from Pogba on halfway, chipping the ball over Wimmer who manages to reach it with the odd strand of hair. Valencia, bullocking down the whitewash takes it in his stride  and fires in a cross through the six-yard box. Rashford makes a near-post run and tries to back-flick it in with his right foot. Good save from Butland.  9:40PM 82 min Third United substitution: Mata off, McTominay on.  9:39PM 81 min Double United substitution: Lingard and Martial depart to be replaced by Fellaini and Rashford.  9:38PM 79 min United enjoy such a dominant spell of possession that poor old Stoke 'don't now what day it is'. It ends with a left-wing cross towards the penalty spot and Mata does a 'shut-that-door' flick that almost squeaks in at the right post. Lukaku, who cannot resist the temptation to lunge at the rebound off the woodwork, was offside.  Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   9:34PM 77 min After twenty-odd passes, though, Martial blunders his trap and the ball squirts to Zouma who clears.  9:34PM 76 min United are strolling now, metaphorically, and pinging passes around in Stoke's half.  9:32PM 73 min Lingard brings the ball forward through the middle from the centre-circle, sprinting towards the box. He lays it off to the left for Martial who cuts inside and then fires in a very heavy pass - shades of Gerrard there - but Lukaku controls it superbly with his chest (Stoke think it was his hand), turns to his right with his back to goal and skelps in a fierce left-foot shot past Butland who had no chance. Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   9:29PM GOAL!! Manchester United 3-0 Stoke City (Lukaku) Lukaku smashes in the third Credit: Matthew Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images   9:28PM 69 min Peter Crouch departs. Mame Biram Diouf enters.  9:25PM 68 min Lukaku is booked for a retaliation on Martins Indi then Ireland by his doppelganger Anthony Taylor for going through Mata.  9:24PM 66 min Butland makes a fine save with his feet from Lukaku after United overwhelm Stoke with their pace and movement. The ball rebounds out to the edge of the area. Lingard strikes it low on the volley, Butland saves again and Mata backheels in the rebound from an offside position 9:23PM 64 min Choupo-Moting off Sobhi on. Lingard is booked on the totting up principle for bundling Fletcher over.  9:21PM 61 min Lukaku centres to Lingard in the D from the left. He rolls the pass out to Mata who is charging into the box from the right. He tries to curl a left-footer inside the far post but can't get it to bend in at the last. Lingard had robbed Zouma to start the rapid counter.    9:18PM 59 min More Pogba brilliance, beating Bauer and clipping a left-foot cross into the box. Martial controls it, dinks it inside to try to throw Butland off balance but cannot find the room to squeeze it under the keeper who tries to smother it but it bobbles free. Lukaku  has another effort at poking it past but Butland is up to it.  9:16PM 57 min United corner taken short again and Lingard, who hasn't been at his best tonight, loses the ball as he tries to get into the box. Now it's 'Delilah' from the visiting fans. United are penning them in.  9:13PM 55 min Lukaku attempts to control the ball and hook it back over his shoulder for Pogba but succeeds only in eating the ball as he spanks it into his own mouth.  9:11PM 53 min The cries of 'Paul Lambert's barmy army' drowns out any United response. The home crowd, it has to be said, is preposterously quiet these days.  9:10PM 51 min Shaqiri is unamused when shoved into an advertising hoarding perhaps inadvertently, perhaps not, by Shaw. Shaqiri takes it out on the flashing sign in anti-capitalist rage and hurts his hand after slapping it.  9:08PM 49 min Zouma wins the ball off Shaw and gives it straight back to Pogba who threads a pass up the inside-left channel. The weight perhaps takes it too close to Butland even for swift-footed Achilles Martial at full pelt. Butland manages to get down on the ground, like a draught excluder, to block Martial's stabbed shot.  9:05PM 47 min Ireland has dropped deeper, too. Matic picks out Shaw who works it back to Pogba. The United No6 drills a diagonal over to Mata who cuts it back but there's no one arriving at the edge of the box.  9:03PM 46 min Wimmer - Daniel Levy saw them coming - slots straight in at left-back.  9:02PM Half-time substitution Kevin Wimmer replaces Josh Tymon.  8:56PM Martial's goal Anthony Martial scores United's second Credit: REUTERS/Andrew Yates  Here are the average touch positions to show you Pogba's influence (6) and Ireland's (7). Average touch positions (half time) Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   8:51PM Half time Stoke had their moments, Manchester United scored with two tremendous shots and have looked dominant in the last third and vulnerable around their own box. Pogba has all the space he needs to run this match and seems certain to carry on in the second-half. Ireland and Shaqiri are playing very well and Bauer looks very promising but the movement of Lingard, Martial, Lukaku and Mata is too much for Stoke's defence to contain. .  8:47PM 45+1 min De Gea dives low to his left to save Shaqiri's left-foot shot, an opportunity created by his wonderful control as he stunned the pass from the left to the D then drilled a scorching low shot towards goal. Excellent save that proves to be the last touch of the half.  8:46PM 44 min Pogba plays the same right to left pass for Martial that bypasses and isolates the middle of the Stoke defence but this time Martial was too hasty and bolted offside.  8:45PM 42 min United adopt sheer liquid football and Stoke's defence don't know what day it is. Pogba floats a pass from right-half to outside left for Shaw who lays it off to Martial. After scoring with that lovely strike he must think his boots are made of jam so tries an outrageous outisde of the foot chip to the back post for Lukaku who nods it back across goal. Lingard can't reach it but nobbut just.  8:41PM 40 min Valencia wins the ball off Choupo-Moting on halfway and on the right, drives forward and picks out Lukaku who holds it up  and takes it outside, pursued by Martins Indi then turns to roll a pass to Pogba by the right angle of the box. Pogba sees Martial to the left of the D in the space created by Lukaku's run, sweeps a pass over to him and the winger arcs in a shot, bending in a parabola unstoppably past Butland.  Man Utd 2 - 0 Stoke (Anthony Martial, 38 min)   8:38PM GOAL!! Man Utd 2-0 Stoke (Martial) 8:38PM 36 min Pogba torpedoes a 50-yard ball from right to left to pick out Shaw's run to the byline. The left-back pulls the ball back to Martial who shoots into Zouma. Deflection leads to corner. United take it short for the umpteenth time and Stoke scuttle it away. Why so many short corners? Stoke's height?  8:35PM 34 min Mata does that thing after falling over in the box to indicate that he's slipped - serves two purposes (A) No penalty and (B) I didn't dive. It looked as though he did 'go over easily' but because it's the paragon Juan, it couldn't possibly have been anything but a slip.  8:33PM 32 min United fans spark into life when Ireland, once of City, is struck amidships by Lingard's fierce drive but the bounce favours Stoke and Valencia has to bring Allen down to stop them breaking past halfway.  8:31PM 30 min Fletcher uses his resilience and experience to hold off Pogba at the price of a corner on the right that United take short from Mata to Lingard who hangs it up at the back post. Butland drops the slithery ball but pocks it up at the second attempt. Pogba was offside in any case.  8:29PM 28 min United break quickly up the left and Mata, at the end of a slick passing move, cuts a pass back to Martial who balloons a wanton shot over the bar.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 21 min)   8:27PM 25 min Stoke move it out to the right for Shaqiri and his wand. He bends in a cross to the back post and De Gea comes for it but, rare for him, flaps under the challenge of Crouch who nods it back across the now unguarded net. Choupo-Moting meets it on the volley but Jones throws himself in to block from point-blank range and saves a certain goal. Corner. Small wonder Jose Mourinho is off the bench and shouting. Stoke have made four good chances in the past 10 minutes.  Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   8:25PM 24 min Very quiet at Old Trafford as Stoke enjoy a good five minutes. Ireland makes another interception, motors forward and Pogba kicks him up the back of his thigh. Free kick.  8:24PM 22 min What a chance for Stoke - all made by Martial's indolence in helping Shaw out when attacked by Allen and Bauer who looks a decent player. The right-back responds to Shaqiri's run inside with a square pass across the 18-yard line that he controls immaculately then dinks the perfect throughball to Ireland who has made a great run. Ireland, 15 yards out, stretches to shoot and pokes it wide. Not exactly a sitter but a chance you have to take.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 21 min)   8:21PM 20 min Here's the goal: Valencia scores Credit:  Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images  Choupo-Moting squanders possession and United break.  8:19PM 18 min Bauer's cross from the right finds Ireland in the United box just shy of the penalty spot and in space. But as he traps the centre it sticks under his feet and gobbles up precious time so that when he does manage to shoot he was being closed down and scuffs it wide.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 16 min)   8:17PM 16 min Clever interception from Ireland thwarts Shaw's cross and he scurries out of defence, laying it off to Choupo-Moting then positioning himself for the return. He kills the pass and pushes the ball out to the right into Shaqiri's path. Shaqiri bends in a left-footer towards the back post that Crouch wins but can't get any power on it. He does enough to retain possession, lay it back and Stoke come again.  8:14PM 14 min The ball is sticking to Lukaku tonight and he is astutely bringing Martial, Lingard, Mata and Pogba into play as attacking threats.  8:12PM 12 min Shaqiri shows us his exquisite technique with a spectacular bicycle kick to meet an outswinging left-wing cross. He meets it crisply but De Gea gets down low to his left to smother it.  8:11PM 10 min Made by Pogba's crossfield chip. Valencia leaves Choupo-Moting stranded, drifts inside on to his left, losing Tymon with a dip of the shoulder before finishing with a 16-yard sweetly-struck, unstoppable curler. Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Antonio Valencia, 9 min) 8:09PM GOAL!! Manchester United 1-0 Stoke (Valencia) 8:08PM 7 min Mata chips a curling left-foot pass from inside-right over the central defenders and Martial makes the run to head it. Bauer, who had his arm on Martial's back, slipped and fell, taking his opponent with him. Big shout for a penalty that the referee ignores but the replay has heads nodding in unison with the fatuous 'I've seen 'em given'' verdict.  8:06PM 6 min Tymon tries to turn Valencia on halfway but can't drive past him once he'd turned back to face him. Valencia kicks the ball on to his shins to take the throw-in. It's sheeting down.  8:04PM 4 min Pogba shifts it up the inside left channel, sweeping it 20 yards upfield. Lukaku takes it in his stride and lays it out to the left for Martial then heads for the six-yard box. Lingard makes the near-post run but the United winger drags his centre behind his team-mate and Stoke work it clear.  8:02PM 2 min Stoke recycle, bang it up to Crouch who is penalised for clattering Jones as he shielded the ball. United take the free-kick, move it up to Lukaku who lats it off to Lingard. Shaqiri hacks him down. Free kick 10 yards inside the Stoke half.  8:01PM 1 min Stoke, in blue, kick off and Stephen Ireland takes it and instigates a move up the right that has to go backwards to go forward. Martins Indi whacks it long and Valencia fires it back, over the top, and beyond Lukaku.  7:58PM Out come the teams Kick off is now just moments away. And the commentator is Alan Parry, just as it was for the Cyrille Regis clip below.  7:48PM Paul Lambert is present and correct Paul Lambert watches his new side at old Trafford Credit: Gareth Copley/Getty Images  He did pretty well at Wolves last season and was terrific at Norwich. Villa, though, was a trial for every supporter who was forced to watch austerity football while Randy Lerner tried to sell. Having said that Ron Vlaar, Christian Benteke and Karim El Anmadi were decent signings.  7:19PM Henrikh Mkhitaryan Is not in Manchester United's XVIII apparently because his head 'is not in the right place'. Or is it his body that's in N5/N7?  Jose Mourinho on Mkhitaryan's omission from tonight's squad: "I would lie if I said it was a pure tactical decision." #mufc [sky]— utdhq (@utdhq) January 15, 2018   7:17PM Those teams in black and white Man Utd De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Shaw; Pogba, Matic; Mata, Lingard, Martial; Lukaku.  Substitutes Joel Pereira, Lindelof, Rojo, Ander Herrera, Fellaini, McTominay, Rashford. It's chucking it down at Old Trafford Credit: Michael Regan/Getty Images Stoke City Butland; Bauer, Zouma, Martins Indi, Tymon; Fletcher, Allen; Shaqiri, Ireland, Choupo-Moting; Crouch.  Substitutes Grant, Edwards, Wimmer, Afellay, Adam, Diouf, Sobhi.  Referee Anthony Taylor (Wythenshawe). 7:02PM Antonio Valencia is back for Man Utd Here is how the Reds line up for #MUNSTK... �� pic.twitter.com/otGid7EQkS— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 15, 2018   7:02PM You know that business about Eddie Niedzwiecki not making many changes ... Ignore it. He's made seven and Moritz Bauer makes his Premier League debut.  Eddie Niedzwiecki makes 7⃣ changes to tonight's team that faces @ManUtd at Old Trafford. �� Bauer, Martins Indi, Tymon, Fletcher, Shaqiri, Choupo-Moting and Crouch all make the starting XI. City line-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation.#SCFC ��⚪️ pic.twitter.com/2CIECRjITg— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) January 15, 2018   6:59PM In memoriam   6:56PM Good evening And welcome to coverage of Manchester United vs Stoke City, the last Premier League match of what those people who we need to cut out of our lives would call ‘round 23’ of the ‘EPL’. We find both clubs loitering around in a kind of threshold. Stoke, obviously, having been turned down by Gary Rowett, Quique Sanchez Flores and Martin O’Neill, are ready to embark on the Paul Lambert era though tonight his will be a watching brief. Given that caretaker Eddie Niedzwiecki has been at Mark Hughes’ side with Wales, Blackburn, Man City, Fulham, QPR and the Oatcake Eaters, he’s hardly likely to pick a radically altered side because to do so would be an implicit rebuke of his friend and former and future boss. So tonight may just be a case of limbo until Lambert makes his mark or purgatory if your view of Lambert’s appointment is as pessimistic as some on that twerps’ trumpet, Twitter, are lamenting. As for Manchester United, it seems that they stand on the verge of signing Alexis Sánchez which will add some much needed dynamism into their attack though I’m not sure how tameable his talent and instincts will be for Jose Mourinho. He certainly won’t step on the throat of his own song like, say, Joe Cole did at Chelsea to track back or Samuel Eto’o at Inter but he may be employed in the manner of Wesley Sneijder or Arjen Robben - indulged if never wholly embraced. Rarely for a Mourinho side, tonight begs a performance more than the result. They played well in the second half at Goodison and there were fluent passages in the draw with Leicester and the victory over West Brom but it has been far too sporadic for the past two months. Ali Sanchez Manchester City’s defeat on Sunday gives United the opportunity to narrow the gap between first and second to 12 points with a win here. It’s still an enormous lead but for those Reds looking for comfort, it was exactly the position United found themselves in 21 years ago behind Newcastle United with 15 games to play and they ended up winning the title by three points. City are not Newcastle obviously but it’s worth pointing out. And a comfortable victory would surely be the only outcome a sane person would accept a wager on tonight. It’s 42 years since Stoke have won at Old Trafford, when Bomber Sheldon set up Bluto Bloor to glance in an 87th-minute winner and end United’s 14-month home unbeaten record and their chances of winning the Double with a couple of games of the season to go. As any fule kno, Southampton, then of Division Two, did for them in the Cup to make it a miserable April and May for Tommy Docherty’s side. Mourinho, with two trophies last year and Sánchez to come, will not be as vulnerable to Alan Bloor and Bobby Stokes type figures in April and May 2018.

Paul Lambert will earn £1 million bonus if Stoke avoid relegation

Paul Lambert is in line for a £1m survival bonus if he guides Stoke City to Premier League safety, after making his return to management in the Potteries.  Lambert is back in the technical area following a seven-month exile after accepting the job with the Staffordshire strugglers, in a move which has left many Stoke supporters underwhelmed by the appointment.   The 48-year-old has signed a two-and-a-half year contract and will be assured of a significant bonus if he can maintain the club's place in the top-flight, with his first game against Huddersfield this weekend. Lambert's arrival ends a nine-day search for Mark Hughes's successor, with moves for Gary Rowett, Quique Sanchez Flores and Martin O'Neill all ending in frustration. Rowett was a leading contender but opted to sign a new deal at Derby while Flores, the Espanyol manager, performed a surprise u-turn despite the Stoke board flying out to meet him in Barcelona. O'Neill, the Republic of Ireland manager, was also interviewed twice by chairman Peter Coates and his son John, the vice-chairman, plus chief executive Tony Scholes, but neither party was ever truly convinced. It left Stoke's with no alternative but to consider other candidates but Lambert is understood to have impressed so much in his interview that he quickly emerged as the No. 1 choice.  During talks he outlined his ambitions for the season and Stoke's strengths and weaknesses, with his appointment confirmed on Monday morning. He will be assured of funds for the January transfer window. Peter Coates said: “Paul greatly impressed us with his knowledge of our squad and had a clear plan of how he would improve our results. He’s a man who backed himself as a player, none more so than when he turned down contract offers in Scotland to go on trial in the German Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund, and it’s obvious he adopts the same approach as a manager.” There is an acceptance within the Stoke boardroom that the appointment will not be wholly popular, but Lambert has proven Premier League experience and, crucially, was never relegated during a turbulent spell at Aston Villa. His reputation was arguably at its highest nearly seven years ago, when he achieved back-to-back promotions at Norwich City. He departed for Villa in 2012 and endured a difficult two-and-a-half years under former chairman Randy Lerner, operating on a restricted budget. Yet he never suffered relegation in that time before his dismissal in February 2015. Since leaving Villa he has managed Blackburn Rovers and Wolves, while he was interviewed last month by Championship clubs Hull City and Sheffield Wednesday. January 2018 transfer window John Coates said: “Paul has been successful in management at clubs with a strong and stable background and with local ownership – the kind of foundation we are able to give to our managers. We were determined to appoint someone with Premier League experience or an extensive knowledge of English football. We look forward to working with Paul and supporting him to help achieve our goals.” Lambert was in the stands at Old Trafford for Stoke's game against Manchester United on Monday night. He will be officially presented at the bet365 Stadium on Tuesday afternoon.

