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Wheeler returns to BLACKCAPS Twenty20 squad

Wheeler, who last played for New Zealand in February 2017, will be part of an inter-changeable 13-man squad, from which the selectors will seek to employ various combinations throughout the series.

Wheeler returns to BLACKCAPS Twenty20 squad

Wheeler, who last played for New Zealand in February 2017, will be part of an inter-changeable 13-man squad, from which the selectors will seek to employ various combinations throughout the series.

'He's a huge player' - Materazzi not surprised by Coutinho's massive transfer fee

The former Liverpool star's eye-watering price tag did not come as a shock for his ex-Inter colleague

Materazzi not surprised by Coutinho transfer fee

Philippe Coutinho's eye-watering price tag did not come as a shock for his ex-Inter colleague Marco Materazzi.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan holds key to whether Alexis Sanchez joins Man Utd

The agent of Henrikh Mkhitaryan has claimed Manchester United’s prospects of signing Alexis Sanchez will hinge on the Armenia playmaker joining Arsenal. But Mino Raiola has claimed that a deal for Mkhitaryan to move to Arsenal is a “long way off” and that his client will not be pushed into leaving Old Trafford, even if that results in the collapse of United’s bid for Sanchez this month. Arsenal are believed to want around £35 million for Sanchez but United have instead offered Mkhitaryan – who is valued at a similar fee – to the North London club, who lost out to United for the player when he joined the Manchester club from Borussia Dortmund for £26.3m in 2016. Raiola believes Mkhitaryan would be a “great” signing for Arsenal but he has told the club they will need to make the 28 year-old a very good offer if he is to consider leaving Old Trafford. Mkhitaryan has recently fallen out of favour under Mourinho but Raiola insisted the player has “no problem” with the manager. Their differences are believed to centre more around football philosophies but Mkhitaryan is not averse to staying at United for the remainder of the season and reviewing his options in the summer, when he will enter the final two years of his contract. Sanchez's move to Old Trafford could be held up Credit: Getty Images Raiola also scoffed at the view that Mkhitaryan is being used as a makeweight in a deal for Sanchez. “Sanchez is part of Mkhi’s deal, not the other way around,” said Raiola, who also represents Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Sergio Romero at United. “Without him, Sanchez simply cannot go to United. Manchester United are not going to sign Sanchez unless Mkhi agrees to join Arsenal. Mkhi is going to do what is best for him. He has two-and-a-half years left on his contract, so it’s his decision. “Mkhi’s problems at Man Utd are purely related to playing football. He has no problem with the manager. It is not personal. He doesn’t have to leave. “At this moment, [the chances are] low, but life is dynamic. This is a great deal for Arsenal. They need better, younger players and they have to invest. So it’s up to Arsenal to put a deal in place and right now a deal is a long way off.” Mkhitaryan has also been on Inter Milan’s radar although the Italian club have favoured a loan and that is of no interest to United. Dortmund inquired about Mkhitaryan before the transfer window opened but they considered the fees involved excessive and are not believed to have any intention of bidding for their former player. January 2018 transfer window United are now the front runners to sign Sanchez after Manchester City withdrew from the race for the Arsenal striker after balking at the spiralling cost of the deal. City were of the belief that Chelsea had also entered the running for Sanchez but Antonio Conte, their manager, played that down and Arsenal have had no direct contact from the champions.  “I don’t know but I don’t think so,” Conte said when asked about Chelsea’s reputed interest. “About the transfer market I prefer to talk to the club and give an opinion and I repeat I don’t want to give my opinion on that.” City felt they had an agreement in place with Sanchez after a £60m move for the Chilean collapsed on transfer deadline day last August and were unhappy at how the goalposts subsequently shifted, with the player and his agent, Fernando Felicevich, asking for more money. City would still be prepared to sign Sanchez if he was prepared to accept the terms originally agreed last summer but United’s bid would have to run into trouble for there to be any chance of that happening. United are thought to be prepared to meet Sanchez’s demands for a signing-on fee worth up to £20m and a £10m payment to Fernando Felicevich, the player’s agent.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan holds key to whether Alexis Sanchez joins Man Utd

