Manchester United took another step toward winning the Premier League title on Sunday, while Robin van Persie finally ended a scoring drought dating back to Feb. 10, as the Red Devils defeated Stoke City, 2-0.
United is now seven points away from clinching the title, and it only took three minutes for United to score the winning goal.
After a scramble in front of the net following a corner, Michael Carrick poked home the game's first goal. It wasn't the prettiest goal you'll see, but United was off to the perfect start against defensive-minded Stoke City.
Stoke's defense played its normal brand of stingy football for the rest of the half, but the team's offense failed to truly threaten the United defense as well, save a promising Robert Huth header that went wide in the 18th minute. The Red Devils went into the half holding on to a 1-0 lead.
Robin van Persie had the first clear scoring chance of the second half, as he perfectly timed a run to get behind the Stoke defense on the left flank, but his effort went into the side netting.
Minutes later, Charlie Adam optimistically blasted away from distance, but David De Gea smothered the attempt.
In the 65th minute, Van Persie all but ended the match and finally ended his scoring slump. After Andy Wilkinson took him down on the left side of the box as the striker tried to cut inside, Van Persie calmly buried the penalty kick and gave United a 2-0 lead.
Ryan Shotton had a chance to cut the lead in half, as he found himself in space after a United defender fell in front of him, but De Gea again was up to the task and denied his shot.
Stoke continued to press the issue. An Adam free kick sailed past everyone, but the lack of clearance or deflection confused De Gea, and the ball nearly sneaked past him on the far post. He recovered in time to knock it out of play, however, and Stoke failed to capitalize on the subsequent corner.
Robin van Persie, Manchester United: A-
It wasn't his finest performance in a United uniform, but ending that scoring drought had to feel good for Van Persie. He put himself in promising positions throughout the match, earned a penalty with a solid run and a crafty change of direction and buried the penalty. Hardly a vintage performance, but exactly what the Dutchman needed.
Stoke City Defense: C+
In a battle between the Premier League's most dangerous attack and one of the league's stingier defenses, it was the Stoke defense that lost out. Stoke City's game plan was simple: Look to get out to an early lead (likely from a set piece) and hold on for dear life.
Instead, it was United who struck early.
Say this for the Stoke defense—United didn't have too many clear scoring opportunities. Carrick's goal was a rather fluky result from a scramble by the net, and Van Persie showed a bit of skill in earning the penalty. Still, the Stoke defense needed to be perfect for the team to earn at least a point in this match, and it clearly wasn't.
David De Gea and the Manchester United Defense: A
De Gea wasn't challenged at all in the first half, but he came up with a few nice saves in the second 45. Sure, Stoke scares few teams with its attack, but United's defense rarely offered a crack of space for Stoke to exploit, and De Gea calmly handled the few opportunities Stoke managed. This was a fairly clinical performance from United's defense and keeper.
Wayne Rooney, Manchester United: B
At times, he played like a forward, including a selfish effort on a free kick that he chose to put on goal rather than cross into his teammates. But Rooney dropped fairly deep often in this game and looked to facilitate United's attack as well. Has he finally settled into a new role for the Red Devils?