Manchester United vs Stoke City, Premier League: live score updates

Coral: Manchester United to win @ 33-1   9:52PM Full time Manchester United narrow the gap to 12 points with a resounding victory orchestrated by a fine performance from Paul Pogba. Stoke had several moments of inspiration going forward but need some bodies as well as some younger legs in defence and defensive midfield.  9:50PM 90+2 min McTominay tries to glide past Martins Indi who bundles him over at the edge of the D. Time enough for Pogba to take the free-kick ... which he scoops miles over and the referee blows for time's up.  9:49PM 90+1 min The first of two added minutes begins with man-of-the-match Pogba pinging a long pass up to Rashford on the left but he lets it leak out for a throw.  9:48PM 89 min Rashford has a dainty-footed dribble through the box from the left then bobbles a tame shot at Butland as he tried to open his body and arrow it in at the back post. Mishit it.  9:47PM 87 min Ach, Stoke. Shaqiri picks out a diaginal cross towards the penalty spot from the left and Diouf beats Smalling to it and controls it sufficiently well to allow him an unimpeded left-foot shot at goal from 12 yards. But he scuffs it, De Gea saves with his legs and gives him a second chance. Ireland, unmarked, screams for him to square it for a tap-in but Diouf goes his own way and scuds a left-foot shot wide.  Attempt Saved: Man Utd 3 - 0 Stoke (Mame Biram Diouf, 86 min)   9:44PM 84 min Another glorious pass from Pogba on halfway, chipping the ball over Wimmer who manages to reach it with the odd strand of hair. Valencia, bullocking down the whitewash takes it in his stride  and fires in a cross through the six-yard box. Rashford makes a near-post run and tries to back-flick it in with his right foot. Good save from Butland.  9:40PM 82 min Third United substitution: Mata off, McTominay on.  9:39PM 81 min Double United substitution: Lingard and Martial depart to be replaced by Fellaini and Rashford.  9:38PM 79 min United enjoy such a dominant spell of possession that poor old Stoke 'don't now what day it is'. It ends with a left-wing cross towards the penalty spot and Mata does a 'shut-that-door' flick that almost squeaks in at the right post. Lukaku, who cannot resist the temptation to lunge at the rebound off the woodwork, was offside.  Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   9:34PM 77 min After twenty-odd passes, though, Martial blunders his trap and the ball squirts to Zouma who clears.  9:34PM 76 min United are strolling now, metaphorically, and pinging passes around in Stoke's half.  9:32PM 73 min Lingard brings the ball forward through the middle from the centre-circle, sprinting towards the box. He lays it off to the left for Martial who cuts inside and then fires in a very heavy pass - shades of Gerrard there - but Lukaku controls it superbly with his chest (Stoke think it was his hand), turns to his right with his back to goal and skelps in a fierce left-foot shot past Butland who had no chance. Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   9:29PM GOAL!! Manchester United 3-0 Stoke City (Lukaku) Lukaku smashes in the third Credit: Matthew Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images   9:28PM 69 min Peter Crouch departs. Mame Biram Diouf enters.  9:25PM 68 min Lukaku is booked for a retaliation on Martins Indi then Ireland by his doppelganger Anthony Taylor for going through Mata.  9:24PM 66 min Butland makes a fine save with his feet from Lukaku after United overwhelm Stoke with their pace and movement. The ball rebounds out to the edge of the area. Lingard strikes it low on the volley, Butland saves again and Mata backheels in the rebound from an offside position 9:23PM 64 min Choupo-Moting off Sobhi on. Lingard is booked on the totting up principle for bundling Fletcher over.  9:21PM 61 min Lukaku centres to Lingard in the D from the left. He rolls the pass out to Mata who is charging into the box from the right. He tries to curl a left-footer inside the far post but can't get it to bend in at the last. Lingard had robbed Zouma to start the rapid counter.    9:18PM 59 min More Pogba brilliance, beating Bauer and clipping a left-foot cross into the box. Martial controls it, dinks it inside to try to throw Butland off balance but cannot find the room to squeeze it under the keeper who tries to smother it but it bobbles free. Lukaku  has another effort at poking it past but Butland is up to it.  9:16PM 57 min United corner taken short again and Lingard, who hasn't been at his best tonight, loses the ball as he tries to get into the box. Now it's 'Delilah' from the visiting fans. United are penning them in.  9:13PM 55 min Lukaku attempts to control the ball and hook it back over his shoulder for Pogba but succeeds only in eating the ball as he spanks it into his own mouth.  9:11PM 53 min The cries of 'Paul Lambert's barmy army' drowns out any United response. The home crowd, it has to be said, is preposterously quiet these days.  9:10PM 51 min Shaqiri is unamused when shoved into an advertising hoarding perhaps inadvertently, perhaps not, by Shaw. Shaqiri takes it out on the flashing sign in anti-capitalist rage and hurts his hand after slapping it.  9:08PM 49 min Zouma wins the ball off Shaw and gives it straight back to Pogba who threads a pass up the inside-left channel. The weight perhaps takes it too close to Butland even for swift-footed Achilles Martial at full pelt. Butland manages to get down on the ground, like a draught excluder, to block Martial's stabbed shot.  9:05PM 47 min Ireland has dropped deeper, too. Matic picks out Shaw who works it back to Pogba. The United No6 drills a diagonal over to Mata who cuts it back but there's no one arriving at the edge of the box.  9:03PM 46 min Wimmer - Daniel Levy saw them coming - slots straight in at left-back.  9:02PM Half-time substitution Kevin Wimmer replaces Josh Tymon.  8:56PM Martial's goal Anthony Martial scores United's second Credit: REUTERS/Andrew Yates  Here are the average touch positions to show you Pogba's influence (6) and Ireland's (7). Average touch positions (half time) Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   8:51PM Half time Stoke had their moments, Manchester United scored with two tremendous shots and have looked dominant in the last third and vulnerable around their own box. Pogba has all the space he needs to run this match and seems certain to carry on in the second-half. Ireland and Shaqiri are playing very well and Bauer looks very promising but the movement of Lingard, Martial, Lukaku and Mata is too much for Stoke's defence to contain. .  8:47PM 45+1 min De Gea dives low to his left to save Shaqiri's left-foot shot, an opportunity created by his wonderful control as he stunned the pass from the left to the D then drilled a scorching low shot towards goal. Excellent save that proves to be the last touch of the half.  8:46PM 44 min Pogba plays the same right to left pass for Martial that bypasses and isolates the middle of the Stoke defence but this time Martial was too hasty and bolted offside.  8:45PM 42 min United adopt sheer liquid football and Stoke's defence don't know what day it is. Pogba floats a pass from right-half to outside left for Shaw who lays it off to Martial. After scoring with that lovely strike he must think his boots are made of jam so tries an outrageous outisde of the foot chip to the back post for Lukaku who nods it back across goal. Lingard can't reach it but nobbut just.  8:41PM 40 min Valencia wins the ball off Choupo-Moting on halfway and on the right, drives forward and picks out Lukaku who holds it up  and takes it outside, pursued by Martins Indi then turns to roll a pass to Pogba by the right angle of the box. Pogba sees Martial to the left of the D in the space created by Lukaku's run, sweeps a pass over to him and the winger arcs in a shot, bending in a parabola unstoppably past Butland.  Man Utd 2 - 0 Stoke (Anthony Martial, 38 min)   8:38PM GOAL!! Man Utd 2-0 Stoke (Martial) 8:38PM 36 min Pogba torpedoes a 50-yard ball from right to left to pick out Shaw's run to the byline. The left-back pulls the ball back to Martial who shoots into Zouma. Deflection leads to corner. United take it short for the umpteenth time and Stoke scuttle it away. Why so many short corners? Stoke's height?  8:35PM 34 min Mata does that thing after falling over in the box to indicate that he's slipped - serves two purposes (A) No penalty and (B) I didn't dive. It looked as though he did 'go over easily' but because it's the paragon Juan, it couldn't possibly have been anything but a slip.  8:33PM 32 min United fans spark into life when Ireland, once of City, is struck amidships by Lingard's fierce drive but the bounce favours Stoke and Valencia has to bring Allen down to stop them breaking past halfway.  8:31PM 30 min Fletcher uses his resilience and experience to hold off Pogba at the price of a corner on the right that United take short from Mata to Lingard who hangs it up at the back post. Butland drops the slithery ball but pocks it up at the second attempt. Pogba was offside in any case.  8:29PM 28 min United break quickly up the left and Mata, at the end of a slick passing move, cuts a pass back to Martial who balloons a wanton shot over the bar.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 21 min)   8:27PM 25 min Stoke move it out to the right for Shaqiri and his wand. He bends in a cross to the back post and De Gea comes for it but, rare for him, flaps under the challenge of Crouch who nods it back across the now unguarded net. Choupo-Moting meets it on the volley but Jones throws himself in to block from point-blank range and saves a certain goal. Corner. Small wonder Jose Mourinho is off the bench and shouting. Stoke have made four good chances in the past 10 minutes.  Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   8:25PM 24 min Very quiet at Old Trafford as Stoke enjoy a good five minutes. Ireland makes another interception, motors forward and Pogba kicks him up the back of his thigh. Free kick.  8:24PM 22 min What a chance for Stoke - all made by Martial's indolence in helping Shaw out when attacked by Allen and Bauer who looks a decent player. The right-back responds to Shaqiri's run inside with a square pass across the 18-yard line that he controls immaculately then dinks the perfect throughball to Ireland who has made a great run. Ireland, 15 yards out, stretches to shoot and pokes it wide. Not exactly a sitter but a chance you have to take.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 21 min)   8:21PM 20 min Here's the goal: Valencia scores Credit:  Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images  Choupo-Moting squanders possession and United break.  8:19PM 18 min Bauer's cross from the right finds Ireland in the United box just shy of the penalty spot and in space. But as he traps the centre it sticks under his feet and gobbles up precious time so that when he does manage to shoot he was being closed down and scuffs it wide.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 16 min)   8:17PM 16 min Clever interception from Ireland thwarts Shaw's cross and he scurries out of defence, laying it off to Choupo-Moting then positioning himself for the return. He kills the pass and pushes the ball out to the right into Shaqiri's path. Shaqiri bends in a left-footer towards the back post that Crouch wins but can't get any power on it. He does enough to retain possession, lay it back and Stoke come again.  8:14PM 14 min The ball is sticking to Lukaku tonight and he is astutely bringing Martial, Lingard, Mata and Pogba into play as attacking threats.  8:12PM 12 min Shaqiri shows us his exquisite technique with a spectacular bicycle kick to meet an outswinging left-wing cross. He meets it crisply but De Gea gets down low to his left to smother it.  8:11PM 10 min Made by Pogba's crossfield chip. Valencia leaves Choupo-Moting stranded, drifts inside on to his left, losing Tymon with a dip of the shoulder before finishing with a 16-yard sweetly-struck, unstoppable curler. Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Antonio Valencia, 9 min) 8:09PM GOAL!! Manchester United 1-0 Stoke (Valencia) 8:08PM 7 min Mata chips a curling left-foot pass from inside-right over the central defenders and Martial makes the run to head it. Bauer, who had his arm on Martial's back, slipped and fell, taking his opponent with him. Big shout for a penalty that the referee ignores but the replay has heads nodding in unison with the fatuous 'I've seen 'em given'' verdict.  8:06PM 6 min Tymon tries to turn Valencia on halfway but can't drive past him once he'd turned back to face him. Valencia kicks the ball on to his shins to take the throw-in. It's sheeting down.  8:04PM 4 min Pogba shifts it up the inside left channel, sweeping it 20 yards upfield. Lukaku takes it in his stride and lays it out to the left for Martial then heads for the six-yard box. Lingard makes the near-post run but the United winger drags his centre behind his team-mate and Stoke work it clear.  8:02PM 2 min Stoke recycle, bang it up to Crouch who is penalised for clattering Jones as he shielded the ball. United take the free-kick, move it up to Lukaku who lats it off to Lingard. Shaqiri hacks him down. Free kick 10 yards inside the Stoke half.  8:01PM 1 min Stoke, in blue, kick off and Stephen Ireland takes it and instigates a move up the right that has to go backwards to go forward. Martins Indi whacks it long and Valencia fires it back, over the top, and beyond Lukaku.  7:58PM Out come the teams Kick off is now just moments away. And the commentator is Alan Parry, just as it was for the Cyrille Regis clip below.  7:48PM Paul Lambert is present and correct Paul Lambert watches his new side at old Trafford Credit: Gareth Copley/Getty Images  He did pretty well at Wolves last season and was terrific at Norwich. Villa, though, was a trial for every supporter who was forced to watch austerity football while Randy Lerner tried to sell. Having said that Ron Vlaar, Christian Benteke and Karim El Anmadi were decent signings.  7:19PM Henrikh Mkhitaryan Is not in Manchester United's XVIII apparently because his head 'is not in the right place'. Or is it his body that's in N5/N7?  Jose Mourinho on Mkhitaryan's omission from tonight's squad: "I would lie if I said it was a pure tactical decision." #mufc [sky]— utdhq (@utdhq) January 15, 2018   7:17PM Those teams in black and white Man Utd De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Shaw; Pogba, Matic; Mata, Lingard, Martial; Lukaku.  Substitutes Joel Pereira, Lindelof, Rojo, Ander Herrera, Fellaini, McTominay, Rashford. It's chucking it down at Old Trafford Credit: Michael Regan/Getty Images Stoke City Butland; Bauer, Zouma, Martins Indi, Tymon; Fletcher, Allen; Shaqiri, Ireland, Choupo-Moting; Crouch.  Substitutes Grant, Edwards, Wimmer, Afellay, Adam, Diouf, Sobhi.  Referee Anthony Taylor (Wythenshawe). 7:02PM Antonio Valencia is back for Man Utd Here is how the Reds line up for #MUNSTK... �� pic.twitter.com/otGid7EQkS— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 15, 2018   7:02PM You know that business about Eddie Niedzwiecki not making many changes ... Ignore it. He's made seven and Moritz Bauer makes his Premier League debut.  Eddie Niedzwiecki makes 7⃣ changes to tonight's team that faces @ManUtd at Old Trafford. �� Bauer, Martins Indi, Tymon, Fletcher, Shaqiri, Choupo-Moting and Crouch all make the starting XI. City line-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation.#SCFC ��⚪️ pic.twitter.com/2CIECRjITg— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) January 15, 2018   6:59PM In memoriam   6:56PM Good evening And welcome to coverage of Manchester United vs Stoke City, the last Premier League match of what those people who we need to cut out of our lives would call ‘round 23’ of the ‘EPL’. We find both clubs loitering around in a kind of threshold. Stoke, obviously, having been turned down by Gary Rowett, Quique Sanchez Flores and Martin O’Neill, are ready to embark on the Paul Lambert era though tonight his will be a watching brief. Given that caretaker Eddie Niedzwiecki has been at Mark Hughes’ side with Wales, Blackburn, Man City, Fulham, QPR and the Oatcake Eaters, he’s hardly likely to pick a radically altered side because to do so would be an implicit rebuke of his friend and former and future boss. So tonight may just be a case of limbo until Lambert makes his mark or purgatory if your view of Lambert’s appointment is as pessimistic as some on that twerps’ trumpet, Twitter, are lamenting. As for Manchester United, it seems that they stand on the verge of signing Alexis Sánchez which will add some much needed dynamism into their attack though I’m not sure how tameable his talent and instincts will be for Jose Mourinho. He certainly won’t step on the throat of his own song like, say, Joe Cole did at Chelsea to track back or Samuel Eto’o at Inter but he may be employed in the manner of Wesley Sneijder or Arjen Robben - indulged if never wholly embraced. Rarely for a Mourinho side, tonight begs a performance more than the result. They played well in the second half at Goodison and there were fluent passages in the draw with Leicester and the victory over West Brom but it has been far too sporadic for the past two months. Ali Sanchez Manchester City’s defeat on Sunday gives United the opportunity to narrow the gap between first and second to 12 points with a win here. It’s still an enormous lead but for those Reds looking for comfort, it was exactly the position United found themselves in 21 years ago behind Newcastle United with 15 games to play and they ended up winning the title by three points. City are not Newcastle obviously but it’s worth pointing out. And a comfortable victory would surely be the only outcome a sane person would accept a wager on tonight. It’s 42 years since Stoke have won at Old Trafford, when Bomber Sheldon set up Bluto Bloor to glance in an 87th-minute winner and end United’s 14-month home unbeaten record and their chances of winning the Double with a couple of games of the season to go. As any fule kno, Southampton, then of Division Two, did for them in the Cup to make it a miserable April and May for Tommy Docherty’s side. Mourinho, with two trophies last year and Sánchez to come, will not be as vulnerable to Alan Bloor and Bobby Stokes type figures in April and May 2018.

