Manchester United took time off from their pursuit of Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez to coast to a comfortable 3-0 victory against Stoke at Old Trafford on Monday.
Antonio Valencia and Anthony Martial in the first half, and Romelu Lukaku after the break, were on the score-sheet as Jose Mourinho finally beat struggling Stoke as United manager at the fourth time of asking.
But this performance, and numerous missed chances, still provided Mourinho with plenty of evidence that he needs to add Arsenal’s Sanchez to his squad during the January transfer window, despite cutting neighbours Manchester City’s lead at the top of the Premier League to 12 points.
United believe they have won the battle for the £35 million-rated player, who is out of contract with Arsenal at the end of the season, especially after rivals City let the Gunners know on Monday that they are no longer interested in Sanchez, given his fee and salary demands.
New Stoke manager Paul Lambert, appointed on the morning of this game, was watching from the stands before officially starting work on Tuesday, and must have been unimpressed as United raced into an early lead through Valencia, back in the United line-up after a month out through injury.
The right back received a pass after good work outside the area from Paul Pogba and darted into the box, running at teenage defender Joshua Tymon, starting just the second league game of his career.
Valencia was given room to advance before firing past the dive of Jack Butland from 16 yards out with a left-foot shot – something of a collector’s item.
Tymon was also at fault for United’s second, after 38 minutes, losing the ball to Lukaku before he in turn pulled it back for Pogba.
The French midfielder spotted compatriot Martial lurking unmarked on the edge of the Stoke area and his pass allowed the forward to place a magnificent strike into the top corner of the visitors’ net.
Teenager Tymon’s only other start for Stoke was in the recent 5-0 defeat at Chelsea, part of a depressing run that has now seen the Potters gather just four points from a possible 24 – a sequence which left the Potters firmly in the relegation zone and cost Lambert’s predecessor Mark Hughes his job.
Lukaku piled on the misery in the 72nd minute with some physical play in the area, controlling Martial’s pass on his chest, holding off a defender and turning to score from 15 yards.
In between the two first-half goals, Stoke had some moments of hope with injury-plagued Stephen Ireland, starting a league game for the first time in 996 days, coming close twice in quick succession, placing shots wide from no more than 15 yards.
Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, who scored twice against United earlier this season in a 2-2 draw, also saw a goal-bound shot blocked by Phil Jones.
The gap at the top is reduced. Slightly. pic.twitter.com/ufnjTjeGSy
But United were back on top immediately after the restart with Butland needing to race from his line to beat Martial to another expert Pogba pass.
Lukaku juggled with the ball outside the area before testing the keeper, and the industrious Pogba saw a shot deflected behind.
Martial should also have done better from yet another excellent Pogba cross, but steered a shot straight at the keeper, while Mata somehow missed the target at the end of a flowing counter-attack.
Mata was equally wasteful soon after when he shot high over the target from Jesse Lingard’s neat touch, while the Spaniard was denied by an offside flag after poking home from close range.
Substitute Marcus Rashford’s clever near-post back-heel was kept out well by Butland, and Stoke’s Mame Biram Diouf might have claimed a late consolation but for equally excellent goalkeeping from David de Gea.