The agent of Henrikh Mkhitaryan has claimed Manchester United’s prospects of signing Alexis Sanchez will hinge on the Armenia playmaker joining Arsenal. But Mino Raiola has claimed that a deal for Mkhitaryan to move to Arsenal is a “long way off” and that his client will not be pushed into leaving Old Trafford, even if that results in the collapse of United’s bid for Sanchez this month. Arsenal are believed to want around £35 million for Sanchez but United have instead offered Mkhitaryan – who is valued at a similar fee – to the North London club, who lost out to United for the player when he joined the Manchester club from Borussia Dortmund for £26.3m in 2016. Raiola believes Mkhitaryan would be a “great” signing for Arsenal but he has told the club they will need to make the 28 year-old a very good offer if he is to consider leaving Old Trafford. Mkhitaryan has recently fallen out of favour under Mourinho but Raiola insisted the player has “no problem” with the manager. Their differences are believed to centre more around football philosophies but Mkhitaryan is not averse to staying at United for the remainder of the season and reviewing his options in the summer, when he will enter the final two years of his contract. Sanchez's move to Old Trafford could be held up Credit: Getty Images Raiola also scoffed at the view that Mkhitaryan is being used as a makeweight in a deal for Sanchez. “Sanchez is part of Mkhi’s deal, not the other way around,” said Raiola, who also represents Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Sergio Romero at United. “Without him, Sanchez simply cannot go to United. Manchester United are not going to sign Sanchez unless Mkhi agrees to join Arsenal. Mkhi is going to do what is best for him. He has two-and-a-half years left on his contract, so it’s his decision. “Mkhi’s problems at Man Utd are purely related to playing football. He has no problem with the manager. It is not personal. He doesn’t have to leave. “At this moment, [the chances are] low, but life is dynamic. This is a great deal for Arsenal. They need better, younger players and they have to invest. So it’s up to Arsenal to put a deal in place and right now a deal is a long way off.” Mkhitaryan has also been on Inter Milan’s radar although the Italian club have favoured a loan and that is of no interest to United. Dortmund inquired about Mkhitaryan before the transfer window opened but they considered the fees involved excessive and are not believed to have any intention of bidding for their former player. January 2018 transfer window United are now the front runners to sign Sanchez after Manchester City withdrew from the race for the Arsenal striker after balking at the spiralling cost of the deal. City were of the belief that Chelsea had also entered the running for Sanchez but Antonio Conte, their manager, played that down and Arsenal have had no direct contact from the champions.  “I don’t know but I don’t think so,” Conte said when asked about Chelsea’s reputed interest. “About the transfer market I prefer to talk to the club and give an opinion and I repeat I don’t want to give my opinion on that.” City felt they had an agreement in place with Sanchez after a £60m move for the Chilean collapsed on transfer deadline day last August and were unhappy at how the goalposts subsequently shifted, with the player and his agent, Fernando Felicevich, asking for more money. City would still be prepared to sign Sanchez if he was prepared to accept the terms originally agreed last summer but United’s bid would have to run into trouble for there to be any chance of that happening. United are thought to be prepared to meet Sanchez’s demands for a signing-on fee worth up to £20m and a £10m payment to Fernando Felicevich, the player’s agent.

Inter and Barcelona close to agreement over Rafinha deal

Talks had previously floundered on the purchase option included in a prospective loan, but the clubs have made a breakthrough

Ex-Real & Inter Legend Urges Nerazzurri to Fend Off Interest in Captain Mauro Icardi

ardi ​Footballing legend Luis Figo has urged former club Inter not to sell star striker Mauro Icardi to Real Madrid. Links between Icardi and Real Madrid - another former club for Figo - surfaced once again this week, prompting the comments from the former Portugal star, whilst also reminiscing about his time with the Nerazzurri. “Icardi to Madrid? It’s clear that it wouldn’t be good for Inter or Italian football to lose big players,” the former Portugal winger told ​Corriere della Sera. “But...

Ex-Real & Inter Legend Urges Nerazzurri to Fend Off Interest in Captain Mauro Icardi

ardi ​Footballing legend Luis Figo has urged former club Inter not to sell star striker Mauro Icardi to Real Madrid. Links between Icardi and Real Madrid - another former club for Figo - surfaced once again this week, prompting the comments from the former Portugal star, whilst also reminiscing about his time with the Nerazzurri. “Icardi to Madrid? It’s clear that it wouldn’t be good for Inter or Italian football to lose big players,” the former Portugal winger told ​Corriere della Sera. “But...