Manchester United vs Stoke City, Premier League: live score updates

Coral: Manchester United to win @ 33-1   8:47PM 45+1 min De Gea dives low to his left to save Shaqiri's left-foot shot, an opportunity created by his wonderful control as he stunned the pass from the left to the D then drilled a scorching low shot towards goal. Excellent save that proves to be the last touch of the half.  8:46PM 44 min Pogba plays the same right to left pass for Martial that bypasses and isolates the middle of the Stoke defence but this time Martial was too hasty and bolted offside.  8:45PM 42 min United adopt sheer liquid football and Stoke's defence don't know what day it is. Pogba floats a pass from right-half to outside left for Shaw who lays it off to Martial. After scoring with that lovely strike he must think his boots are made of jam so tries an outrageous outisde of the foot chip to the back post for Lukaku who nods it back across goal. Lingard can't reach it but nobbut just.  8:41PM 40 min Valencia wins the ball off Choupo-Moting on halfway and on the right, drives forward and picks out Lukaku who holds it up  and takes it outside, pursued by Martins Indi then turns to roll a pass to Pogba by the right angle of the box. Pogba sees Martial to the left of the D in the space created by Lukaku's run, sweeps a pass over to him and the winger arcs in a shot, bending in a parabola unstoppably past Butland.  Man Utd 2 - 0 Stoke (Anthony Martial, 38 min)   8:38PM GOAL!! Man Utd 2-0 Stoke (Martial) 8:38PM 36 min Pogba torpedoes a 50-yard ball from right to left to pick out Shaw's run to the byline. The left-back pulls the ball back to Martial who shoots into Zouma. Deflection leads to corner. United take it short for the umpteenth time and Stoke scuttle it away. Why so many short corners? Stoke's height?  8:35PM 34 min Mata does that thing after falling over in the box to indicate that he's slipped - serves two purposes (A) No penalty and (B) I didn't dive. It looked as though he did 'go over easily' but because it's the paragon Juan, it couldn't possibly have been anything but a slip.  8:33PM 32 min United fans spark into life when Ireland, once of City, is struck amidships by Lingard's fierce drive but the bounce favours Stoke and Valencia has to bring Allen down to stop them breaking past halfway.  8:31PM 30 min Fletcher uses his resilience and experience to hold off Pogba at the price of a corner on the right that United take short from Mata to Lingard who hangs it up at the back post. Butland drops the slithery ball but pocks it up at the second attempt. Pogba was offside in any case.  8:29PM 28 min United break quickly up the left and Mata, at the end of a slick passing move, cuts a pass back to Martial who balloons a wanton shot over the bar.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 21 min)   8:27PM 25 min Stoke move it out to the right for Shaqiri and his wand. He bends in a cross to the back post and De Gea comes for it but, rare for him, flaps under the challenge of Crouch who nods it back across the now unguarded net. Choupo-Moting meets it on the volley but Jones throws himself in to block from point-blank range and saves a certain goal. Corner. Small wonder Jose Mourinho is off the bench and shouting. Stoke have made four good chances in the past 10 minutes.  Man Utd vs Stoke shots on goal   8:25PM 24 min Very quiet at Old Trafford as Stoke enjoy a good five minutes. Ireland makes another interception, motors forward and Pogba kicks him up the back of his thigh. Free kick.  8:24PM 22 min What a chance for Stoke - all made by Martial's indolence in helping Shaw out when attacked by Allen and Bauer who looks a decent player. The right-back responds to Shaqiri's run inside with a square pass across the 18-yard line that he controls immaculately then dinks the perfect throughball to Ireland who has made a great run. Ireland, 15 yards out, stretches to shoot and pokes it wide. Not exactly a sitter but a chance you have to take.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 21 min)   8:21PM 20 min Here's the goal: Valencia scores Credit:  Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images  Choupo-Moting squanders possession and United break.  8:19PM 18 min Bauer's cross from the right finds Ireland in the United box just shy of the penalty spot and in space. But as he traps the centre it sticks under his feet and gobbles up precious time so that when he does manage to shoot he was being closed down and scuffs it wide.  Miss: Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Stephen Ireland, 16 min)   8:17PM 16 min Clever interception from Ireland thwarts Shaw's cross and he scurries out of defence, laying it off to Choupo-Moting then positioning himself for the return. He kills the pass and pushes the ball out to the right into Shaqiri's path. Shaqiri bends in a left-footer towards the back post that Crouch wins but can't get any power on it. He does enough to retain possession, lay it back and Stoke come again.  8:14PM 14 min The ball is sticking to Lukaku tonight and he is astutely bringing Martial, Lingard, Mata and Pogba into play as attacking threats.  8:12PM 12 min Shaqiri shows us his exquisite technique with a spectacular bicycle kick to meet an outswinging left-wing cross. He meets it crisply but De Gea gets down low to his left to smother it.  8:11PM 10 min Made by Pogba's crossfield chip. Valencia leaves Choupo-Moting stranded, drifts inside on to his left, losing Tymon with a dip of the shoulder before finishing with a 16-yard sweetly-struck, unstoppable curler. Man Utd 1 - 0 Stoke (Antonio Valencia, 9 min) 8:09PM GOAL!! Manchester United 1-0 Stoke (Valencia) 8:08PM 7 min Mata chips a curling left-foot pass from inside-right over the central defenders and Martial makes the run to head it. Bauer, who had his arm on Martial's back, slipped and fell, taking his opponent with him. Big shout for a penalty that the referee ignores but the replay has heads nodding in unison with the fatuous 'I've seen 'em given'' verdict.  8:06PM 6 min Tymon tries to turn Valencia on halfway but can't drive past him once he'd turned back to face him. Valencia kicks the ball on to his shins to take the throw-in. It's sheeting down.  8:04PM 4 min Pogba shifts it up the inside left channel, sweeping it 20 yards upfield. Lukaku takes it in his stride and lays it out to the left for Martial then heads for the six-yard box. Lingard makes the near-post run but the United winger drags his centre behind his team-mate and Stoke work it clear.  8:02PM 2 min Stoke recycle, bang it up to Crouch who is penalised for clattering Jones as he shielded the ball. United take the free-kick, move it up to Lukaku who lats it off to Lingard. Shaqiri hacks him down. Free kick 10 yards inside the Stoke half.  8:01PM 1 min Stoke, in blue, kick off and Stephen Ireland takes it and instigates a move up the right that has to go backwards to go forward. Martins Indi whacks it long and Valencia fires it back, over the top, and beyond Lukaku.  7:58PM Out come the teams Kick off is now just moments away. And the commentator is Alan Parry, just as it was for the Cyrille Regis clip below.  7:48PM Paul Lambert is present and correct Paul Lambert watches his new side at old Trafford Credit: Gareth Copley/Getty Images  He did pretty well at Wolves last season and was terrific at Norwich. Villa, though, was a trial for every supporter who was forced to watch austerity football while Randy Lerner tried to sell. Having said that Ron Vlaar, Christian Benteke and Karim El Anmadi were decent signings.  7:19PM Henrikh Mkhitaryan Is not in Manchester United's XVIII apparently because his head 'is not in the right place'. Or is it his body that's in N5/N7?  Jose Mourinho on Mkhitaryan's omission from tonight's squad: "I would lie if I said it was a pure tactical decision." #mufc [sky]— utdhq (@utdhq) January 15, 2018   7:17PM Those teams in black and white Man Utd De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Shaw; Pogba, Matic; Mata, Lingard, Martial; Lukaku.  Substitutes Joel Pereira, Lindelof, Rojo, Ander Herrera, Fellaini, McTominay, Rashford. It's chucking it down at Old Trafford Credit: Michael Regan/Getty Images Stoke City Butland; Bauer, Zouma, Martins Indi, Tymon; Fletcher, Allen; Shaqiri, Ireland, Choupo-Moting; Crouch.  Substitutes Grant, Edwards, Wimmer, Afellay, Adam, Diouf, Sobhi.  Referee Anthony Taylor (Wythenshawe). 7:02PM Antonio Valencia is back for Man Utd Here is how the Reds line up for #MUNSTK... �� pic.twitter.com/otGid7EQkS— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 15, 2018   7:02PM You know that business about Eddie Niedzwiecki not making many changes ... Ignore it. He's made seven and Moritz Bauer makes his Premier League debut.  Eddie Niedzwiecki makes 7⃣ changes to tonight's team that faces @ManUtd at Old Trafford. �� Bauer, Martins Indi, Tymon, Fletcher, Shaqiri, Choupo-Moting and Crouch all make the starting XI. City line-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation.#SCFC ��⚪️ pic.twitter.com/2CIECRjITg— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) January 15, 2018   6:59PM In memoriam   6:56PM Good evening And welcome to coverage of Manchester United vs Stoke City, the last Premier League match of what those people who we need to cut out of our lives would call ‘round 23’ of the ‘EPL’. We find both clubs loitering around in a kind of threshold. Stoke, obviously, having been turned down by Gary Rowett, Quique Sanchez Flores and Martin O’Neill, are ready to embark on the Paul Lambert era though tonight his will be a watching brief. Given that caretaker Eddie Niedzwiecki has been at Mark Hughes’ side with Wales, Blackburn, Man City, Fulham, QPR and the Oatcake Eaters, he’s hardly likely to pick a radically altered side because to do so would be an implicit rebuke of his friend and former and future boss. So tonight may just be a case of limbo until Lambert makes his mark or purgatory if your view of Lambert’s appointment is as pessimistic as some on that twerps’ trumpet, Twitter, are lamenting. As for Manchester United, it seems that they stand on the verge of signing Alexis Sánchez which will add some much needed dynamism into their attack though I’m not sure how tameable his talent and instincts will be for Jose Mourinho. He certainly won’t step on the throat of his own song like, say, Joe Cole did at Chelsea to track back or Samuel Eto’o at Inter but he may be employed in the manner of Wesley Sneijder or Arjen Robben - indulged if never wholly embraced. Rarely for a Mourinho side, tonight begs a performance more than the result. They played well in the second half at Goodison and there were fluent passages in the draw with Leicester and the victory over West Brom but it has been far too sporadic for the past two months. Ali Sanchez Manchester City’s defeat on Sunday gives United the opportunity to narrow the gap between first and second to 12 points with a win here. It’s still an enormous lead but for those Reds looking for comfort, it was exactly the position United found themselves in 21 years ago behind Newcastle United with 15 games to play and they ended up winning the title by three points. City are not Newcastle obviously but it’s worth pointing out. And a comfortable victory would surely be the only outcome a sane person would accept a wager on tonight. It’s 42 years since Stoke have won at Old Trafford, when Bomber Sheldon set up Bluto Bloor to glance in an 87th-minute winner and end United’s 14-month home unbeaten record and their chances of winning the Double with a couple of games of the season to go. As any fule kno, Southampton, then of Division Two, did for them in the Cup to make it a miserable April and May for Tommy Docherty’s side. Mourinho, with two trophies last year and Sánchez to come, will not be as vulnerable to Alan Bloor and Bobby Stokes type figures in April and May 2018.

Manchester United vs Stoke City, Premier League: live score updates

Coral: Manchester United to win @ 33-1   8:09PM GOAL!! Manchester United 1-0 Stoke (Valencia) 8:08PM 7 min Mata chips a curling left-foot pass from inside-right over the central defenders and Martial makes the run to head it. Bauer, who had his arm on Martial's back, slipped and fell, taking his opponent with him. Big shout for a penalty that the referee ignores but the replay has heads nodding in unison with the fatuous 'I've seen 'em given'' verdict.  8:06PM 6 min Tymon tries to turn Valencia on halfway but can't drive past him once he'd turned back to face him. Valencia kicks the ball on to his shins to take the throw-in. It's sheeting down.  8:04PM 4 min Pogba shifts it up the inside left channel, sweeping it 20 yards upfield. Lukaku takes it in his stride and lays it out to the left for Martial then heads for the six-yard box. Lingard makes the near-post run but the United winger drags his centre behind his team-mate and Stoke work it clear.  8:02PM 2 min Stoke recycle, bang it up to Crouch who is penalised for clattering Jones as he shielded the ball. United take the free-kick, move it up to Lukaku who lats it off to Lingard. Shaqiri hacks him down. Free kick 10 yards inside the Stoke half.  8:01PM 1 min Stoke, in blue, kick off and Stephen Ireland takes it and instigates a move up the right that has to go backwards to go forward. Martins Indi whacks it long and Valencia fires it back, over the top, and beyond Lukaku.  7:58PM Out come the teams Kick off is now just moments away. And the commentator is Alan Parry, just as it was for the Cyrille Regis clip below.  7:48PM Paul Lambert is present and correct Paul Lambert watches his new side at old Trafford Credit: Gareth Copley/Getty Images  He did pretty well at Wolves last season and was terrific at Norwich. Villa, though, was a trial for every supporter who was forced to watch austerity football while Randy Lerner tried to sell. Having said that Ron Vlaar, Christian Benteke and Karim El Anmadi were decent signings.  7:19PM Henrikh Mkhitaryan Is not in Manchester United's XVIII apparently because his head 'is not in the right place'. Or is it his body that's in N5/N7?  Jose Mourinho on Mkhitaryan's omission from tonight's squad: "I would lie if I said it was a pure tactical decision." #mufc [sky]— utdhq (@utdhq) January 15, 2018   7:17PM Those teams in black and white Man Utd De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Shaw; Pogba, Matic; Mata, Lingard, Martial; Lukaku.  Substitutes Joel Pereira, Lindelof, Rojo, Ander Herrera, Fellaini, McTominay, Rashford. It's chucking it down at Old Trafford Credit: Michael Regan/Getty Images Stoke City Butland; Bauer, Zouma, Martins Indi, Tymon; Fletcher, Allen; Shaqiri, Ireland, Choupo-Moting; Crouch.  Substitutes Grant, Edwards, Wimmer, Afellay, Adam, Diouf, Sobhi.  Referee Anthony Taylor (Wythenshawe). 7:02PM Antonio Valencia is back for Man Utd Here is how the Reds line up for #MUNSTK... �� pic.twitter.com/otGid7EQkS— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 15, 2018   7:02PM You know that business about Eddie Niedzwiecki not making many changes ... Ignore it. He's made seven and Moritz Bauer makes his Premier League debut.  Eddie Niedzwiecki makes 7⃣ changes to tonight's team that faces @ManUtd at Old Trafford. �� Bauer, Martins Indi, Tymon, Fletcher, Shaqiri, Choupo-Moting and Crouch all make the starting XI. City line-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation.#SCFC ��⚪️ pic.twitter.com/2CIECRjITg— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) January 15, 2018   6:59PM In memoriam   6:56PM Good evening And welcome to coverage of Manchester United vs Stoke City, the last Premier League match of what those people who we need to cut out of our lives would call ‘round 23’ of the ‘EPL’. We find both clubs loitering around in a kind of threshold. Stoke, obviously, having been turned down by Gary Rowett, Quique Sanchez Flores and Martin O’Neill, are ready to embark on the Paul Lambert era though tonight his will be a watching brief. Given that caretaker Eddie Niedzwiecki has been at Mark Hughes’ side with Wales, Blackburn, Man City, Fulham, QPR and the Oatcake Eaters, he’s hardly likely to pick a radically altered side because to do so would be an implicit rebuke of his friend and former and future boss. So tonight may just be a case of limbo until Lambert makes his mark or purgatory if your view of Lambert’s appointment is as pessimistic as some on that twerps’ trumpet, Twitter, are lamenting. As for Manchester United, it seems that they stand on the verge of signing Alexis Sánchez which will add some much needed dynamism into their attack though I’m not sure how tameable his talent and instincts will be for Jose Mourinho. He certainly won’t step on the throat of his own song like, say, Joe Cole did at Chelsea to track back or Samuel Eto’o at Inter but he may be employed in the manner of Wesley Sneijder or Arjen Robben - indulged if never wholly embraced. Rarely for a Mourinho side, tonight begs a performance more than the result. They played well in the second half at Goodison and there were fluent passages in the draw with Leicester and the victory over West Brom but it has been far too sporadic for the past two months. Ali Sanchez Manchester City’s defeat on Sunday gives United the opportunity to narrow the gap between first and second to 12 points with a win here. It’s still an enormous lead but for those Reds looking for comfort, it was exactly the position United found themselves in 21 years ago behind Newcastle United with 15 games to play and they ended up winning the title by three points. City are not Newcastle obviously but it’s worth pointing out. And a comfortable victory would surely be the only outcome a sane person would accept a wager on tonight. It’s 42 years since Stoke have won at Old Trafford, when Bomber Sheldon set up Bluto Bloor to glance in an 87th-minute winner and end United’s 14-month home unbeaten record and their chances of winning the Double with a couple of games of the season to go. As any fule kno, Southampton, then of Division Two, did for them in the Cup to make it a miserable April and May for Tommy Docherty’s side. Mourinho, with two trophies last year and Sánchez to come, will not be as vulnerable to Alan Bloor and Bobby Stokes type figures in April and May 2018.

Wolves manager Paul Lambert

Britain Soccer Football - Wolverhampton Wanderers v Blackburn Rovers - Sky Bet Championship - Molineux - 22/4/17 Wolves manager Paul Lambert Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Alan Walter Livepic

Paul Lambert appointed Stoke City's new manager after impressing during weekend talks

Paul Lambert has been appointed as Stoke's new manager. As Telegraph Sport exclusively revealed, Lambert has accepted the job at the Premier League strugglers after productive talks over the weekend, with the promise of a significant bonus if he guides Stoke to safety. The former Aston Villa manager has been out of football since leaving Wolves at the end of last season but has top-flight experience while, crucially, he was also never relegated at Villa Park. It ends a nine-day search for Mark Hughes's successor, with moves for Gary Rowett, Quique Sanchez Flores and Martin O'Neill all ending in frustration. Stoke's difficult search has now left them with no alternative but to consider a short-term appointment and both Lambert and Slaven Bilic emerged as the most realistic candidates. Lambert has top-flight experience and was not relegated while Aston Villa manager Credit: PA Lambert, 48, has impressed Stoke officials in negotiations and will be sat in the stand at Old Trafford for the game against Manchester United on Monday night.  There is an acceptance within the Stoke boardroom that the appointment will not be wholly popular, but a short-term appointment was their only option with only 16 league games remaining.  Lambert's reputation was at its highest nearly seven years ago, when he achieved back-to-back promotions at Norwich City. He departed for Villa in 2012 and endured a difficult two-and-a-half years during a turbulent period under former chairman Randy Lerner, operating on a restricted budget. Yet he never suffered relegation in that time before his dismissal in February 2015. Since leaving Villa he has managed Blackburn Rovers and Wolves, while he was interviewed last month by Championship clubs Hull City and Sheffield Wednesday. Lambert's first game in charge will be the home game against struggling Huddersfield on Saturday. Ahead of the game at United tonight, Stoke are in the relegation zone and a point adrift of 17th-placed Southampton.

Paul Lambert appointed Stoke City's new manager after impressing during weekend talks

Paul Lambert has been appointed as Stoke's new manager. As Telegraph Sport exclusively revealed, Lambert has accepted the job at the Premier League strugglers after productive talks over the weekend, with the promise of a significant bonus if he guides Stoke to safety. The former Aston Villa manager has been out of football since leaving Wolves at the end of last season but has top-flight experience while, crucially, he was also never relegated at Villa Park. It ends a nine-day search for Mark Hughes's successor, with moves for Gary Rowett, Quique Sanchez Flores and Martin O'Neill all ending in frustration. Stoke's difficult search has now left them with no alternative but to consider a short-term appointment and both Lambert and Slaven Bilic emerged as the most realistic candidates. Lambert has top-flight experience and was not relegated while Aston Villa manager Credit: PA Lambert, 48, has impressed Stoke officials in negotiations and will be sat in the stand at Old Trafford for the game against Manchester United on Monday night.  There is an acceptance within the Stoke boardroom that the appointment will not be wholly popular, but a short-term appointment was their only option with only 16 league games remaining.  Lambert's reputation was at its highest nearly seven years ago, when he achieved back-to-back promotions at Norwich City. He departed for Villa in 2012 and endured a difficult two-and-a-half years during a turbulent period under former chairman Randy Lerner, operating on a restricted budget. Yet he never suffered relegation in that time before his dismissal in February 2015. Since leaving Villa he has managed Blackburn Rovers and Wolves, while he was interviewed last month by Championship clubs Hull City and Sheffield Wednesday. Lambert's first game in charge will be the home game against struggling Huddersfield on Saturday. Ahead of the game at United tonight, Stoke are in the relegation zone and a point adrift of 17th-placed Southampton.

The British civilians still fighting Isil in Syria: 'We won't stop until the job is done'

When the bodies of Jac Holmes and Oliver Hall, the latest British men who died fighting Isil in Syria before Christmas, land at Heathrow this week, they will be greeted by dozens of members of Britain's Kurdish community. They will be welcomed not as tragic victims of a foreign war, but as martyrs. Holmes and Hall were the sixth and seventh British citizens to die in the fight against Isil, and just two of hundreds of international volunteers who have flocked to join the Kurdish People's Defence Units (YPG) in Rojava, a self-declared autonomous region of northern Syria. Much has been said about these volunteers' motivations for going: war junkies, void-fillers, steely-gazed idealists. Although those may be reasons that drive many of them to war, they are not necessarily what make them stay. Holmes,  a 24-year old former IT worker and decorator from Bournemouth, with no previous military experience, was one of the longest-serving foreign volunteers of the YPG, having travelled to northern Syria three times since August 2015. Yesterday, his mother, Angie Blannin, told how his primary motivation was to help destroy Isil, but how he also grew to appreciate many of the values espoused by Rojava’s revolutionary spirit. “Most of all, he loved being a soldier,” she said. “Not because he was a bloodthirsty killer; he was an intelligent guy. But he wanted to get rid of Daesh. He was appalled at the atrocities they were committing and felt the Western governments weren't doing enough.” Jac Holmes  Credit: Facebook Describing the fight against Isil as her son's 'calling', she added: "He didn't feel like he was doing anything constructive in the UK; fixing computers and painting walls. He felt there were a lot of things happening in the world and he was angry at the apathy in the UK. This fight gave him a purpose he hadn't found in the UK. He said: ‘Mum, I love what I’m doing and I’m good at it.’ I regularly spoke to Holmes during his time in Syria. When I asked him about his motivations last year, he described Rojava as his “second home”. He, like many of the volunteers, I have spoken to over the last three years, said he saw fighting as giving him meaning, an antidote to a divided, lonely and consumer-led world of the modern West. 'In Britain, we spend so much time working and worrying about money, and relationships aren't the same as they were before technology got in the way,' he said from his frontline base. 'Here, everyone is brought together by a common cause: to destroy Daesh and fight for a better world. It is good to be attached to something bigger than yourself.' 'When I first arrived in Syria, I knew almost nothing about the politics of Rojava, I just wanted to help destroy Isil,' recalled Macer Gifford, a 31-year-old former Tory councillor, from Oxford, who gave up his job in the city to travel to Syria in December 2014 and has fought there on and off ever since. 'Then, a big group of male and female fighters sat me down for dinner. I was blown away by how many Western stereotypes of the Middle East were broken in such a short time; from the girls smoking and discussing politics, to the female commander asking one of the men to clear away the plates. 'There was such hope and optimism in the air; I couldn't help but feel invigorated by it.' A Kurdish fighter from the YPG looks at a smoke after an airstrike in Raqqa Credit: GORAN TOMASEVIC /REUTERS  When George Orwell arrived in revolutionary Barcelona to help defend the Spanish Republic from Franco's uprising, he too was powerfully struck by the atmosphere of hope. He later wrote, 'I recognised it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for ... Above all, there was a belief in the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom.' Eight decades on, and in a very different warzone, a similar revolutionary optimism was taking hold. Today that spirit is transforming Rojava. Inspired by the ideology of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Turkey, and triggered by 2011's 'Arab Spring', people are organising themselves into grassroots people's assemblies and co-operatives. They are declaring their autonomy from the state and their wish for real democracy, including a system of co-presidentship whereby a man and a woman share power at every level. Isil, now, are all but defeated in Syria. However, many volunteers are remaining to fight what they see as a “second phase” of the Syrian Kurds’ battle. One of them is Kimberley Taylor, a 28-year-old activist from Blackburn. The only known British woman to have volunteered to fight this war, she enlisted with the YPJ, the all-female affiliate army to the YPG, in March 2016. 'This is fundamentally a feminist revolution,' she told me from Syria. “What is bringing people together is a common sense that we are fighting for an alternative political system in the Middle East based. Ocalan himself says that without committing ourselves to women's liberation, the Middle East will never have peace.' Kimberley Taylor, a former maths student from Blackburn, left the UK  to join a Kurdish women’s unit To these recruits, revolution is seductive. Unlike the Peshmerga in Iraq, the YPG  does not require recruits to have previous military experience, and gives them Kurdish noms-de-guerre, often with an international revolutionary tinge. Ryan Lock, who took his own life to avoid capture in December 2016,  for instance, was known as Berxwedan Givara ('Resistance Guevara'), while Dean Evans – the 22-year-old dairy farmer from Warminster killed in July 2016– fought as Givara Rojava ('Guevara of the West'). Evans was so committed, he even asked in his will to be buried in Syria with his 'brothers and sisters.' When YPG soldiers die, they are celebrated as martyrs. Isil is not the only enemy who wants them dead. Turkey views this liberation movement as an extension of the PKK, which has been involved in armed struggle against the state for decades. But rather than scare these foreigners off, Turkey's belligerence seems to have fostered an even fiercer underdog mentality. None believed this more than Lock. On 24 November 2016, he witnessed the deaths of most of his unit – including his two best friends – in a Turkish airstrike. 'We were taking a small village when we got hit by Turkish jets in the night,' he later wrote on Facebook. 'Two of my friends, Anton and Michael, were killed among many others. I’m staying to finish out my six months.' He took his own life a month later, when his frontline position was overrun. When the hearse left the UK airport in February last year, mourners who had never met the 22-year-old from Chichester held roses and framed photographs of the former chef hailing him a hero. Ryan Lock, from Chichester, West Sussex, who was killed fighting against Islamic State in Syria Credit: PA Some of these self-styled freedom fighters seem driven by relatively straightforward idealism – a desire to play their part in creating a friendlier world. But inspired by the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War, a growing group of leftist foreign fighters established the International Freedom Battalion (IBF) in June 2015 in response to what they called a 'bloodbath” in the Middle East. When I sent the group a message through Facebook last year, one British member, who preferred not to give his name, replied via an encrypted messaging service. “I have absolutely no faith in liberal democracy's ability to resist fascism, only an international socialist movement can,' he wrote.  The YPG won't say how many foreigners are currently in its ranks for security reasons, but one high-ranking Spanish fighter told me he believed the figure to be “over a thousand”. It is noticeable, he added, how many are under the age of 30. 'The war with Isil is a defining moment, certainly for my generation who've grown up post 9/11 and seen this outburst of terrorism around the world,' Gifford told me last year. “These young men, myself included, are going out there, fighting, dying, because they see it as their Orwellian moment, their anti-fascist moment, like the Spanish Civil War.' George Orwell came home disillusioned with Spain's revolution, which ended in defeat and 36 years of fascist rule. I asked Taylor what she thought of this. “We cannot let it end the same way again,' she said. 'Isil are finished, but this isn't just a fight against Daesh. The YPJ will still be fighting, but this time for women's rights in the Middle East. We won't stop until the job is done.”

