Manchester United maintained their position in the Premier League’s coveted top four positions with victory over Stoke City at Old Trafford, their fourth successive triumph.
Marouane Fellaini, very much a part of this recent revival, provided the opener when he powered home a left-sided cross from Ander Herrera, although Steven N’Zonzi restored parity shortly before the interval.
Juan Mata scored what proved to be the decisive goal just before the hour mark with his whipped free-kick evading the head of Marcos Rojo and, more importantly, the Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic.
David de Gea once again proved his worth in the closing stages as he made two key saves, one particularly stunning stop against Mame Biram Diouf, and the points belonged to Manchester United after this heart-pounding climax.
Louis van Gaal was dealt a pre-match blow with news that Wayne Rooney had not been deemed fit to take part after sustaining an ankle injury, which resulted in the manager providing James Wilson with only his seconds start for the club.
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But, while Wilson performed well, it would have been the displays of his Van Gaal’s more defensive players that would have thrilled him the most.
Fellaini was dominant in the midfield and, of course, grabbed himself a goal while De Gea was in typically resolute form between the sticks. It was, however, the composed Chris Smalling who was the best player on the pitch.
Smalling has come in for much criticism from his own fans of late, particularly following his red card at the Etihad Stadium, but this was an encouraging performance against a physical opposition front-line.
De Gea - 7.5
Valencia - 6.5
Rojo - 6.5
Smaling - 7.5 (MOTM)
Young - 7
Carrick - 6.5
Herrera - 6.5
Mata - 7
Fellaini - 7.5
Van Persie - 7
Wilson - 7
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