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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Man Utd 2 – 1 Stoke

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Manchester United moved three points clear at the top of the Premier League after seeing off Stoke at Old Trafford thanks to a stunning Nani strike.
Dimitar Berbatov prodded United’s first real chance wide but they went ahead when Nani crossed and Javier Hernandez brilliantly flicked the ball home.
Stoke started the second half superbly and after Tuncay headed wide he turned creator for Dean Whitehead to nod in.
But Nani won it with a wonderful left-foot strike to earn United the victory.
It puts United three points clear of neighbours Man City, who they have a game in hand over, and five ahead of Arsenal having played the same number of matches.
With the Gunners entertaining City at the Emirates on Wednesday, the pressure is now on the chasing pack to try and keep up with Sir Alex Ferguson’s pacesetters.
United are now 20 games unbeaten in the division – the second longest run without defeat in a single Premier League season after the Arsenal Invincibles of 2003-04 – but as with so many of their previous performances this campaign, they were never totally convincing.
Edwin van der Sar, Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney were rested as United, who changed six players from the fortuitous 2-1 win at West Brom on Saturday, including a first league start for defender Chris Smalling, gave a nod to their third round FA Cup tie at home to Liverpool on Sunday.
With nine wins and a draw from their home games it was no surprise that United enjoyed long spells of dominance in possession, though Stoke did not help themselves by carelessly giving the ball away on the rare occasions they got hold of it.
Berbatov was first to threaten as he toe-poked wide after Ryan Giggs’s heavily deflected shot fell into his path, but United only had to wait a little longer to score.
It was the 27th minute when Berbatov sent Nani away down the right and his low cross into the six-yard box was met by a spark of genius from the Mexican Hernandez, who flicked the ball impudently between his legs and into the corner of the net.
Hernandez – who scored twice at the Britannia in October in United’s 2-1 win – nearly doubled his and United’s tally shortly after, but from another Nani cross he saw his goalbound volley superbly deflected over by Huth after the defender threw his body in the way.
Stoke would have been grateful for the half-time whistle and whatever manager Tony Pulis said during the break paid immediate dividends as they attacked the United goal with gusto at the start of the second half.
Tuncay headed a Huth cross wide before the Turk turned creator, finding space on the left to whip over a pinpoint cross that Whitehead glanced into the bottom corner for his second goal of the season.
Perhaps scored too soon, because United flew at the Potters’ rearguard with a renewed vigour, roared on by the majority of the 73,401 crowd.
Whitehead almost went from hero to villain as his crazy backpass on the halfway line put Berbatov through, but the Bulgarian was denied by a fine Ryan Shawcross recovery tackle, before Huth brilliantly shackled Hernandez in the box with the Mexican sniffing another goal.
Just after the hour mark, United once more nudged ahead, again thanks to a moment of individual inspiration.
Hernandez crafted a yard to find Nani on the edge of the box and he turned inside on to his left foot, hitting a rocket of a shot that flew past Asmir Begovic’s despairing dive.
Stoke tried to fight back for a second time, but it was United who looked more likely to score as the game wore on, Hernandez blazing over after great work from the hugely impressive Rafael down the right.
Ferguson will expect improved displays as the season wears on, but few could argue that United are now in control of their own destiny.

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