The British civilians still fighting Isil in Syria: 'We won't stop until the job is done'

When the bodies of Jac Holmes and Oliver Hall, the latest British men who died fighting Isil in Syria before Christmas, land at Heathrow this week, they will be greeted by dozens of members of Britain's Kurdish community. They will be welcomed not as tragic victims of a foreign war, but as martyrs. Holmes and Hall were the sixth and seventh British citizens to die in the fight against Isil, and just two of hundreds of international volunteers who have flocked to join the Kurdish People's Defence Units (YPG) in Rojava, a self-declared autonomous region of northern Syria. Much has been said about these volunteers' motivations for going: war junkies, void-fillers, steely-gazed idealists. Although those may be reasons that drive many of them to war, they are not necessarily what make them stay. Holmes,  a 24-year old former IT worker and decorator from Bournemouth, with no previous military experience, was one of the longest-serving foreign volunteers of the YPG, having travelled to northern Syria three times since August 2015. Yesterday, his mother, Angie Blannin, told how his primary motivation was to help destroy Isil, but how he also grew to appreciate many of the values espoused by Rojava’s revolutionary spirit. “Most of all, he loved being a soldier,” she said. “Not because he was a bloodthirsty killer; he was an intelligent guy. But he wanted to get rid of Daesh. He was appalled at the atrocities they were committing and felt the Western governments weren't doing enough.” Jac Holmes  Credit: Facebook Describing the fight against Isil as her son's 'calling', she added: "He didn't feel like he was doing anything constructive in the UK; fixing computers and painting walls. He felt there were a lot of things happening in the world and he was angry at the apathy in the UK. This fight gave him a purpose he hadn't found in the UK. He said: ‘Mum, I love what I’m doing and I’m good at it.’ I regularly spoke to Holmes during his time in Syria. When I asked him about his motivations last year, he described Rojava as his “second home”. He, like many of the volunteers, I have spoken to over the last three years, said he saw fighting as giving him meaning, an antidote to a divided, lonely and consumer-led world of the modern West. 'In Britain, we spend so much time working and worrying about money, and relationships aren't the same as they were before technology got in the way,' he said from his frontline base. 'Here, everyone is brought together by a common cause: to destroy Daesh and fight for a better world. It is good to be attached to something bigger than yourself.' 'When I first arrived in Syria, I knew almost nothing about the politics of Rojava, I just wanted to help destroy Isil,' recalled Macer Gifford, a 31-year-old former Tory councillor, from Oxford, who gave up his job in the city to travel to Syria in December 2014 and has fought there on and off ever since. 'Then, a big group of male and female fighters sat me down for dinner. I was blown away by how many Western stereotypes of the Middle East were broken in such a short time; from the girls smoking and discussing politics, to the female commander asking one of the men to clear away the plates. 'There was such hope and optimism in the air; I couldn't help but feel invigorated by it.' A Kurdish fighter from the YPG looks at a smoke after an airstrike in Raqqa Credit: GORAN TOMASEVIC /REUTERS  When George Orwell arrived in revolutionary Barcelona to help defend the Spanish Republic from Franco's uprising, he too was powerfully struck by the atmosphere of hope. He later wrote, 'I recognised it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for ... Above all, there was a belief in the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom.' Eight decades on, and in a very different warzone, a similar revolutionary optimism was taking hold. Today that spirit is transforming Rojava. Inspired by the ideology of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Turkey, and triggered by 2011's 'Arab Spring', people are organising themselves into grassroots people's assemblies and co-operatives. They are declaring their autonomy from the state and their wish for real democracy, including a system of co-presidentship whereby a man and a woman share power at every level. Isil, now, are all but defeated in Syria. However, many volunteers are remaining to fight what they see as a “second phase” of the Syrian Kurds’ battle. One of them is Kimberley Taylor, a 28-year-old activist from Blackburn. The only known British woman to have volunteered to fight this war, she enlisted with the YPJ, the all-female affiliate army to the YPG, in March 2016. 'This is fundamentally a feminist revolution,' she told me from Syria. “What is bringing people together is a common sense that we are fighting for an alternative political system in the Middle East based. Ocalan himself says that without committing ourselves to women's liberation, the Middle East will never have peace.' Kimberley Taylor, a former maths student from Blackburn, left the UK  to join a Kurdish women’s unit To these recruits, revolution is seductive. Unlike the Peshmerga in Iraq, the YPG  does not require recruits to have previous military experience, and gives them Kurdish noms-de-guerre, often with an international revolutionary tinge. Ryan Lock, who took his own life to avoid capture in December 2016,  for instance, was known as Berxwedan Givara ('Resistance Guevara'), while Dean Evans – the 22-year-old dairy farmer from Warminster killed in July 2016– fought as Givara Rojava ('Guevara of the West'). Evans was so committed, he even asked in his will to be buried in Syria with his 'brothers and sisters.' When YPG soldiers die, they are celebrated as martyrs. Isil is not the only enemy who wants them dead. Turkey views this liberation movement as an extension of the PKK, which has been involved in armed struggle against the state for decades. But rather than scare these foreigners off, Turkey's belligerence seems to have fostered an even fiercer underdog mentality. None believed this more than Lock. On 24 November 2016, he witnessed the deaths of most of his unit – including his two best friends – in a Turkish airstrike. 'We were taking a small village when we got hit by Turkish jets in the night,' he later wrote on Facebook. 'Two of my friends, Anton and Michael, were killed among many others. I’m staying to finish out my six months.' He took his own life a month later, when his frontline position was overrun. When the hearse left the UK airport in February last year, mourners who had never met the 22-year-old from Chichester held roses and framed photographs of the former chef hailing him a hero. Ryan Lock, from Chichester, West Sussex, who was killed fighting against Islamic State in Syria Credit: PA Some of these self-styled freedom fighters seem driven by relatively straightforward idealism – a desire to play their part in creating a friendlier world. But inspired by the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War, a growing group of leftist foreign fighters established the International Freedom Battalion (IBF) in June 2015 in response to what they called a 'bloodbath” in the Middle East. When I sent the group a message through Facebook last year, one British member, who preferred not to give his name, replied via an encrypted messaging service. “I have absolutely no faith in liberal democracy's ability to resist fascism, only an international socialist movement can,' he wrote.  The YPG won't say how many foreigners are currently in its ranks for security reasons, but one high-ranking Spanish fighter told me he believed the figure to be “over a thousand”. It is noticeable, he added, how many are under the age of 30. 'The war with Isil is a defining moment, certainly for my generation who've grown up post 9/11 and seen this outburst of terrorism around the world,' Gifford told me last year. “These young men, myself included, are going out there, fighting, dying, because they see it as their Orwellian moment, their anti-fascist moment, like the Spanish Civil War.' George Orwell came home disillusioned with Spain's revolution, which ended in defeat and 36 years of fascist rule. I asked Taylor what she thought of this. “We cannot let it end the same way again,' she said. 'Isil are finished, but this isn't just a fight against Daesh. The YPJ will still be fighting, but this time for women's rights in the Middle East. We won't stop until the job is done.”

The British civilians still fighting Isil in Syria: 'We won't stop until the job is done'

When the bodies of Jac Holmes and Oliver Hall, the latest British men who died fighting Isil in Syria before Christmas, land at Heathrow this week, they will be greeted by dozens of members of Britain's Kurdish community. They will be welcomed not as tragic victims of a foreign war, but as martyrs. Holmes and Hall were the sixth and seventh British citizens to die in the fight against Isil, and just two of hundreds of international volunteers who have flocked to join the Kurdish People's Defence Units (YPG) in Rojava, a self-declared autonomous region of northern Syria. Much has been said about these volunteers' motivations for going: war junkies, void-fillers, steely-gazed idealists. Although those may be reasons that drive many of them to war, they are not necessarily what make them stay. Holmes,  a 24-year old former IT worker and decorator from Bournemouth, with no previous military experience, was one of the longest-serving foreign volunteers of the YPG, having travelled to northern Syria three times since August 2015. Yesterday, his mother, Angie Blannin, told how his primary motivation was to help destroy Isil, but how he also grew to appreciate many of the values espoused by Rojava’s revolutionary spirit. “Most of all, he loved being a soldier,” she said. “Not because he was a bloodthirsty killer; he was an intelligent guy. But he wanted to get rid of Daesh. He was appalled at the atrocities they were committing and felt the Western governments weren't doing enough.” Jac Holmes  Credit: Facebook Describing the fight against Isil as her son's 'calling', she added: "He didn't feel like he was doing anything constructive in the UK; fixing computers and painting walls. He felt there were a lot of things happening in the world and he was angry at the apathy in the UK. This fight gave him a purpose he hadn't found in the UK. He said: ‘Mum, I love what I’m doing and I’m good at it.’ I regularly spoke to Holmes during his time in Syria. When I asked him about his motivations last year, he described Rojava as his “second home”. He, like many of the volunteers, I have spoken to over the last three years, said he saw fighting as giving him meaning, an antidote to a divided, lonely and consumer-led world of the modern West. 'In Britain, we spend so much time working and worrying about money, and relationships aren't the same as they were before technology got in the way,' he said from his frontline base. 'Here, everyone is brought together by a common cause: to destroy Daesh and fight for a better world. It is good to be attached to something bigger than yourself.' 'When I first arrived in Syria, I knew almost nothing about the politics of Rojava, I just wanted to help destroy Isil,' recalled Macer Gifford, a 31-year-old former Tory councillor, from Oxford, who gave up his job in the city to travel to Syria in December 2014 and has fought there on and off ever since. 'Then, a big group of male and female fighters sat me down for dinner. I was blown away by how many Western stereotypes of the Middle East were broken in such a short time; from the girls smoking and discussing politics, to the female commander asking one of the men to clear away the plates. 'There was such hope and optimism in the air; I couldn't help but feel invigorated by it.' A Kurdish fighter from the YPG looks at a smoke after an airstrike in Raqqa Credit: GORAN TOMASEVIC /REUTERS  When George Orwell arrived in revolutionary Barcelona to help defend the Spanish Republic from Franco's uprising, he too was powerfully struck by the atmosphere of hope. He later wrote, 'I recognised it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for ... Above all, there was a belief in the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom.' Eight decades on, and in a very different warzone, a similar revolutionary optimism was taking hold. Today that spirit is transforming Rojava. Inspired by the ideology of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Turkey, and triggered by 2011's 'Arab Spring', people are organising themselves into grassroots people's assemblies and co-operatives. They are declaring their autonomy from the state and their wish for real democracy, including a system of co-presidentship whereby a man and a woman share power at every level. Isil, now, are all but defeated in Syria. However, many volunteers are remaining to fight what they see as a “second phase” of the Syrian Kurds’ battle. One of them is Kimberley Taylor, a 28-year-old activist from Blackburn. The only known British woman to have volunteered to fight this war, she enlisted with the YPJ, the all-female affiliate army to the YPG, in March 2016. 'This is fundamentally a feminist revolution,' she told me from Syria. “What is bringing people together is a common sense that we are fighting for an alternative political system in the Middle East based. Ocalan himself says that without committing ourselves to women's liberation, the Middle East will never have peace.' Kimberley Taylor, a former maths student from Blackburn, left the UK  to join a Kurdish women’s unit To these recruits, revolution is seductive. Unlike the Peshmerga in Iraq, the YPG  does not require recruits to have previous military experience, and gives them Kurdish noms-de-guerre, often with an international revolutionary tinge. Ryan Lock, who took his own life to avoid capture in December 2016,  for instance, was known as Berxwedan Givara ('Resistance Guevara'), while Dean Evans – the 22-year-old dairy farmer from Warminster killed in July 2016– fought as Givara Rojava ('Guevara of the West'). Evans was so committed, he even asked in his will to be buried in Syria with his 'brothers and sisters.' When YPG soldiers die, they are celebrated as martyrs. Isil is not the only enemy who wants them dead. Turkey views this liberation movement as an extension of the PKK, which has been involved in armed struggle against the state for decades. But rather than scare these foreigners off, Turkey's belligerence seems to have fostered an even fiercer underdog mentality. None believed this more than Lock. On 24 November 2016, he witnessed the deaths of most of his unit – including his two best friends – in a Turkish airstrike. 'We were taking a small village when we got hit by Turkish jets in the night,' he later wrote on Facebook. 'Two of my friends, Anton and Michael, were killed among many others. I’m staying to finish out my six months.' He took his own life a month later, when his frontline position was overrun. When the hearse left the UK airport in February last year, mourners who had never met the 22-year-old from Chichester held roses and framed photographs of the former chef hailing him a hero. Ryan Lock, from Chichester, West Sussex, who was killed fighting against Islamic State in Syria Credit: PA Some of these self-styled freedom fighters seem driven by relatively straightforward idealism – a desire to play their part in creating a friendlier world. But inspired by the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War, a growing group of leftist foreign fighters established the International Freedom Battalion (IBF) in June 2015 in response to what they called a 'bloodbath” in the Middle East. When I sent the group a message through Facebook last year, one British member, who preferred not to give his name, replied via an encrypted messaging service. “I have absolutely no faith in liberal democracy's ability to resist fascism, only an international socialist movement can,' he wrote.  The YPG won't say how many foreigners are currently in its ranks for security reasons, but one high-ranking Spanish fighter told me he believed the figure to be “over a thousand”. It is noticeable, he added, how many are under the age of 30. 'The war with Isil is a defining moment, certainly for my generation who've grown up post 9/11 and seen this outburst of terrorism around the world,' Gifford told me last year. “These young men, myself included, are going out there, fighting, dying, because they see it as their Orwellian moment, their anti-fascist moment, like the Spanish Civil War.' George Orwell came home disillusioned with Spain's revolution, which ended in defeat and 36 years of fascist rule. I asked Taylor what she thought of this. “We cannot let it end the same way again,' she said. 'Isil are finished, but this isn't just a fight against Daesh. The YPJ will still be fighting, but this time for women's rights in the Middle East. We won't stop until the job is done.”