Ex-Real & Inter Legend Urges Nerazzurri to Fend Off Interest in Captain Mauro Icardi

ardi ​Footballing legend Luis Figo has urged former club Inter not to sell star striker Mauro Icardi to Real Madrid. Links between Icardi and Real Madrid - another former club for Figo - surfaced once again this week, prompting the comments from the former Portugal star, whilst also reminiscing about his time with the Nerazzurri. “Icardi to Madrid? It’s clear that it wouldn’t be good for Inter or Italian football to lose big players,” the former Portugal winger told ​Corriere della Sera. “But...

Ex-Real & Inter Legend Urges Nerazzurri to Fend Off Interest in Captain Mauro Icardi

ardi ​Footballing legend Luis Figo has urged former club Inter not to sell star striker Mauro Icardi to Real Madrid. Links between Icardi and Real Madrid - another former club for Figo - surfaced once again this week, prompting the comments from the former Portugal star, whilst also reminiscing about his time with the Nerazzurri. “Icardi to Madrid? It’s clear that it wouldn’t be good for Inter or Italian football to lose big players,” the former Portugal winger told ​Corriere della Sera. “But...

Inter confident of signing Barcelona midfielder Rafinha, says club chief Ausilio

The 24-year-old has been linked with the Nerazzurri and their sporting director is hopeful a deal can be done before the end of the transfer window

Inter confident of signing Barcelona midfielder Rafinha, says club chief Ausilio

The 24-year-old has been linked with the Nerazzurri and their sporting director is hopeful a deal can be done before the end of the transfer window

Inter confident of signing Barcelona midfielder Rafinha, says club chief Ausilio

The 24-year-old has been linked with the Nerazzurri and their sporting director is hopeful a deal can be done before the end of the transfer window

Inter confident but patient over Rafinha

Rafinha has been linked with Inter and their sporting director is confident a deal can be done with Barcelona.

Inter confident but patient over Rafinha

Inter confident but patient over Rafinha

Inter confident but patient over Rafinha

Inter confident but patient over Rafinha

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.

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.

Inter bring in defender Lopez from Benfica

The 28-year-old joins the Serie A outfit ahead of Sunday's clash with Roma as Luciano Spalletti bolsters his squad in the January window

Inter secure Lopez on loan from Benfica

Inter secure Lopez on loan from Benfica

Inter secure Lopez on loan from Benfica

Inter have announced the loan signing of Lisandro Lopez from Benfica, with an option for a permanent transfer at the end of the season.

Inter secure Lopez on loan from Benfica

Inter secure Lopez on loan from Benfica

Coutinho deserves to be happy at Barca - Figo

Former Barcelona and Inter star Luis Figo says that Philiipe Coutinho is a 'nice boy' and deserves to have a successful career

Coutinho deserves to be happy at Barca - Figo

Former Barcelona and Inter star Luis Figo says that Philiipe Coutinho is a 'nice boy' and deserves to have a successful career

Coutinho deserves to be happy at Barca - Figo

Former Barcelona and Inter star Luis Figo says that Philiipe Coutinho is a 'nice boy' and deserves to have a successful career

North, South Korea May Field Joint Women's Ice Hockey Team at Olympics

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korea’s delegation to the Winter Olympics in South Korea will include a 140-member art troupe, the two sides agreed Monday, while discussions continue over fielding a joint women’s hockey team.

The two Koreas met Monday for the second time in a week as they try to hammer out details for the North’s participation in next month’s Games, which the South sees as a way to calm tensions caused by Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests.

North Korea said the art troupe will comprise 80 orchestra members and 60 members who sing and dance. The North Koreans will perform twice — once in Seoul and the other in the city of Gangneung, where some of the Olympic competitions will be held, according to South Korean delegates who attended the meeting.

Separately, South Korean Sports Ministry spokesman Hwang Seong Un said that the two Koreas have agreed in principle to field a joint women’s ice hockey team. The proposal requires International Olympic Committee approval. If realized, it would be the Koreas’ first unified Olympic team ever.

