United back to swashbuckling ways

Wayne Rooney celebrating his goal - United's third of the night - against Stoke City. United had not scored three goals at home since Sept 26.
Wayne Rooney celebrating his goal - United's third of the night - against Stoke City. United had not scored three goals at home since Sept 26.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • There was an unfamiliar air of satisfaction around Old Trafford on Tuesday as Manchester United breezed past Stoke City 3-0 with the type of performance that once came so naturally.

The angst and jeers of recent months gave way to approving cheers as Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Anthony Martial led them to perhaps their most convincing home victory of the season.

For much of the past 21/2 years, particularly of late, United's home matches have been endured rather than enjoyed by their supporters.

This time, with Mata restored to a central role and with Martial enjoying himself on the left, United played as United should - with speed, verve and creativity in the opposition half.

Jesse Lingard and Martial put them 2-0 up inside 23 minutes - the first time United scored in the first half of any game at Old Trafford since Sept 30. Rooney added the third early in the second half.

Far from the norm under Louis van Gaal, this was the type of football United aficionados have been crying out for - among them Ryan Giggs, the assistant manager.

Unfortunately, Giggs was not there to witness it. And United were forced to deny rumours that it was because he had an offer from Celtic to become their next manager. The club insisted he was away to deal with a family matter.

"I am a happy coach," van Gaal told MUTV after seeing his team unleash 12 shots on goal and four of them on target in a rampant first half.

"When you see how we created the goals with fantastic play building up from the back and finishing, that's what I like," he said.

There was something to satisfy all manner of United tastes.

The first goal was made in Manchester, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson delivering a peach of a cross for another academy graduate, Lingard, to stoop to head home.

Mata orchestrated proceedings with a vision and flair that evoked memories of when he was thriving under Rafael Benitez at Chelsea.

Rooney had a zip and zest about him and claimed his seventh goal in as many games.

Martial was a rampaging presence, with Stoke unable to handle the livewire Frenchman.

Even Matteo Darmian, the right-back who started well before his form took a huge nosedive, looked like he was back to his old self.

United had not scored three goals at home since Sept 26 but they could have had more and the scoreline would not have flattered them. It was almost a cathartic experience for the fans. They will hope it does not prove a flash in the pan.

"It could be a turning point (in scoring goals) but you never know," said van Gaal.

"(Michael) Carrick said to me, 'What a difference a first-half goal makes because you play with much more confidence and you can do much more.'"

THE TIMES, LONDON, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 04, 2016, with the headline 'United back to swashbuckling ways'. Print Edition | Subscribe