The British civilians still fighting Isil in Syria: 'We won't stop until the job is done'

When the bodies of Jac Holmes and Oliver Hall, the latest British men who died fighting Isil in Syria before Christmas, land at Heathrow this week, they will be greeted by dozens of members of Britain's Kurdish community. They will be welcomed not as tragic victims of a foreign war, but as martyrs. Holmes and Hall were the sixth and seventh British citizens to die in the fight against Isil, and just two of hundreds of international volunteers who have flocked to join the Kurdish People's Defence Units (YPG) in Rojava, a self-declared autonomous region of northern Syria. Much has been said about these volunteers' motivations for going: war junkies, void-fillers, steely-gazed idealists. Although those may be reasons that drive many of them to war, they are not necessarily what make them stay. Holmes,  a 24-year old former IT worker and decorator from Bournemouth, with no previous military experience, was one of the longest-serving foreign volunteers of the YPG, having travelled to northern Syria three times since August 2015. Yesterday, his mother, Angie Blannin, told how his primary motivation was to help destroy Isil, but how he also grew to appreciate many of the values espoused by Rojava’s revolutionary spirit. “Most of all, he loved being a soldier,” she said. “Not because he was a bloodthirsty killer; he was an intelligent guy. But he wanted to get rid of Daesh. He was appalled at the atrocities they were committing and felt the Western governments weren't doing enough.” Jac Holmes  Credit: Facebook Describing the fight against Isil as her son's 'calling', she added: "He didn't feel like he was doing anything constructive in the UK; fixing computers and painting walls. He felt there were a lot of things happening in the world and he was angry at the apathy in the UK. This fight gave him a purpose he hadn't found in the UK. He said: ‘Mum, I love what I’m doing and I’m good at it.’ I regularly spoke to Holmes during his time in Syria. When I asked him about his motivations last year, he described Rojava as his “second home”. He, like many of the volunteers, I have spoken to over the last three years, said he saw fighting as giving him meaning, an antidote to a divided, lonely and consumer-led world of the modern West. 'In Britain, we spend so much time working and worrying about money, and relationships aren't the same as they were before technology got in the way,' he said from his frontline base. 'Here, everyone is brought together by a common cause: to destroy Daesh and fight for a better world. It is good to be attached to something bigger than yourself.' 'When I first arrived in Syria, I knew almost nothing about the politics of Rojava, I just wanted to help destroy Isil,' recalled Macer Gifford, a 31-year-old former Tory councillor, from Oxford, who gave up his job in the city to travel to Syria in December 2014 and has fought there on and off ever since. 'Then, a big group of male and female fighters sat me down for dinner. I was blown away by how many Western stereotypes of the Middle East were broken in such a short time; from the girls smoking and discussing politics, to the female commander asking one of the men to clear away the plates. 'There was such hope and optimism in the air; I couldn't help but feel invigorated by it.' A Kurdish fighter from the YPG looks at a smoke after an airstrike in Raqqa Credit: GORAN TOMASEVIC /REUTERS  When George Orwell arrived in revolutionary Barcelona to help defend the Spanish Republic from Franco's uprising, he too was powerfully struck by the atmosphere of hope. He later wrote, 'I recognised it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for ... Above all, there was a belief in the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom.' Eight decades on, and in a very different warzone, a similar revolutionary optimism was taking hold. Today that spirit is transforming Rojava. Inspired by the ideology of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Turkey, and triggered by 2011's 'Arab Spring', people are organising themselves into grassroots people's assemblies and co-operatives. They are declaring their autonomy from the state and their wish for real democracy, including a system of co-presidentship whereby a man and a woman share power at every level. Isil, now, are all but defeated in Syria. However, many volunteers are remaining to fight what they see as a “second phase” of the Syrian Kurds’ battle. One of them is Kimberley Taylor, a 28-year-old activist from Blackburn. The only known British woman to have volunteered to fight this war, she enlisted with the YPJ, the all-female affiliate army to the YPG, in March 2016. 'This is fundamentally a feminist revolution,' she told me from Syria. “What is bringing people together is a common sense that we are fighting for an alternative political system in the Middle East based. Ocalan himself says that without committing ourselves to women's liberation, the Middle East will never have peace.' Kimberley Taylor, a former maths student from Blackburn, left the UK  to join a Kurdish women’s unit To these recruits, revolution is seductive. Unlike the Peshmerga in Iraq, the YPG  does not require recruits to have previous military experience, and gives them Kurdish noms-de-guerre, often with an international revolutionary tinge. Ryan Lock, who took his own life to avoid capture in December 2016,  for instance, was known as Berxwedan Givara ('Resistance Guevara'), while Dean Evans – the 22-year-old dairy farmer from Warminster killed in July 2016– fought as Givara Rojava ('Guevara of the West'). Evans was so committed, he even asked in his will to be buried in Syria with his 'brothers and sisters.' When YPG soldiers die, they are celebrated as martyrs. Isil is not the only enemy who wants them dead. Turkey views this liberation movement as an extension of the PKK, which has been involved in armed struggle against the state for decades. But rather than scare these foreigners off, Turkey's belligerence seems to have fostered an even fiercer underdog mentality. None believed this more than Lock. On 24 November 2016, he witnessed the deaths of most of his unit – including his two best friends – in a Turkish airstrike. 'We were taking a small village when we got hit by Turkish jets in the night,' he later wrote on Facebook. 'Two of my friends, Anton and Michael, were killed among many others. I’m staying to finish out my six months.' He took his own life a month later, when his frontline position was overrun. When the hearse left the UK airport in February last year, mourners who had never met the 22-year-old from Chichester held roses and framed photographs of the former chef hailing him a hero. Ryan Lock, from Chichester, West Sussex, who was killed fighting against Islamic State in Syria Credit: PA Some of these self-styled freedom fighters seem driven by relatively straightforward idealism – a desire to play their part in creating a friendlier world. But inspired by the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War, a growing group of leftist foreign fighters established the International Freedom Battalion (IBF) in June 2015 in response to what they called a 'bloodbath” in the Middle East. When I sent the group a message through Facebook last year, one British member, who preferred not to give his name, replied via an encrypted messaging service. “I have absolutely no faith in liberal democracy's ability to resist fascism, only an international socialist movement can,' he wrote.  The YPG won't say how many foreigners are currently in its ranks for security reasons, but one high-ranking Spanish fighter told me he believed the figure to be “over a thousand”. It is noticeable, he added, how many are under the age of 30. 'The war with Isil is a defining moment, certainly for my generation who've grown up post 9/11 and seen this outburst of terrorism around the world,' Gifford told me last year. “These young men, myself included, are going out there, fighting, dying, because they see it as their Orwellian moment, their anti-fascist moment, like the Spanish Civil War.' George Orwell came home disillusioned with Spain's revolution, which ended in defeat and 36 years of fascist rule. I asked Taylor what she thought of this. “We cannot let it end the same way again,' she said. 'Isil are finished, but this isn't just a fight against Daesh. The YPJ will still be fighting, but this time for women's rights in the Middle East. We won't stop until the job is done.”

The British civilians still fighting Isil in Syria: 'We won't stop until the job is done'

When the bodies of Jac Holmes and Oliver Hall, the latest British men who died fighting Isil in Syria before Christmas, land at Heathrow this week, they will be greeted by dozens of members of Britain's Kurdish community. They will be welcomed not as tragic victims of a foreign war, but as martyrs. Holmes and Hall were the sixth and seventh British citizens to die in the fight against Isil, and just two of hundreds of international volunteers who have flocked to join the Kurdish People's Defence Units (YPG) in Rojava, a self-declared autonomous region of northern Syria. Much has been said about these volunteers' motivations for going: war junkies, void-fillers, steely-gazed idealists. Although those may be reasons that drive many of them to war, they are not necessarily what make them stay. Holmes,  a 24-year old former IT worker and decorator from Bournemouth, with no previous military experience, was one of the longest-serving foreign volunteers of the YPG, having travelled to northern Syria three times since August 2015. Yesterday, his mother, Angie Blannin, told how his primary motivation was to help destroy Isil, but how he also grew to appreciate many of the values espoused by Rojava’s revolutionary spirit. “Most of all, he loved being a soldier,” she said. “Not because he was a bloodthirsty killer; he was an intelligent guy. But he wanted to get rid of Daesh. He was appalled at the atrocities they were committing and felt the Western governments weren't doing enough.” Jac Holmes  Credit: Facebook Describing the fight against Isil as her son's 'calling', she added: "He didn't feel like he was doing anything constructive in the UK; fixing computers and painting walls. He felt there were a lot of things happening in the world and he was angry at the apathy in the UK. This fight gave him a purpose he hadn't found in the UK. He said: ‘Mum, I love what I’m doing and I’m good at it.’ I regularly spoke to Holmes during his time in Syria. When I asked him about his motivations last year, he described Rojava as his “second home”. He, like many of the volunteers, I have spoken to over the last three years, said he saw fighting as giving him meaning, an antidote to a divided, lonely and consumer-led world of the modern West. 'In Britain, we spend so much time working and worrying about money, and relationships aren't the same as they were before technology got in the way,' he said from his frontline base. 'Here, everyone is brought together by a common cause: to destroy Daesh and fight for a better world. It is good to be attached to something bigger than yourself.' 'When I first arrived in Syria, I knew almost nothing about the politics of Rojava, I just wanted to help destroy Isil,' recalled Macer Gifford, a 31-year-old former Tory councillor, from Oxford, who gave up his job in the city to travel to Syria in December 2014 and has fought there on and off ever since. 'Then, a big group of male and female fighters sat me down for dinner. I was blown away by how many Western stereotypes of the Middle East were broken in such a short time; from the girls smoking and discussing politics, to the female commander asking one of the men to clear away the plates. 'There was such hope and optimism in the air; I couldn't help but feel invigorated by it.' A Kurdish fighter from the YPG looks at a smoke after an airstrike in Raqqa Credit: GORAN TOMASEVIC /REUTERS  When George Orwell arrived in revolutionary Barcelona to help defend the Spanish Republic from Franco's uprising, he too was powerfully struck by the atmosphere of hope. He later wrote, 'I recognised it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for ... Above all, there was a belief in the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom.' Eight decades on, and in a very different warzone, a similar revolutionary optimism was taking hold. Today that spirit is transforming Rojava. Inspired by the ideology of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Turkey, and triggered by 2011's 'Arab Spring', people are organising themselves into grassroots people's assemblies and co-operatives. They are declaring their autonomy from the state and their wish for real democracy, including a system of co-presidentship whereby a man and a woman share power at every level. Isil, now, are all but defeated in Syria. However, many volunteers are remaining to fight what they see as a “second phase” of the Syrian Kurds’ battle. One of them is Kimberley Taylor, a 28-year-old activist from Blackburn. The only known British woman to have volunteered to fight this war, she enlisted with the YPJ, the all-female affiliate army to the YPG, in March 2016. 'This is fundamentally a feminist revolution,' she told me from Syria. “What is bringing people together is a common sense that we are fighting for an alternative political system in the Middle East based. Ocalan himself says that without committing ourselves to women's liberation, the Middle East will never have peace.' Kimberley Taylor, a former maths student from Blackburn, left the UK  to join a Kurdish women’s unit To these recruits, revolution is seductive. Unlike the Peshmerga in Iraq, the YPG  does not require recruits to have previous military experience, and gives them Kurdish noms-de-guerre, often with an international revolutionary tinge. Ryan Lock, who took his own life to avoid capture in December 2016,  for instance, was known as Berxwedan Givara ('Resistance Guevara'), while Dean Evans – the 22-year-old dairy farmer from Warminster killed in July 2016– fought as Givara Rojava ('Guevara of the West'). Evans was so committed, he even asked in his will to be buried in Syria with his 'brothers and sisters.' When YPG soldiers die, they are celebrated as martyrs. Isil is not the only enemy who wants them dead. Turkey views this liberation movement as an extension of the PKK, which has been involved in armed struggle against the state for decades. But rather than scare these foreigners off, Turkey's belligerence seems to have fostered an even fiercer underdog mentality. None believed this more than Lock. On 24 November 2016, he witnessed the deaths of most of his unit – including his two best friends – in a Turkish airstrike. 'We were taking a small village when we got hit by Turkish jets in the night,' he later wrote on Facebook. 'Two of my friends, Anton and Michael, were killed among many others. I’m staying to finish out my six months.' He took his own life a month later, when his frontline position was overrun. When the hearse left the UK airport in February last year, mourners who had never met the 22-year-old from Chichester held roses and framed photographs of the former chef hailing him a hero. Ryan Lock, from Chichester, West Sussex, who was killed fighting against Islamic State in Syria Credit: PA Some of these self-styled freedom fighters seem driven by relatively straightforward idealism – a desire to play their part in creating a friendlier world. But inspired by the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War, a growing group of leftist foreign fighters established the International Freedom Battalion (IBF) in June 2015 in response to what they called a 'bloodbath” in the Middle East. When I sent the group a message through Facebook last year, one British member, who preferred not to give his name, replied via an encrypted messaging service. “I have absolutely no faith in liberal democracy's ability to resist fascism, only an international socialist movement can,' he wrote.  The YPG won't say how many foreigners are currently in its ranks for security reasons, but one high-ranking Spanish fighter told me he believed the figure to be “over a thousand”. It is noticeable, he added, how many are under the age of 30. 'The war with Isil is a defining moment, certainly for my generation who've grown up post 9/11 and seen this outburst of terrorism around the world,' Gifford told me last year. “These young men, myself included, are going out there, fighting, dying, because they see it as their Orwellian moment, their anti-fascist moment, like the Spanish Civil War.' George Orwell came home disillusioned with Spain's revolution, which ended in defeat and 36 years of fascist rule. I asked Taylor what she thought of this. “We cannot let it end the same way again,' she said. 'Isil are finished, but this isn't just a fight against Daesh. The YPJ will still be fighting, but this time for women's rights in the Middle East. We won't stop until the job is done.”

Natalie Portman Calling Out Hollywood's Sexism at the Golden Globes Will Make You Say, "YAS!"

Natalie Portman went into savage mode and poor Guillermo del Toro never saw it coming pic.twitter.com/DF0BAcReSt - Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) January 8, 2018 The Golden Globes celebrated the achievements of some of Hollywood's biggest stars in film and TV on Sunday night, but the biggest winner of all was female empowerment. In addition to almost all of the actresses wearing black in solidarity of the Time's Up movement, which calls for action to end sexual harassment and gender inequality, Natalie Portman used her time on stage to call out Hollywood for another problem: not recognising enough female directors.

Shrewsbury Town eye FA Cup upset dancing to the tune of Paul Hurst's way

Earlier this week, an impromptu, unofficial road sign appeared in the middle of the roundabout outside Shrewsbury Town’s Montgomery Waters Meadows stadium. Put there by fans delighted by the transformation of their club since the manager took over in October 2016, it reads simply “Paul Hurst Way”. And so universally admired is he hereabouts, the local council have decided to leave the sign in place. The Hurst way receives its most significant challenge on Sunday. Already the manager has turned the club deemed relegation favourites at the start of the season into League One title contenders, as they sit in second place, five points clear of Blackburn in third. Now he faces Premier League opposition in the shape of West Ham United in a televised third round FA Cup tie on Sunday. And Hurst is relishing the opportunity. “They have picked a game where they think there is a chance of an upset,” he says of the broadcasters’ choice. “I see this as something of a reward for the players and the club as a whole. It helps financially and all the fans can come out in force.” Not that he is sure who his players will be facing in an era when the early stages of the Cup are regarded by most Premier League managers as an opportunity to rest the first team. “It has been unusual to prepare for this game as we have no idea who he will pick,” he says of his counterpart David Moyes. “But whoever it is they will be good players.” Hurst himself will not be resting anyone (“the priority is the league, but we will put our team out”). And he is quick to dismiss the idea that he should. Hurst has turned Shrewsbury Town into League One title contenders Credit: Getty Images “I do smile when I hear people moaning about these games,” he says of Premier League managers complaining about the crowded seasonal fixture list. “They haven’t played on pitches like we have and they have all the resources in the world to get the players back fresh and ready. It makes me smirk. I’ve not got too much sympathy with them for the schedule ahead of our game.” Indeed, Shrewsbury’s own fixture list was not exactly empty over Christmas. It was, however, rewarding, accruing three wins and a draw at leaders Wigan. Which is something of a pattern for a season in which everything has changed at the club. “We’ve certainly made the bookmakers look silly in terms of the table I found on the internet that has us finishing second bottom,” Hurst says. “I pinned that up at the training ground. It will stay up as a little reminder of what people expected from us.” Indeed if anything this, he says, is what defines the Hurst way. “The mantra I go by is I like to prove people wrong. At Grimsby [where he gained promotion from the Conference] people were saying, ‘you won’t get promoted.’ That was in my head all the time. When it happened it was even better. Here people said, ‘you won’t stay up.’ When I arrived and looked at the quality of the squad I thought, ‘you’re probably right.’ But we managed to change that and prove people wrong.” And he hopes there could be more of that on Sunday. “My biggest thing is that I want us all to do ourselves justice, because we have had an excellent season to date. We want to make it uncomfortable in comfortable surroundings. One thing I can promise: no-one will work harder than us.”

Shrewsbury Town eye FA Cup upset dancing to the tune of Paul Hurst's way

Earlier this week, an impromptu, unofficial road sign appeared in the middle of the roundabout outside Shrewsbury Town’s Montgomery Waters Meadows stadium. Put there by fans delighted by the transformation of their club since the manager took over in October 2016, it reads simply “Paul Hurst Way”. And so universally admired is he hereabouts, the local council have decided to leave the sign in place. The Hurst way receives its most significant challenge on Sunday. Already the manager has turned the club deemed relegation favourites at the start of the season into League One title contenders, as they sit in second place, five points clear of Blackburn in third. Now he faces Premier League opposition in the shape of West Ham United in a televised third round FA Cup tie on Sunday. And Hurst is relishing the opportunity. “They have picked a game where they think there is a chance of an upset,” he says of the broadcasters’ choice. “I see this as something of a reward for the players and the club as a whole. It helps financially and all the fans can come out in force.” Not that he is sure who his players will be facing in an era when the early stages of the Cup are regarded by most Premier League managers as an opportunity to rest the first team. “It has been unusual to prepare for this game as we have no idea who he will pick,” he says of his counterpart David Moyes. “But whoever it is they will be good players.” Hurst himself will not be resting anyone (“the priority is the league, but we will put our team out”). And he is quick to dismiss the idea that he should. Hurst has turned Shrewsbury Town into League One title contenders Credit: Getty Images “I do smile when I hear people moaning about these games,” he says of Premier League managers complaining about the crowded seasonal fixture list. “They haven’t played on pitches like we have and they have all the resources in the world to get the players back fresh and ready. It makes me smirk. I’ve not got too much sympathy with them for the schedule ahead of our game.” Indeed, Shrewsbury’s own fixture list was not exactly empty over Christmas. It was, however, rewarding, accruing three wins and a draw at leaders Wigan. Which is something of a pattern for a season in which everything has changed at the club. “We’ve certainly made the bookmakers look silly in terms of the table I found on the internet that has us finishing second bottom,” Hurst says. “I pinned that up at the training ground. It will stay up as a little reminder of what people expected from us.” Indeed if anything this, he says, is what defines the Hurst way. “The mantra I go by is I like to prove people wrong. At Grimsby [where he gained promotion from the Conference] people were saying, ‘you won’t get promoted.’ That was in my head all the time. When it happened it was even better. Here people said, ‘you won’t stay up.’ When I arrived and looked at the quality of the squad I thought, ‘you’re probably right.’ But we managed to change that and prove people wrong.” And he hopes there could be more of that on Sunday. “My biggest thing is that I want us all to do ourselves justice, because we have had an excellent season to date. We want to make it uncomfortable in comfortable surroundings. One thing I can promise: no-one will work harder than us.”

Why Roy Hodgson was always suited to the challenge at Crystal Palace | Richard Williams

‘Roy Hodgson’s reputation had been badly bruised at Blackburn and Liverpool, and history showed he could respond in the right circumstances.’

January Transfer Window: Premier League ins and out

Newcastle United

Ins: None. (Linked with Michy Batshuayi)

Outs: Adam Armstrong (Blackburn, loan), Chidi Nwakali (Aberdeen, loan), Ivan Toney (Scunthorpe loan)

Everton move quickly in bid to wrap up £25m Cenk Tosun deal

Steve Walsh, the Everton director of football, is in Turkey trying to conclude a £25 million deal for Besiktas’ Cenk Tosun. The Merseyside club is moving quickly to fend off competition for the striker. Manager Sam Allardyce underlined the urgency for attacking reinforcements but admits he is worried about the rivals for the 26-year-old’s signature. “There’s an interest obviously because we’re actively looking for a front man, but the interest from other clubs around Europe is our biggest worry if we are to secure that transfer,” said Allardyce. Walsh held face-to-face discussions on Turkey on Friday hoping to finalise the details. Allardyce admits he is alarmed by the lack of goal threat in his squad. Despite an unbeaten run since taking over at Goodison Park, his side has struggled to create opportunities. That must be addressed in the transfer window. “We’re consistently defending well, but on the opposite, we’re not attacking very well in possession,” said Allardyce. “I feel the problem with the players is their ability to do the transition correctly and that has been a problem. “I think that’s the reverse of when I came in. When I came in, they played out from the back, played through midfield and when they lost it, they lost a goal. Sam Allardyce does not want to miss out on his striker target Credit: getty images “When they went into transition, they couldn't defend properly and hence, conceded 25 goals in the last eight games before I got here. “I think it’s the reverse now. I think they are defending superbly well now, but in transition, they can’t turn the ball into good passing opportunities and get at the opposition and create more chances. “I wouldn’t expect that against Liverpool and certainly not Chelsea, but I still would have said what possession we had, we should have done better and West Brom was a big concern for me.” Everton travel to Bournemouth on Saturday before facing Manchester United at Goodison on New Year’s Day. James McCarthy is back after a prolonged absence and Wayne Rooney has recovered from flu. Leighton Baines has suffered a setback in his efforts to return from a calf injury. As well as a striker, Allardyce wants a full-back. He will also move for Steven N’Zonzi if he can offload unwanted midfielders. Sport tweets of 2017 “I think if the players were available, then three would be the maximum for me,” he said. “That would give us a chance to sustain our position and maybe do better from where we are. “If we established ourselves in eighth or ninth, we will have done a brilliant job this year, coming back from the starting position. “I would take Steven N'Zonzi tomorrow. He is one of my better buys in my lifetime, only €650,000 from France to Blackburn Rovers. He became young player of the year and player of the year in his first season at Blackburn Rovers when we finished 10th. “He was a terrific pinch out of the French leagues and has gone on to do terrific things in his career. For me, knowing him from that age and knowing him now, yes I would like him but with the amount of midfield players I have at the moment I'd have to move some player out to bring a player like Steven in.”