Officials from both Koreas are to meet with the International Olympic Committee at its headquarters in Switzerland on Saturday. The two sides agreed Monday to meet again at their border on Wednesday for working-level talks ahead of the IOC meeting.

North Korea last week agreed to send an Olympic delegation and hold military talks aimed at reducing frontline animosities in its first formal talks with South Korea in about two years. The North has said its delegation to the Feb. 9-25 Games in Pyeongchang would include the art troupe along with officials, athletes, cheerleaders, journalists and a taekwondo demonstration team.

The reasons for North Korea’s softer approach are not clear, though some analysts say the North may be trying to divide Seoul and Washington as a way to weaken pressure and sanctions on the country. North Korea carried out nuclear and missile tests last year that triggered harsher U.N. sanctions and worldwide condemnation.

Others speculate the North wants to use the Olympics to show it’s a normal country despite possessing nuclear weapons.

North Korea has insisted its talks with South Korea won’t deal with its nuclear and missile programs, saying those weapons primarily target the United States. Critics question how long the warmer mood can last without any serious discussion on the North’s nuclear disarmament.

The North issued a veiled threat Sunday that it could cancel its plans to send an Olympic delegation to protest what it called South Korea’s “sordid acts” that chilled the prospect for inter-Korean reconciliation.

“They should know that (the) train and bus carrying our delegation to the Olympics are still in Pyongyang,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said. “The South Korean authorities had better ponder over what unfavorable results may be entailed by their impolite behavior.”

KCNA criticized remarks by South Korean President Moon Jae-in last week that credited President Donald Trump for getting the North to sit down with the South. It also accused Seoul of letting Washington deploy strategic assets like an aircraft carrier near the Korean Peninsula on the occasion of the Olympics. The United States is beefing up its presence around the peninsula in what it describes as routine training and scheduled upgrades.

The warning is relatively milder than the North’s typical fiery, bellicose rhetoric and it didn’t appear to put the recent signs of warming Korean ties in imminent danger.

The North Korean art troupe being sent South is to play folk songs and other classic masterpieces that are well-known to both Koreas and can go with the theme of unification, chief South Korean delegate Lee Woo-sung said. He said more discussions are expected to work out details of North Korean performances.

The art troupe would be larger than the previous six that North Korea has sent to South Korea since 1985. The North last sent such a group in 2002, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry. A joint statement after Monday’s meeting didn’t mention North Korea’s well-known Moranbong Band, an all-female ensemble hand-picked by the North’s leader Kim Jong Un.

One of the North Korean delegates to the talks was Hyon Song Wol, the head of the band, fueling speculation that North Korea might send the band.

Since its first stage debut in 2012, the band is hugely popular at home and has been dubbed by outsiders as “North Korea’s only girl group” for its Western-style performances featuring women in mini-skirts and high heels dancing and singing odes to Kim.

Man Utd Boss Jose Mourinho Claims Zlatan Ibrahimovic Is in the 'Last Part' of His Career

​Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has admitted that striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is in the "last part" of his playing career. The 36-year-old made a sooner than expected return from a serious knee injury earlier this season, but has not yet made an impact and has been hindered by further fitness problems. Mourinho, while maintaining the veteran forward still has plenty to offer, has stressed that he is fully aware of his diminishing powers. "I was his manager when he was 29 at Inter...

Man Utd Boss Jose Mourinho Claims Zlatan Ibrahimovic Is in the 'Last Part' of His Career

​Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has admitted that striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is in the "last part" of his playing career. The 36-year-old made a sooner than expected return from a serious knee injury earlier this season, but has not yet made an impact and has been hindered by further fitness problems. Mourinho, while maintaining the veteran forward still has plenty to offer, has stressed that he is fully aware of his diminishing powers. "I was his manager when he was 29 at Inter...

Man Utd Boss Jose Mourinho Claims Zlatan Ibrahimovic Is in the 'Last Part' of His Career

​Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has admitted that striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is in the "last part" of his playing career. The 36-year-old made a sooner than expected return from a serious knee injury earlier this season, but has not yet made an impact and has been hindered by further fitness problems. Mourinho, while maintaining the veteran forward still has plenty to offer, has stressed that he is fully aware of his diminishing powers. "I was his manager when he was 29 at Inter...

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