Manchester United’s growing confidence and momentum was displayed on Boxing Day as Sunderland were dismantled to secure a fourth successive Premier League victory.
Daley Blind, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored the goals to secure the comfortable 3-0 win, while also extending the Reds’ unbeaten run in all competitions to 11 matches. Bigger challenges will come, of course, but there is no doubt that Jose Mourinho’s team are capable of climbing the table.
The manager had eight days to prepare for the game and duly made two changes to his starting XI, yet one was forced on him after Wayne Rooney suffered an injury when training on Christmas Day. Juan Mata replaced the captain and it was his looping cross which led an early shot from Michael Carrick, whose volley from the edge of the penalty area went wide via a deflection off Ander Herrera.
Sunderland, managed by returning former Reds boss David Moyes, could have taken a shock lead on 18 minutes when Jermain Defoe met a punt from goalkeeper Jordan Pickford to lash a shot just wide of goal. Patrick van Aanholt then forced an excellent save out of David De Gea with his 20-yard free-kick, before United were denied a penalty when Mata was barged to the ground by Lamine Kone.
Paul Pogba went close to breaking the deadlock on 27 minutes when a slick one-two with Jesse Lingard on the edge of Sunderland’s box led to his deflected shot rebounding off the post. De Gea then did well to thwart two quick-fire efforts from Victor Anichebe and Fabio Borini, with the latter soon stinging the Spaniard’s palms once again with a deflected long-range effort moments after.
After Pogba had registered two more shots at goal, United secured a vital breakthrough on 39 minutes courtesy of recalled left-back Blind, who controlled Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s pass with right foot and finished with his left to put the Reds in front just ahead of the half-time break.