Everton move quickly in bid to wrap up £25m Cenk Tosun deal

Steve Walsh, the Everton director of football, is in Turkey trying to conclude a £25 million deal for Besiktas’ Cenk Tosun. The Merseyside club is moving quickly to fend off competition for the striker. Manager Sam Allardyce underlined the urgency for attacking reinforcements but admits he is worried about the rivals for the 26-year-old’s signature. “There’s an interest obviously because we’re actively looking for a front man, but the interest from other clubs around Europe is our biggest worry if we are to secure that transfer,” said Allardyce. Walsh held face-to-face discussions on Turkey on Friday hoping to finalise the details. Allardyce admits he is alarmed by the lack of goal threat in his squad. Despite an unbeaten run since taking over at Goodison Park, his side has struggled to create opportunities. That must be addressed in the transfer window. “We’re consistently defending well, but on the opposite, we’re not attacking very well in possession,” said Allardyce. “I feel the problem with the players is their ability to do the transition correctly and that has been a problem. “I think that’s the reverse of when I came in. When I came in, they played out from the back, played through midfield and when they lost it, they lost a goal. Sam Allardyce does not want to miss out on his striker target Credit: getty images “When they went into transition, they couldn't defend properly and hence, conceded 25 goals in the last eight games before I got here. “I think it’s the reverse now. I think they are defending superbly well now, but in transition, they can’t turn the ball into good passing opportunities and get at the opposition and create more chances. “I wouldn’t expect that against Liverpool and certainly not Chelsea, but I still would have said what possession we had, we should have done better and West Brom was a big concern for me.” Everton travel to Bournemouth on Saturday before facing Manchester United at Goodison on New Year’s Day. James McCarthy is back after a prolonged absence and Wayne Rooney has recovered from flu. Leighton Baines has suffered a setback in his efforts to return from a calf injury. As well as a striker, Allardyce wants a full-back. He will also move for Steven N’Zonzi if he can offload unwanted midfielders. Sport tweets of 2017 “I think if the players were available, then three would be the maximum for me,” he said. “That would give us a chance to sustain our position and maybe do better from where we are. “If we established ourselves in eighth or ninth, we will have done a brilliant job this year, coming back from the starting position. “I would take Steven N'Zonzi tomorrow. He is one of my better buys in my lifetime, only €650,000 from France to Blackburn Rovers. He became young player of the year and player of the year in his first season at Blackburn Rovers when we finished 10th. “He was a terrific pinch out of the French leagues and has gone on to do terrific things in his career. For me, knowing him from that age and knowing him now, yes I would like him but with the amount of midfield players I have at the moment I'd have to move some player out to bring a player like Steven in.”

Arsene Wenger makes pointed riposte at Jose Mourinho as he prepares for record-equalling match

The historic milestones arrive regularly these days for Arsene Wenger and, as he prepares tomorrow night to equal Sir Alex Ferguson’s record of 810 Premier League games, it was somehow fitting that he should blend his reminisces with a pointed riposte at another great nemesis. Jose Mourinho had complained on Boxing Day that Manchester United’s vast spending since he became manager was inadequate and, in digesting that observation, Wenger’s grin spoke volumes. The Frenchman’s greatest team were of course ultimately toppled by Mourinho’s Chelsea side, with the Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein then describing Roman Abramovich as “parking his Russian tank in our front garden and firing £50 notes at us”. It was the biggest single external change in Wenger’s Arsenal tenure and it has been compounded since 2007 by the arrival at Manchester City of another multi-billionaire benefactor. “I have always had one team at least – sometimes four – who were richer than I was, so I learned to cope with that,” said Wenger. “I will not start to complain now. What is most important is that you deal with your own situation and, yes, Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United are richer than us. “People don’t want to know about that. They want you to win the games. We still have to find a way to be successful.” Mourinho complained on Tuesday that his near £300 million spend was “not enough” Credit: Reuters Wenger’s managerial strategy has been rooted in certain core values and, in reflecting with rare depth upon the past 21 years, he regularly came back to that same theme. “I think it’s been a conjunction of many things,” he said. “Loyalty, dedication, hard work and the sacrifice of your life. That’s what it demands. “Also luck because I was in a club who trusted in me through good and bad. I didn’t miss one game in 21 years, which means you need to be healthy. I stayed here as well  because I am at a club where I can identify with the values.” These values can be surmised as playing with an attacking identity, giving young players their chance and acting also with a certain level of respect and integrity. Part of the context for this was how Wenger was a direct victim previously of match-fixing in French football and his suspicion that doping is a significant issue in elite football. Wenger will equal Ferguson's record of 810 Premier League games in charge against Crystal Palace Credit: Getty Images “We live in a society that is more demanding, more individualism, more opinionated, less stable,” said Wenger. “The overall problem in Europe is that the respect for basic things has been lost or is weaker than 20 years ago. “But as well you have positive things. People are better informed. People have more knowledge of the game. In every single job, people are questioned more. “Overall, it is more the decor that has changed. The core of the game is the same. That means human beings putting their effort together to achieve something.” Wenger’s first match at Arsenal was a 2-0 win at Blackburn. “I banned all the chocolate that the players had before the game and, when we drove to Blackburn on the coach, the players chanted, ‘We want our Mars Bars’,” he said. “If someone had told me I’d still be here now, I would have said, ‘You’re absolutely mad, absolutely no chance’. Every game is such a gamble. It’s Russian roulette. You think, at some stage, the trigger will hit you. It’s unbelievable.” Wenger back in 1996 and his first game in charge of Arsenal against Blackburn Credit: PA Wenger’s methodology has always rested on an extraordinary confidence even in flawed players. “The ultimate goal is to make people happy; that is the proudest thing you can have,” he said. “What is the most important quality in this job – and something that people rarely talk about – is to believe in human beings. “You’re not naive. You know all the strengths and the weaknesses and how sometimes people can be selfish or mean. If you are paranoid, don’t choose this job because you have every reason to become more paranoid but you still have to believe that there is a light in every human being that you can get out. You must have that strength of belief in human beings that always takes over at difficult moments.” Sport tweets of 2017 Ahead of returning to Crystal Palace, one such moment was in the corresponding fixture last season when Wenger’s position looked in severe peril following a 3-0 defeat. “When you lose a game there is always a big focus on the negative side,” he said. “If we watch again this game against Palace, you will see it was not as bad as everybody said. Don’t be carried away by all the negativity. When you win it’s the same. People will say it was absolutely fantastic but you watch again and you made mistakes.” The Palace game was followed by a change in system to 3-4-2-1 that has again now been temporarily abandoned in preference for 4-2-3-1. It has meant Sead Kolasinac losing his place and an extra attacker. It was suggested that, deep down, Wenger really prefers to play with an additional attacker and his reply pretty much summed up by the previous 809 games. “Four at the back?” he said, with a smile. “In my heart, I prefer with one defender.”

Arsene Wenger makes pointed riposte at Jose Mourinho as he prepares for record-equalling match

The historic milestones arrive regularly these days for Arsene Wenger and, as he prepares tomorrow night to equal Sir Alex Ferguson’s record of 810 Premier League games, it was somehow fitting that he should blend his reminisces with a pointed riposte at another great nemesis. Jose Mourinho had complained on Boxing Day that Manchester United’s vast spending since he became manager was inadequate and, in digesting that observation, Wenger’s grin spoke volumes. The Frenchman’s greatest team were of course ultimately toppled by Mourinho’s Chelsea side, with the Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein then describing Roman Abramovich as “parking his Russian tank in our front garden and firing £50 notes at us”. It was the biggest single external change in Wenger’s Arsenal tenure and it has been compounded since 2007 by the arrival at Manchester City of another multi-billionaire benefactor. “I have always had one team at least – sometimes four – who were richer than I was, so I learned to cope with that,” said Wenger. “I will not start to complain now. What is most important is that you deal with your own situation and, yes, Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United are richer than us. “People don’t want to know about that. They want you to win the games. We still have to find a way to be successful.” Mourinho complained on Tuesday that his near £300 million spend was “not enough” Credit: Reuters Wenger’s managerial strategy has been rooted in certain core values and, in reflecting with rare depth upon the past 21 years, he regularly came back to that same theme. “I think it’s been a conjunction of many things,” he said. “Loyalty, dedication, hard work and the sacrifice of your life. That’s what it demands. “Also luck because I was in a club who trusted in me through good and bad. I didn’t miss one game in 21 years, which means you need to be healthy. I stayed here as well  because I am at a club where I can identify with the values.” These values can be surmised as playing with an attacking identity, giving young players their chance and acting also with a certain level of respect and integrity. Part of the context for this was how Wenger was a direct victim previously of match-fixing in French football and his suspicion that doping is a significant issue in elite football. Wenger will equal Ferguson's record of 810 Premier League games in charge against Crystal Palace Credit: Getty Images “We live in a society that is more demanding, more individualism, more opinionated, less stable,” said Wenger. “The overall problem in Europe is that the respect for basic things has been lost or is weaker than 20 years ago. “But as well you have positive things. People are better informed. People have more knowledge of the game. In every single job, people are questioned more. “Overall, it is more the decor that has changed. The core of the game is the same. That means human beings putting their effort together to achieve something.” Wenger’s first match at Arsenal was a 2-0 win at Blackburn. “I banned all the chocolate that the players had before the game and, when we drove to Blackburn on the coach, the players chanted, ‘We want our Mars Bars’,” he said. “If someone had told me I’d still be here now, I would have said, ‘You’re absolutely mad, absolutely no chance’. Every game is such a gamble. It’s Russian roulette. You think, at some stage, the trigger will hit you. It’s unbelievable.” Wenger back in 1996 and his first game in charge of Arsenal against Blackburn Credit: PA Wenger’s methodology has always rested on an extraordinary confidence even in flawed players. “The ultimate goal is to make people happy; that is the proudest thing you can have,” he said. “What is the most important quality in this job – and something that people rarely talk about – is to believe in human beings. “You’re not naive. You know all the strengths and the weaknesses and how sometimes people can be selfish or mean. If you are paranoid, don’t choose this job because you have every reason to become more paranoid but you still have to believe that there is a light in every human being that you can get out. You must have that strength of belief in human beings that always takes over at difficult moments.” Sport tweets of 2017 Ahead of returning to Crystal Palace, one such moment was in the corresponding fixture last season when Wenger’s position looked in severe peril following a 3-0 defeat. “When you lose a game there is always a big focus on the negative side,” he said. “If we watch again this game against Palace, you will see it was not as bad as everybody said. Don’t be carried away by all the negativity. When you win it’s the same. People will say it was absolutely fantastic but you watch again and you made mistakes.” The Palace game was followed by a change in system to 3-4-2-1 that has again now been temporarily abandoned in preference for 4-2-3-1. It has meant Sead Kolasinac losing his place and an extra attacker. It was suggested that, deep down, Wenger really prefers to play with an additional attacker and his reply pretty much summed up by the previous 809 games. “Four at the back?” he said, with a smile. “In my heart, I prefer with one defender.”

Arsene Wenger makes pointed riposte at Jose Mourinho as he prepares for record-equalling match

The historic milestones arrive regularly these days for Arsene Wenger and, as he prepares tomorrow night to equal Sir Alex Ferguson’s record of 810 Premier League games, it was somehow fitting that he should blend his reminisces with a pointed riposte at another great nemesis. Jose Mourinho had complained on Boxing Day that Manchester United’s vast spending since he became manager was inadequate and, in digesting that observation, Wenger’s grin spoke volumes. The Frenchman’s greatest team were of course ultimately toppled by Mourinho’s Chelsea side, with the Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein then describing Roman Abramovich as “parking his Russian tank in our front garden and firing £50 notes at us”. It was the biggest single external change in Wenger’s Arsenal tenure and it has been compounded since 2007 by the arrival at Manchester City of another multi-billionaire benefactor. “I have always had one team at least – sometimes four – who were richer than I was, so I learned to cope with that,” said Wenger. “I will not start to complain now. What is most important is that you deal with your own situation and, yes, Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United are richer than us. “People don’t want to know about that. They want you to win the games. We still have to find a way to be successful.” Mourinho complained on Tuesday that his near £300 million spend was “not enough” Credit: Reuters Wenger’s managerial strategy has been rooted in certain core values and, in reflecting with rare depth upon the past 21 years, he regularly came back to that same theme. “I think it’s been a conjunction of many things,” he said. “Loyalty, dedication, hard work and the sacrifice of your life. That’s what it demands. “Also luck because I was in a club who trusted in me through good and bad. I didn’t miss one game in 21 years, which means you need to be healthy. I stayed here as well  because I am at a club where I can identify with the values.” These values can be surmised as playing with an attacking identity, giving young players their chance and acting also with a certain level of respect and integrity. Part of the context for this was how Wenger was a direct victim previously of match-fixing in French football and his suspicion that doping is a significant issue in elite football. Wenger will equal Ferguson's record of 810 Premier League games in charge against Crystal Palace Credit: Getty Images “We live in a society that is more demanding, more individualism, more opinionated, less stable,” said Wenger. “The overall problem in Europe is that the respect for basic things has been lost or is weaker than 20 years ago. “But as well you have positive things. People are better informed. People have more knowledge of the game. In every single job, people are questioned more. “Overall, it is more the decor that has changed. The core of the game is the same. That means human beings putting their effort together to achieve something.” Wenger’s first match at Arsenal was a 2-0 win at Blackburn. “I banned all the chocolate that the players had before the game and, when we drove to Blackburn on the coach, the players chanted, ‘We want our Mars Bars’,” he said. “If someone had told me I’d still be here now, I would have said, ‘You’re absolutely mad, absolutely no chance’. Every game is such a gamble. It’s Russian roulette. You think, at some stage, the trigger will hit you. It’s unbelievable.” Wenger back in 1996 and his first game in charge of Arsenal against Blackburn Credit: PA Wenger’s methodology has always rested on an extraordinary confidence even in flawed players. “The ultimate goal is to make people happy; that is the proudest thing you can have,” he said. “What is the most important quality in this job – and something that people rarely talk about – is to believe in human beings. “You’re not naive. You know all the strengths and the weaknesses and how sometimes people can be selfish or mean. If you are paranoid, don’t choose this job because you have every reason to become more paranoid but you still have to believe that there is a light in every human being that you can get out. You must have that strength of belief in human beings that always takes over at difficult moments.” Sport tweets of 2017 Ahead of returning to Crystal Palace, one such moment was in the corresponding fixture last season when Wenger’s position looked in severe peril following a 3-0 defeat. “When you lose a game there is always a big focus on the negative side,” he said. “If we watch again this game against Palace, you will see it was not as bad as everybody said. Don’t be carried away by all the negativity. When you win it’s the same. People will say it was absolutely fantastic but you watch again and you made mistakes.” The Palace game was followed by a change in system to 3-4-2-1 that has again now been temporarily abandoned in preference for 4-2-3-1. It has meant Sead Kolasinac losing his place and an extra attacker. It was suggested that, deep down, Wenger really prefers to play with an additional attacker and his reply pretty much summed up by the previous 809 games. “Four at the back?” he said, with a smile. “In my heart, I prefer with one defender.”

Arsene Wenger makes pointed riposte at Jose Mourinho as he prepares for record-equalling match

The historic milestones arrive regularly these days for Arsene Wenger and, as he prepares tomorrow night to equal Sir Alex Ferguson’s record of 810 Premier League games, it was somehow fitting that he should blend his reminisces with a pointed riposte at another great nemesis. Jose Mourinho had complained on Boxing Day that Manchester United’s vast spending since he became manager was inadequate and, in digesting that observation, Wenger’s grin spoke volumes. The Frenchman’s greatest team were of course ultimately toppled by Mourinho’s Chelsea side, with the Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein then describing Roman Abramovich as “parking his Russian tank in our front garden and firing £50 notes at us”. It was the biggest single external change in Wenger’s Arsenal tenure and it has been compounded since 2007 by the arrival at Manchester City of another multi-billionaire benefactor. “I have always had one team at least – sometimes four – who were richer than I was, so I learned to cope with that,” said Wenger. “I will not start to complain now. What is most important is that you deal with your own situation and, yes, Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United are richer than us. “People don’t want to know about that. They want you to win the games. We still have to find a way to be successful.” Mourinho complained on Tuesday that his near £300 million spend was “not enough” Credit: Reuters Wenger’s managerial strategy has been rooted in certain core values and, in reflecting with rare depth upon the past 21 years, he regularly came back to that same theme. “I think it’s been a conjunction of many things,” he said. “Loyalty, dedication, hard work and the sacrifice of your life. That’s what it demands. “Also luck because I was in a club who trusted in me through good and bad. I didn’t miss one game in 21 years, which means you need to be healthy. I stayed here as well  because I am at a club where I can identify with the values.” These values can be surmised as playing with an attacking identity, giving young players their chance and acting also with a certain level of respect and integrity. Part of the context for this was how Wenger was a direct victim previously of match-fixing in French football and his suspicion that doping is a significant issue in elite football. Wenger will equal Ferguson's record of 810 Premier League games in charge against Crystal Palace Credit: Getty Images “We live in a society that is more demanding, more individualism, more opinionated, less stable,” said Wenger. “The overall problem in Europe is that the respect for basic things has been lost or is weaker than 20 years ago. “But as well you have positive things. People are better informed. People have more knowledge of the game. In every single job, people are questioned more. “Overall, it is more the decor that has changed. The core of the game is the same. That means human beings putting their effort together to achieve something.” Wenger’s first match at Arsenal was a 2-0 win at Blackburn. “I banned all the chocolate that the players had before the game and, when we drove to Blackburn on the coach, the players chanted, ‘We want our Mars Bars’,” he said. “If someone had told me I’d still be here now, I would have said, ‘You’re absolutely mad, absolutely no chance’. Every game is such a gamble. It’s Russian roulette. You think, at some stage, the trigger will hit you. It’s unbelievable.” Wenger back in 1996 and his first game in charge of Arsenal against Blackburn Credit: PA Wenger’s methodology has always rested on an extraordinary confidence even in flawed players. “The ultimate goal is to make people happy; that is the proudest thing you can have,” he said. “What is the most important quality in this job – and something that people rarely talk about – is to believe in human beings. “You’re not naive. You know all the strengths and the weaknesses and how sometimes people can be selfish or mean. If you are paranoid, don’t choose this job because you have every reason to become more paranoid but you still have to believe that there is a light in every human being that you can get out. You must have that strength of belief in human beings that always takes over at difficult moments.” Sport tweets of 2017 Ahead of returning to Crystal Palace, one such moment was in the corresponding fixture last season when Wenger’s position looked in severe peril following a 3-0 defeat. “When you lose a game there is always a big focus on the negative side,” he said. “If we watch again this game against Palace, you will see it was not as bad as everybody said. Don’t be carried away by all the negativity. When you win it’s the same. People will say it was absolutely fantastic but you watch again and you made mistakes.” The Palace game was followed by a change in system to 3-4-2-1 that has again now been temporarily abandoned in preference for 4-2-3-1. It has meant Sead Kolasinac losing his place and an extra attacker. It was suggested that, deep down, Wenger really prefers to play with an additional attacker and his reply pretty much summed up by the previous 809 games. “Four at the back?” he said, with a smile. “In my heart, I prefer with one defender.”

Woman killed during Blackburn police pursuit when hit by car named as 47-year-old Susan Shaw

Woman killed during Blackburn police pursuit when hit by car named as 47-year-old Susan Shaw

Tottenham 5 Southampton 2: Harry Kane breaks Alan Shearer's record and finishes ahead of Lionel Messi in 2017

The enduring football image of 2017 will be Harry Kane’s goal celebration after the Tottenham Hotspur striker became the Premier League’s top scorer in a calendar year and ensured he finished ahead of Lionel Messi as the leading man for club and country. Kane took only 22 minutes to beat Alan Shearer’s record that had stood since 1995 and 17 minutes later he had seen off Messi too. The hat-trick seemed inevitable and when it duly came in the 67th minute, even his team-mates joined in the hero worship. His second goal against Southampton meant that Kane moved ahead of Messi, who finished 2017 on 54 for Barcelona and Argentina. By the final whistle, Kane had completed the year on 39 goals in the Premier League and 56 for club and country thanks to back-to-back hat-tricks. This is the first time in eight years that neither Messi nor Ronaldo have finished the year as top scorer for club and country. David Villa was the last man before Kane to better the duo in 2009. “I'm very proud of it,” said Kane. “Messi and Ronaldo have dominated football for so long and they're two of the greatest players ever, so it's an honour to even be compared to them.” Kane finishes the year on 56 goals for club and country in 2017 Credit: Getty Images Kane’s manager Mauricio Pochettino added: “Both achievements are massive. To break the Premier League record set by Alan Shearer and then if you see the last seven or eight years, it’s always been Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, and today it’s Harry Kane, a player from Tottenham. “Of course Messi and Cristiano are different. Today, one striker in the world, a specific position, who is better than him (Kane)? He’s one of the best. It’s difficult to say he’s the best, but he’s shown to everyone he’s one of the best.” You’ve had a magnificent 2017 @HKane. You deserve to hold the record of most @premierleague goals in a calendar year. Well done and keep up the good work. ��������‍♂️— Alan Shearer (@alanshearer) December 26, 2017 The cynics will argue that calendar years count for nothing in football and in terms of trophies they might not. But this is a significant personal achievement for Kane. Consider the fact that Shearer netted his record in one half of Blackburn’s Premier League title-winning season and the men Kane beat for his club and country record, Messi, Ronaldo Robert Lewandowski and Edinson Cavani, play for Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain. And look at the list of greats who Kane has bettered in the Premier League. Robin van Persie, Thierry Henry, Les Ferdinand and Ruud van Nistelrooy all went close to breaking Shearer’s record, but never managed it. Shearer was quick to pay tribute to Kane by posting a message on Twitter that read: “You’ve had a magnificent 2017 @HKane. You deserve to hold the record of most @premierleague goals in a calendar year. Well done and keep up the good work.” 6 - Harry Kane is the first player to score six Premier League hat-tricks in a calendar year. Lethal. pic.twitter.com/cMvj7qNHiu— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 26, 2017 The next step for Kane is to add winners’ medals to his personal goalscoring records and he will not be allowed to take it easy by Pochettino. “You need to fight with all your determination to keep at this level,” said Pochettino. “The most important thing is to keep the same mentality. If you achieve something and then you run nine metres instead of 10, you will cheat yourself and that is a massive problem. “The secret is to work hard every day. You cannot say ‘no’ for one day. That is the secret of the big players like Harry, Christiano and Messi. You cannot afford not to work every day.” Kane added: “I’ll keep working harder, it's about finding little percentages to get better and doing things on the training ground to make you better. There's a great staff here and a great manager here who will keep pushing me, don't you worry about that!” Of all his brilliant goals this year, Kane will not have scored many easier than the first two that made him a double record breaker on Boxing Day. Southampton midfielder Oriol Romeu allowed Kane to simply stand in front of him to head in Christian Eriksen’s free-kick from close range after Danny Rose had been fouled on the right edge of the penalty area by Pierre-Emile Hojberg. And Kane was given a tap in by Heung-Min Son after the South Korean had been put through by Dele Alli. Rose had hit the underside of his own crossbar with a wayward header in the first-half and Mario Lemina struck the Spurs woodwork again straight after the break, but the afternoon became embarrassing for the Saints in the second period. Alli scored his first Premier League goal since October in the 49th minute and the midfielder quickly turned provide for Son to make it 4-0 to Tottenham with a shot across Fraser Forster. Some of the travelling Southampton fans responded by chanting ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ at manager Mauricio Pellegrino and it’s fair to assume that the Argentine will not prove to be another Pochettino. Kane almost completed his hat-trick in the 57th minute, but the 24-year-old volleyed Rose’s high pass inches wide of the post and Sofiane Boufal pulled a goal back for Pellegrino’s men. Son polishes the boot of Kane  Credit: Getty Images This was Kane’s day, as well as his year, however, and it was fitting that he finished with a second successive treble, having also netted three against Burnley three days earlier. Son and Alli combined superbly to set up Kane, who held off Maya Yoshida and finished expertly past Forster to become the first player to score six Premier League hat-tricks in a year. Rose bowed in appreciation in front of Kane and Son pretended to polish the most lethal boot of 2017. Southampton substitute Manolo Gabbiadini reduced the deficit slightly with eight minutes remaining, but Kane walked off the pitch for the final time this year with the matchball and two records. 2:22PM Full time It's all over and today has all been about Harry Kane. What a player he is and what a year it has been. He has smashed Alan Shearer's record for Premier League goals in a calendar year. Most Premier League goals in a calendar year He takes yet another match ball. That's eight in all competitions and six in the Premier League alone in 2017. That's almost as many as everyone else has managed in total. Premier League hat-tricks | in 2017 2:19PM 90 mins +3 Gabbiadini shoots wide from 20 yards. That should be that. 2:16PM 90 mins Three minutes added on. 2:16PM 89 mins Sanchez fouls Tadic and Southampton have a free-kick to the right of the Spurs box. Tadic whips into the area but Rose blocks, before Eriksen clears for a corner. Spurs get that clear, too. 2:14PM 88 mins Yoshida charges in under a high ball into the Spurs box and gets a decent connection with his header but it flies way over the bar. 2:10PM 84 mins Spurs break again, and Alli lays on a chance for Lamela but he blazes over the bar.  Alli is replaced by Winks for the final stages of the game, while Sam McQueen has come on for Matt Targett. 2:09PM GOOOOAAL! Southampton have a second! It's 5-2! But Lloris can't stop Tadic's shot from the resulting corner: Lloris slaps the cross towards the edge of the box, and Tadic lofts it back towards goal. Lloris gets a hand to it, but only succeeds in taking it away from Kane, who was waiting on the line to head it clear. Foul: Spurs 4 - 0 Southampton (Mario Lemina, 56 min) 2:07PM 81 mins What a save from Lloris, as Hojbjerg unleashes a rasping effort from the edge of the box and the Frenchman tips it over. 2:06PM 79 mins Another Spurs break, and they have so many men coming forward here. Lamela finds Kane, who finds Alli, who delays his pass and is tackled trying to dribble into the box. Wrong decision there, Mr Alli. 2:03PM 76 mins It's not all about Kane, you know. He's been great and all, but all three of his goals have had assists that he will be hugely grateful for, and Alli laid on one of them - as well as  another for Son's goal, while getting one himself, too. He's been brilliant today despite so much focus on his 'dirty' side, which shows so much maturity for someone so young. Alli has been man of the match in my eyes. 2:00PM 73 mins Targett dinks over the Spurs defence and Gabbiadini is in on the left. His first touch looks like it might have let him down, but he races onto it as Lloris stay rooted to his line. The Italian's low cross is destined for Long, but Vertonghen gets into to clear incredibly from under his own cross bar. Long cannot buy a goal. Poor guy. 1:56PM 70 mins Stephens nearly catches Lloris unprepared, with a cross that is going to sneak inside the far post, but the keeper tips it around the post. 1:55PM GOOOAL! It's yet another Harry Kane hat-trick! Another week, another Harry Kane hat-trick.  Spurs win the ball with Son on the right, who fees Alli darting through the middle of the pitch. He spots Kane on his bike racing ahead of the defence, and plays him in nice and early. Kane delays his shot, dummies once to send Forster sprawling and then dinks it over him to get his third, and his 39th of the year. Incredible. Spurs 5 - 1 Southampton (Harry Kane, 67 min) 1:52PM GOOOAAL!!!! Southampton have pulled one back. It's 4-1! Boufal hits a fierce effort at the near post but Lloris will be hugely disappointed to be beaten like that - he gets a hand to it and it is well hit, but he should keep it out. Spurs 4 - 1 Southampton (Sofiane Boufal, 64 min) 1:49PM 62 mins Kane's cross nearly finds Son at the back post, but Targett clears for a corner... which comes to nothing. Double substitution for Southampton: Gabbiadini and Tadic replace Lemina and Redmond. 1:45PM 57 mins What a goal this would have been! Rose sends a raking pass over the Saints defence as Kane slips off the back of the last defender and into the box. The ball is inch perfect, and Kane volleys across goal first time, but it JUST misses the post. So close to the hat-trick. Miss: Spurs 4 - 0 Southampton (Harry Kane, 57 min) Meanwhile Long is booked for catching Sanchez late.  1:41PM 55 mins Tidy play on the edge of the box from Southampton allows Romeu a shot, but he doesn't quite connect cleanly and Lloris saves easily. 1:40PM 54 mins Some bad news for Spurs. Dembele, such a talented but injury prone player, limps off. He is replaced by Moussa Sissoko in midfield. 1:39PM GOOOOOOAALL! 4-0 to Tottenham! Son makes it four! Spurs are so, so lethal on the counter. Redmond gives the ball away on the edge of the Spurs box and in the blink of an eye Alli is away. He charges forward, with Kane left and Son right. Kane holds back, but he takes two defenders with him and Alli slips Son in. He takes one touch out of his feet and finishes with ease.  Spurs 4 - 0 Southampton (Son Heung-Min, 51 min) 1:37PM GOOOOAL! Alli makes it 3-0! I had literally just written that Spurs need to wake up, and Alli shifts the ball onto his right on the top left corner of the box, and shoots low, across Forster and into the far corner. Forster should do better there, shouldn't he? It doesn't matter. The short scare is over for Spurs and they should be out of sight now. Spurs 3 - 0 Southampton (Dele Alli, 49 min) 1:35PM 48 mins Another warning sign from Southampton as Lemina works a yard on the edge of the box and shoots left-footed at the top corner. It leaves Lloris beaten, but hits the cross bar and flies over. A let off for Tottenham, who have to wake up here. 1:33PM 47 mins Shane Long races through on goal from a woefully miscued Eric Dier pass - and all of a sudden he's clear of the Tottenham defence. He accelerates away from Vertonghen, with Sanchez hot in pursuit, but Long looks like a striker devoid of confidence and slips just as he goes to shoot and it flies straight at Lloris. 1:32PM Spurs get the second half started What have Southampton got? 1:20PM Half time It feels very much like this is Harry Kane's day today, and it's hard to concentrate on anything other than him at the break. Southampton have been as poor as Spurs have been good, but Kane has got into the positions to score two tap-ins and put his team (probably) out of sight. What a year it has been for Kane - and 2017 is the first since 2009 in which neither Messi nor Ronaldo has been Europe's top scorer. Well played, Harry Kane. After 7 years of Messi & Ronaldo: ✔️2009 D. Villa ����43 ✔️2010 L. Messi ����60 ✔️2011 C. Ronaldo ����60 ✔️2012 L. Messi ����91 ✔️2013 C. Ronaldo ���� 69 ✔️2014 C. Ronaldo ���� 61 ✔️2015 C. Ronaldo ���� 57 ✔️2016 L. Messi ���� 59 ✅ 2017 H. Kane �������������� 55 pic.twitter.com/Q8Lm6KYT3p— Kristof Terreur �� (@HLNinEngeland) December 26, 2017 1:17PM 45 mins +1 The ball falls kindly to Lloris off Stephens. And Spurs break up the other end with Kane going for a lob from the edge of the box. It goes over, but who can blame him for trying. 1:15PM 45 mins One minute added on. Southampton have a free kick inside the Spurs half. The defenders have gone up. 1:14PM 42 mins Son races through and goes down under a challenge from Stephens in the box. It's a bit clumsy but nothing more, and Son's appeals for a penalty are unrealistic. Kane will have wanted a penalty more than Son, there. He's a right-footed goal away from a perfect hat-trick. 1:11PM GOOOOOALLL!! Another for Harry Kane!  It's 2-0 and it's Kane again but once again it's the assist (and the pass before the assist, this time) that puts it on a plate for Kane. Spurs burst into life as Alli turns beautifully on the edge of the box and slips Son in on the left, who squares for Kane to tap in. Spurs 2 - 0 Southampton (Harry Kane, 39 min) Kane has now scored more goals than any other player in Europe for club and country in 2017, with today's two goals moving him clear of Lionel Messi, with 55. 1:08PM 36 mins Spurs having a sustained period of pressure here. Kane shoots well over from distance. The focus so far has been very much on Kane... Martin Tyler pointing out that there is still something to play for in the game even though Harry Kane has "broken the record". Has everyone gone mad?— Daniel Storey (@danielstorey85) December 26, 2017 1:04PM 33 mins Dembele twists and turns away from Romeu - he's just so hard to get the ball off in that kind of situation. Romeu gives up and clips Dembele's heels to concede a free-kick in a very similar position to the one Spurs scored from earlier. However, it's a tiny bit more central, meaning Kane shoots... but he hits the wall. 1:01PM 31 mins Dembele disguises a lovely reverse pass in to Eriksen between the lines right on the edge of the box, before the Dane works a yard of space and sends a low shot harmlessly across the face of Fraser Forster's goal. 1:00PM 30 mins Southampton have responded well, and the worry for Spurs here is that they - and Kane in particular - start to think the job is done with their talisman having hit the record. Complacency has been their downfall before, and Southampton look ready to take advantage. 12:58PM Previous record holder Alan Shearer sends his congratulations You’ve had a magnificent 2017 @HKane. You deserve to hold the record of most @premierleague goals in a calendar year. Well done and keep up the good work. ��������‍♂️— Alan Shearer (@alanshearer) December 26, 2017 12:56PM 24 mins So nearly a disaster for Spurs as Boufal forces a smart save from Lloris, which Rose then tries to head back to the keeper, but nearly lobs him! Lloris palms the ball up in the air, it bounces off the post and into a relieved Lloris's arms. Very close to an equaliser. 12:54PM GOOOOOOAL! Harry Kane breaks the Premier League record for goals in a year! It's the easiest of his career but he won't care. The quality of Christian Eriksen's delivery makes it and Kane is almost on the goal line to head home. 37 goals for the year and that is more than any other player has ever managed in the Premier League! Spurs 1 - 0 Southampton (Harry Kane, 22 min) Harry Kane (37) sets a new Premier League record for most goals in a single calendar year. The previous record was 36 by Alan Shearer in 1995.— Gracenote Live (@GracenoteLive) December 26, 2017 12:52PM 21 mins A very well positioned referee gives a free-kick and not a penalty for this foul by Hojbjerg on Rose. 12:49PM 17 mins Potentially some more Dele Alli controversy, here. He catches Targett with an elbow. It looks innocuous at first but after recent events it's hard not to suspect something else from him. We'll give him the benefit of the doubt. This time. Does Alli catch target? Credit: Sky Sports 12:44PM 14 mins Sanchez clips an Alderweireld-like clip over the right full-back for Alli to run onto - and he volleys at goal extremely optimistically, and it flies well over the bar. Out: Spurs 0 - 0 Southampton (Dele Alli, 14 min) 12:43PM 13 mins Eric Dier is doing a sterling job of breaking play up in midfield. They've missed Wanyama this season and they missed Dier there when he was moved into defence. 12:39PM 8 mins Spurs have the ball in the Southampton net after Eriksen is rightly flagged offside, but there are absolutely loads of warning signs already. The visitors aren't dealing with Tottenham's pressing at all, and need to keep giving the ball away in front of their own defence. They've been far too open so far. 12:37PM 6 mins A first burst of life for Tottenham comes from the left via Son, who beats his man and sends a low cross toward Kane. Forster flaps at it low and Aurier's rebound is cleared by Targett. Spurs then break again after Alli nicks possession in midfield. He drives at the Saints defence before slipping in Eriksen, whose cross finds Kane at the near post but he turns wide. Miss: Spurs 0 - 0 Southampton (Harry Kane, 6 min) 12:34PM 4 mins A first shot for Spurs now as Romeu gives the ball away at the back and Eriksen latches on to a loose ball. His effort is deflected wide for a corner... which Southampton get clear. 12:33PM 3 mins Southampton have started well enough here. Boufal turning an effort at goal but Spurs are up to the task to clear. 12:32PM 2 mins Vertonghen gives away a free kick in a decent position for Southampton, just to the left of the Spurs box, after the Belgian defender is closed down well by Long and Boufal.  The cross is poor and Son heads it up in the air before Lloris completes the clearance with a good punch. 12:30PM Kick off It's a brisk day in London and there are a lot of empty seats at Wembley. Southampton get us under way.  12:27PM The players are on their way out Boxing Day football is here. The focus is on Kane but there's an important three points up for grabs.  12:16PM Boxing Day predictions Our writers have predicted how each of today's games will pan out. Have a look here and let us know if you agree. 12:08PM Pochettino on Kane "It would be fantastic for him to score. His priority is to score the goals to give the team three points. The collective matter is more important than the individual. "[The record] is extra motivation, but he's always so motivated to score. He's fantastic. I hope he scores to get the team three points and also to get the record." 11:57AM A big day for Harry Kane One goal today for Kane would set a new record for Premier League goals in a calendar year, after he moved level with the 36 Alan Shearer scored for Blackburn in 1995 with a hat-trick against Burnley. Even if he doesn't score today he'll still have as many goals as Shearer, but will have reached that point in six fewer games. Most Premier League goals in a calendar year And he is also after another record: with 53 goals for club and country in 2017, Kane is one behind Lionel Messi's 54. Again he has played far fewer matches: Lionel Messi - 54 goals in 63 games Harry Kane - 53 in 51 Robert Lewandowski - 53 in 55 Cristiano Ronaldo - 53 in 59 Edinson Cavani - 53 in 62 Whatever happens today, this has been one hell of a year for Harry Kane. Kane is on fire Credit: Reuters 11:39AM Virgil van Dijk has not travelled today... ...which might have something to do with this. 11:35AM Team news has dropped Mousa Dembele and Danny Rose come in in the only two changes for Tottenham. Harry Kane leads the line on a big day for him (more on that coming up). Erik Lamela may be disappointed to only make the bench. #THFC: Lloris (C), Aurier, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Rose, Dier, Dembele, Eriksen, Dele, Son, Kane. #COYSpic.twitter.com/jTtBp8Hbk2— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) December 26, 2017 Oriol Romeu, Sofiane Boufal, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Shane Long (in for the injured Charlie Austin) return for Southampton. The teams are in! Here's the #SaintsFC side for this afternoon's meeting with #THFC: pic.twitter.com/hVPbQ3jLxz— Southampton FC (@SouthamptonFC) December 26, 2017 11:29AM Hello and welcome Merry Christmas one and all!  Right, now that the pleasantries are over, let's get back to football. No winter break for us here in England - it's full steam ahead and the Premier League is BACK with eight Boxing Day games. First of all, we're at Wembley for the early kick off: it's the Mauricio Pochettino/Victor Wanyama/Gareth Bale/Grzegorz Rasiak derby, as  Tottenham host Southampton. Spurs are in form again and pushing for a top four place, while Southampton, without a win in six and just three points off the drop zone are "in a really difficult moment", according to their centre-back Maya Yoshida. We'll have team news for you very shortly ahead of this one.

Tottenham 5 Southampton 2: Harry Kane breaks Alan Shearer's record and finishes ahead of Lionel Messi in 2017

The enduring football image of 2017 will be Harry Kane’s goal celebration after the Tottenham Hotspur striker became the Premier League’s top scorer in a calendar year and ensured he finished ahead of Lionel Messi as the leading man for club and country. Kane took only 22 minutes to beat Alan Shearer’s record that had stood since 1995 and 17 minutes later he had seen off Messi too. The hat-trick seemed inevitable and when it duly came in the 67th minute, even his team-mates joined in the hero worship. His second goal against Southampton meant that Kane moved ahead of Messi, who finished 2017 on 54 for Barcelona and Argentina. By the final whistle, Kane had completed the year on 39 goals in the Premier League and 56 for club and country thanks to back-to-back hat-tricks. This is the first time in eight years that neither Messi nor Ronaldo have finished the year as top scorer for club and country. David Villa was the last man before Kane to better the duo in 2009. “I'm very proud of it,” said Kane. “Messi and Ronaldo have dominated football for so long and they're two of the greatest players ever, so it's an honour to even be compared to them.” Kane finishes the year on 56 goals for club and country in 2017 Credit: Getty Images Kane’s manager Mauricio Pochettino added: “Both achievements are massive. To break the Premier League record set by Alan Shearer and then if you see the last seven or eight years, it’s always been Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, and today it’s Harry Kane, a player from Tottenham. “Of course Messi and Cristiano are different. Today, one striker in the world, a specific position, who is better than him (Kane)? He’s one of the best. It’s difficult to say he’s the best, but he’s shown to everyone he’s one of the best.” You’ve had a magnificent 2017 @HKane. You deserve to hold the record of most @premierleague goals in a calendar year. Well done and keep up the good work. ��������‍♂️— Alan Shearer (@alanshearer) December 26, 2017 The cynics will argue that calendar years count for nothing in football and in terms of trophies they might not. But this is a significant personal achievement for Kane. Consider the fact that Shearer netted his record in one half of Blackburn’s Premier League title-winning season and the men Kane beat for his club and country record, Messi, Ronaldo Robert Lewandowski and Edinson Cavani, play for Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain. And look at the list of greats who Kane has bettered in the Premier League. Robin van Persie, Thierry Henry, Les Ferdinand and Ruud van Nistelrooy all went close to breaking Shearer’s record, but never managed it. Shearer was quick to pay tribute to Kane by posting a message on Twitter that read: “You’ve had a magnificent 2017 @HKane. You deserve to hold the record of most @premierleague goals in a calendar year. Well done and keep up the good work.” 6 - Harry Kane is the first player to score six Premier League hat-tricks in a calendar year. Lethal. pic.twitter.com/cMvj7qNHiu— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 26, 2017 The next step for Kane is to add winners’ medals to his personal goalscoring records and he will not be allowed to take it easy by Pochettino. “You need to fight with all your determination to keep at this level,” said Pochettino. “The most important thing is to keep the same mentality. If you achieve something and then you run nine metres instead of 10, you will cheat yourself and that is a massive problem. “The secret is to work hard every day. You cannot say ‘no’ for one day. That is the secret of the big players like Harry, Christiano and Messi. You cannot afford not to work every day.” Kane added: “I’ll keep working harder, it's about finding little percentages to get better and doing things on the training ground to make you better. There's a great staff here and a great manager here who will keep pushing me, don't you worry about that!” Of all his brilliant goals this year, Kane will not have scored many easier than the first two that made him a double record breaker on Boxing Day. Southampton midfielder Oriol Romeu allowed Kane to simply stand in front of him to head in Christian Eriksen’s free-kick from close range after Danny Rose had been fouled on the right edge of the penalty area by Pierre-Emile Hojberg. And Kane was given a tap in by Heung-Min Son after the South Korean had been put through by Dele Alli. Rose had hit the underside of his own crossbar with a wayward header in the first-half and Mario Lemina struck the Spurs woodwork again straight after the break, but the afternoon became embarrassing for the Saints in the second period. Alli scored his first Premier League goal since October in the 49th minute and the midfielder quickly turned provide for Son to make it 4-0 to Tottenham with a shot across Fraser Forster. Some of the travelling Southampton fans responded by chanting ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ at manager Mauricio Pellegrino and it’s fair to assume that the Argentine will not prove to be another Pochettino. Kane almost completed his hat-trick in the 57th minute, but the 24-year-old volleyed Rose’s high pass inches wide of the post and Sofiane Boufal pulled a goal back for Pellegrino’s men. Son polishes the boot of Kane  Credit: Getty Images This was Kane’s day, as well as his year, however, and it was fitting that he finished with a second successive treble, having also netted three against Burnley three days earlier. Son and Alli combined superbly to set up Kane, who held off Maya Yoshida and finished expertly past Forster to become the first player to score six Premier League hat-tricks in a year. Rose bowed in appreciation in front of Kane and Son pretended to polish the most lethal boot of 2017. Southampton substitute Manolo Gabbiadini reduced the deficit slightly with eight minutes remaining, but Kane walked off the pitch for the final time this year with the matchball and two records. 2:22PM Full time It's all over and today has all been about Harry Kane. What a player he is and what a year it has been. He has smashed Alan Shearer's record for Premier League goals in a calendar year. Most Premier League goals in a calendar year He takes yet another match ball. That's eight in all competitions and six in the Premier League alone in 2017. That's almost as many as everyone else has managed in total. Premier League hat-tricks | in 2017 2:19PM 90 mins +3 Gabbiadini shoots wide from 20 yards. That should be that. 2:16PM 90 mins Three minutes added on. 2:16PM 89 mins Sanchez fouls Tadic and Southampton have a free-kick to the right of the Spurs box. Tadic whips into the area but Rose blocks, before Eriksen clears for a corner. Spurs get that clear, too. 2:14PM 88 mins Yoshida charges in under a high ball into the Spurs box and gets a decent connection with his header but it flies way over the bar. 2:10PM 84 mins Spurs break again, and Alli lays on a chance for Lamela but he blazes over the bar.  Alli is replaced by Winks for the final stages of the game, while Sam McQueen has come on for Matt Targett. 2:09PM GOOOOAAL! Southampton have a second! It's 5-2! But Lloris can't stop Tadic's shot from the resulting corner: Lloris slaps the cross towards the edge of the box, and Tadic lofts it back towards goal. Lloris gets a hand to it, but only succeeds in taking it away from Kane, who was waiting on the line to head it clear. Foul: Spurs 4 - 0 Southampton (Mario Lemina, 56 min) 2:07PM 81 mins What a save from Lloris, as Hojbjerg unleashes a rasping effort from the edge of the box and the Frenchman tips it over. 2:06PM 79 mins Another Spurs break, and they have so many men coming forward here. Lamela finds Kane, who finds Alli, who delays his pass and is tackled trying to dribble into the box. Wrong decision there, Mr Alli. 2:03PM 76 mins It's not all about Kane, you know. He's been great and all, but all three of his goals have had assists that he will be hugely grateful for, and Alli laid on one of them - as well as  another for Son's goal, while getting one himself, too. He's been brilliant today despite so much focus on his 'dirty' side, which shows so much maturity for someone so young. Alli has been man of the match in my eyes. 2:00PM 73 mins Targett dinks over the Spurs defence and Gabbiadini is in on the left. His first touch looks like it might have let him down, but he races onto it as Lloris stay rooted to his line. The Italian's low cross is destined for Long, but Vertonghen gets into to clear incredibly from under his own cross bar. Long cannot buy a goal. Poor guy. 1:56PM 70 mins Stephens nearly catches Lloris unprepared, with a cross that is going to sneak inside the far post, but the keeper tips it around the post. 1:55PM GOOOAL! It's yet another Harry Kane hat-trick! Another week, another Harry Kane hat-trick.  Spurs win the ball with Son on the right, who fees Alli darting through the middle of the pitch. He spots Kane on his bike racing ahead of the defence, and plays him in nice and early. Kane delays his shot, dummies once to send Forster sprawling and then dinks it over him to get his third, and his 39th of the year. Incredible. Spurs 5 - 1 Southampton (Harry Kane, 67 min) 1:52PM GOOOAAL!!!! Southampton have pulled one back. It's 4-1! Boufal hits a fierce effort at the near post but Lloris will be hugely disappointed to be beaten like that - he gets a hand to it and it is well hit, but he should keep it out. Spurs 4 - 1 Southampton (Sofiane Boufal, 64 min) 1:49PM 62 mins Kane's cross nearly finds Son at the back post, but Targett clears for a corner... which comes to nothing. Double substitution for Southampton: Gabbiadini and Tadic replace Lemina and Redmond. 1:45PM 57 mins What a goal this would have been! Rose sends a raking pass over the Saints defence as Kane slips off the back of the last defender and into the box. The ball is inch perfect, and Kane volleys across goal first time, but it JUST misses the post. So close to the hat-trick. Miss: Spurs 4 - 0 Southampton (Harry Kane, 57 min) Meanwhile Long is booked for catching Sanchez late.  1:41PM 55 mins Tidy play on the edge of the box from Southampton allows Romeu a shot, but he doesn't quite connect cleanly and Lloris saves easily. 1:40PM 54 mins Some bad news for Spurs. Dembele, such a talented but injury prone player, limps off. He is replaced by Moussa Sissoko in midfield. 1:39PM GOOOOOOAALL! 4-0 to Tottenham! Son makes it four! Spurs are so, so lethal on the counter. Redmond gives the ball away on the edge of the Spurs box and in the blink of an eye Alli is away. He charges forward, with Kane left and Son right. Kane holds back, but he takes two defenders with him and Alli slips Son in. He takes one touch out of his feet and finishes with ease.  Spurs 4 - 0 Southampton (Son Heung-Min, 51 min) 1:37PM GOOOOAL! Alli makes it 3-0! I had literally just written that Spurs need to wake up, and Alli shifts the ball onto his right on the top left corner of the box, and shoots low, across Forster and into the far corner. Forster should do better there, shouldn't he? It doesn't matter. The short scare is over for Spurs and they should be out of sight now. Spurs 3 - 0 Southampton (Dele Alli, 49 min) 1:35PM 48 mins Another warning sign from Southampton as Lemina works a yard on the edge of the box and shoots left-footed at the top corner. It leaves Lloris beaten, but hits the cross bar and flies over. A let off for Tottenham, who have to wake up here. 1:33PM 47 mins Shane Long races through on goal from a woefully miscued Eric Dier pass - and all of a sudden he's clear of the Tottenham defence. He accelerates away from Vertonghen, with Sanchez hot in pursuit, but Long looks like a striker devoid of confidence and slips just as he goes to shoot and it flies straight at Lloris. 1:32PM Spurs get the second half started What have Southampton got? 1:20PM Half time It feels very much like this is Harry Kane's day today, and it's hard to concentrate on anything other than him at the break. Southampton have been as poor as Spurs have been good, but Kane has got into the positions to score two tap-ins and put his team (probably) out of sight. What a year it has been for Kane - and 2017 is the first since 2009 in which neither Messi nor Ronaldo has been Europe's top scorer. Well played, Harry Kane. After 7 years of Messi & Ronaldo: ✔️2009 D. Villa ����43 ✔️2010 L. Messi ����60 ✔️2011 C. Ronaldo ����60 ✔️2012 L. Messi ����91 ✔️2013 C. Ronaldo ���� 69 ✔️2014 C. Ronaldo ���� 61 ✔️2015 C. Ronaldo ���� 57 ✔️2016 L. Messi ���� 59 ✅ 2017 H. Kane �������������� 55 pic.twitter.com/Q8Lm6KYT3p— Kristof Terreur �� (@HLNinEngeland) December 26, 2017 1:17PM 45 mins +1 The ball falls kindly to Lloris off Stephens. And Spurs break up the other end with Kane going for a lob from the edge of the box. It goes over, but who can blame him for trying. 1:15PM 45 mins One minute added on. Southampton have a free kick inside the Spurs half. The defenders have gone up. 1:14PM 42 mins Son races through and goes down under a challenge from Stephens in the box. It's a bit clumsy but nothing more, and Son's appeals for a penalty are unrealistic. Kane will have wanted a penalty more than Son, there. He's a right-footed goal away from a perfect hat-trick. 1:11PM GOOOOOALLL!! Another for Harry Kane!  It's 2-0 and it's Kane again but once again it's the assist (and the pass before the assist, this time) that puts it on a plate for Kane. Spurs burst into life as Alli turns beautifully on the edge of the box and slips Son in on the left, who squares for Kane to tap in. Spurs 2 - 0 Southampton (Harry Kane, 39 min) Kane has now scored more goals than any other player in Europe for club and country in 2017, with today's two goals moving him clear of Lionel Messi, with 55. 1:08PM 36 mins Spurs having a sustained period of pressure here. Kane shoots well over from distance. The focus so far has been very much on Kane... Martin Tyler pointing out that there is still something to play for in the game even though Harry Kane has "broken the record". Has everyone gone mad?— Daniel Storey (@danielstorey85) December 26, 2017 1:04PM 33 mins Dembele twists and turns away from Romeu - he's just so hard to get the ball off in that kind of situation. Romeu gives up and clips Dembele's heels to concede a free-kick in a very similar position to the one Spurs scored from earlier. However, it's a tiny bit more central, meaning Kane shoots... but he hits the wall. 1:01PM 31 mins Dembele disguises a lovely reverse pass in to Eriksen between the lines right on the edge of the box, before the Dane works a yard of space and sends a low shot harmlessly across the face of Fraser Forster's goal. 1:00PM 30 mins Southampton have responded well, and the worry for Spurs here is that they - and Kane in particular - start to think the job is done with their talisman having hit the record. Complacency has been their downfall before, and Southampton look ready to take advantage. 12:58PM Previous record holder Alan Shearer sends his congratulations You’ve had a magnificent 2017 @HKane. You deserve to hold the record of most @premierleague goals in a calendar year. Well done and keep up the good work. ��������‍♂️— Alan Shearer (@alanshearer) December 26, 2017 12:56PM 24 mins So nearly a disaster for Spurs as Boufal forces a smart save from Lloris, which Rose then tries to head back to the keeper, but nearly lobs him! Lloris palms the ball up in the air, it bounces off the post and into a relieved Lloris's arms. Very close to an equaliser. 12:54PM GOOOOOOAL! Harry Kane breaks the Premier League record for goals in a year! It's the easiest of his career but he won't care. The quality of Christian Eriksen's delivery makes it and Kane is almost on the goal line to head home. 37 goals for the year and that is more than any other player has ever managed in the Premier League! Spurs 1 - 0 Southampton (Harry Kane, 22 min) Harry Kane (37) sets a new Premier League record for most goals in a single calendar year. The previous record was 36 by Alan Shearer in 1995.— Gracenote Live (@GracenoteLive) December 26, 2017 12:52PM 21 mins A very well positioned referee gives a free-kick and not a penalty for this foul by Hojbjerg on Rose. 12:49PM 17 mins Potentially some more Dele Alli controversy, here. He catches Targett with an elbow. It looks innocuous at first but after recent events it's hard not to suspect something else from him. We'll give him the benefit of the doubt. This time. Does Alli catch target? Credit: Sky Sports 12:44PM 14 mins Sanchez clips an Alderweireld-like clip over the right full-back for Alli to run onto - and he volleys at goal extremely optimistically, and it flies well over the bar. Out: Spurs 0 - 0 Southampton (Dele Alli, 14 min) 12:43PM 13 mins Eric Dier is doing a sterling job of breaking play up in midfield. They've missed Wanyama this season and they missed Dier there when he was moved into defence. 12:39PM 8 mins Spurs have the ball in the Southampton net after Eriksen is rightly flagged offside, but there are absolutely loads of warning signs already. The visitors aren't dealing with Tottenham's pressing at all, and need to keep giving the ball away in front of their own defence. They've been far too open so far. 12:37PM 6 mins A first burst of life for Tottenham comes from the left via Son, who beats his man and sends a low cross toward Kane. Forster flaps at it low and Aurier's rebound is cleared by Targett. Spurs then break again after Alli nicks possession in midfield. He drives at the Saints defence before slipping in Eriksen, whose cross finds Kane at the near post but he turns wide. Miss: Spurs 0 - 0 Southampton (Harry Kane, 6 min) 12:34PM 4 mins A first shot for Spurs now as Romeu gives the ball away at the back and Eriksen latches on to a loose ball. His effort is deflected wide for a corner... which Southampton get clear. 12:33PM 3 mins Southampton have started well enough here. Boufal turning an effort at goal but Spurs are up to the task to clear. 12:32PM 2 mins Vertonghen gives away a free kick in a decent position for Southampton, just to the left of the Spurs box, after the Belgian defender is closed down well by Long and Boufal.  The cross is poor and Son heads it up in the air before Lloris completes the clearance with a good punch. 12:30PM Kick off It's a brisk day in London and there are a lot of empty seats at Wembley. Southampton get us under way.  12:27PM The players are on their way out Boxing Day football is here. The focus is on Kane but there's an important three points up for grabs.  12:16PM Boxing Day predictions Our writers have predicted how each of today's games will pan out. Have a look here and let us know if you agree. 12:08PM Pochettino on Kane "It would be fantastic for him to score. His priority is to score the goals to give the team three points. The collective matter is more important than the individual. "[The record] is extra motivation, but he's always so motivated to score. He's fantastic. I hope he scores to get the team three points and also to get the record." 11:57AM A big day for Harry Kane One goal today for Kane would set a new record for Premier League goals in a calendar year, after he moved level with the 36 Alan Shearer scored for Blackburn in 1995 with a hat-trick against Burnley. Even if he doesn't score today he'll still have as many goals as Shearer, but will have reached that point in six fewer games. Most Premier League goals in a calendar year And he is also after another record: with 53 goals for club and country in 2017, Kane is one behind Lionel Messi's 54. Again he has played far fewer matches: Lionel Messi - 54 goals in 63 games Harry Kane - 53 in 51 Robert Lewandowski - 53 in 55 Cristiano Ronaldo - 53 in 59 Edinson Cavani - 53 in 62 Whatever happens today, this has been one hell of a year for Harry Kane. Kane is on fire Credit: Reuters 11:39AM Virgil van Dijk has not travelled today... ...which might have something to do with this. 11:35AM Team news has dropped Mousa Dembele and Danny Rose come in in the only two changes for Tottenham. Harry Kane leads the line on a big day for him (more on that coming up). Erik Lamela may be disappointed to only make the bench. #THFC: Lloris (C), Aurier, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Rose, Dier, Dembele, Eriksen, Dele, Son, Kane. #COYSpic.twitter.com/jTtBp8Hbk2— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) December 26, 2017 Oriol Romeu, Sofiane Boufal, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Shane Long (in for the injured Charlie Austin) return for Southampton. The teams are in! Here's the #SaintsFC side for this afternoon's meeting with #THFC: pic.twitter.com/hVPbQ3jLxz— Southampton FC (@SouthamptonFC) December 26, 2017 11:29AM Hello and welcome Merry Christmas one and all!  Right, now that the pleasantries are over, let's get back to football. No winter break for us here in England - it's full steam ahead and the Premier League is BACK with eight Boxing Day games. First of all, we're at Wembley for the early kick off: it's the Mauricio Pochettino/Victor Wanyama/Gareth Bale/Grzegorz Rasiak derby, as  Tottenham host Southampton. Spurs are in form again and pushing for a top four place, while Southampton, without a win in six and just three points off the drop zone are "in a really difficult moment", according to their centre-back Maya Yoshida. We'll have team news for you very shortly ahead of this one.

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