Goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marcus Rashford ensured Manchester United returned to winning ways in the Premier League with a convincing victory over 10-man Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.
Ibrahimovic fired the Reds ahead with a stunning 20-yard strike on 30 minutes before his Swedish compatriot, Sunderland midfielder Sebastian Larsson, saw red for a high challenge on Ander Herrera shortly before the half-time break.
Mkhitaryan doubled the lead within a minute of the restart, drilling home a brilliant shot for his eighth goal for the club. Second-half substitute Rashford then rounded off a comfortable win late on, as the Reds moved up to fifth in the table after extending the unbeaten run in the league to 21 games.
Jose Mourinho made five changes to the starting XI from Tuesday’s 1-1 draw against Everton, with Marouane Fellaini captaining the side from the start for the first time, while a “small problem” meant David De Gea’s impressive run of 63 successive league starts in goal came to an end.
United made a positive start on a gloriously-sunny afternoon on Wearside as Jesse Lingard, fresh from signing a new four-year contract in midweek, took aim from 20 yards with a fierce right-footed effort which was kept out by Sunderland keeper Jordan Pickford. After Marcos Rojo was fouled by Larsson from the same distance, Ibrahimovic’s free-kick could not get past Sunderland’s solid defensive wall.
Sunderland grew into the game and began to pose a threat themselves as Sergio Romero was brought into action for the first time, keeping out a fierce effort from Sunderland captain Lee Cattermole before Jermain Defoe fired wide from an offside position when latching onto a Jack Rodwell pass.
After a driving run, Lingard went close with a low shot from the edge of the box that Pickford did well to push behind for a corner. But, after 30 minutes, United made the breakthrough in fine style from Ibrahimovic as the striker collected a Herrera pass, rolled Billy Jones, cut inside and smashed a low shot into the corner of the net. It is his 28th goal of a prolific debut season in English football.
United were then indebted to a fine piece of goalkeeping from Romero, making his 12th appearance of the season, as the Argentine stopper made an excellent block to deny Victor Anichebe from close range.
Sunderland had a terrible time just before half-time when they lost full-back Bryan Oviedo to a leg injury, before Larsson was then given his marching orders by referee Craig Pawson for a studs-up challenge on Herrera.
HALF-TIME MATCH STATS
Possession: Sunderland 29% United 71%
Shots: Sunderland 4 United 10
Shots on target: Sunderland 3 United 5
Corners: Sunderland 2 United 4
The Reds were quickly celebrating the all-important second goal within 46 seconds of the restart, as Mkhitaryan drifted into the box and arrowed home an exquisite shot which went through the legs of Lamine Kone into the bottom corner. It was another fine goal against the Black Cats for the Armenian, who scored a memorable ‘scorpion kick’ at Old Trafford on Boxing Day.
Relegation-threatened Sunderland, without former John O’Shea and on-loan United winger Adnan Januzaj, struggled to contend with the Reds’ dominance thereafter.
Ibrahimovic’s low shot through a crowded penalty area was kept out by the legs of Pickford, before Herrera rifled the follow-up over the crossbar. Pogba then almost marked his 50th appearance for the club in style as his sweetly-struck volley from inside the box flew over.
Mourinho turned to the bench for the first time on the hour mark as Shaw, making only his third start since the end of October, was replaced by Daley Blind after feeling the effects of a tangle with Didier Ndong.
Defoe looked to end Sunderland’s six-game run without scoring, but his free-kick from 20 yards was easily collected by Romero before the striker unleashed a 20-yard shot which was off target.
Not settling for a two-goal cushion, United went in search of inflicting more damage on the Premier League’s bottom club and almost finished off a dangerous counter attack involving Rashford and Mkhitaryan, but Ibrahimovic was challenged in the box by Billy Jones before he could get a shot away.
As Anthony Martial replaced Mkhitaryan in the closing stages, the Reds continued to pour forward and the Frenchman almost made an immediate impact when latching on to Blind’s pass, but his side-footed lob landed straight into the grateful gloves of Pickford. United eventually added further gloss a minute from time when Rashford linked up with Ibrahimovic and fired a sublime strike into the bottom corner.
With a firm measure of control throughout, the Reds cruised to a first win on Wearside in four years – the ideal preparation for Thursday’s crucial Europa League quarter-final tie against Belgian side Anderlecht.
FULL-TIME MATCH STATS
Possession: Sunderland 30% United 70%
Shots: Sunderland 9 United 18
Shots on target: Sunderland 4 United 9
Corners: Sunderland 4 United 5
Sunderland: Pickford; Jones, Denayer, Kone, Oviedo (Manquillo 39); Larsson, Rodwell, Cattermole (c) (Borini 66), Ndong; Anichebe, Defoe.
Subs not used: Mannone, Djilobodji, Pienaar, Gibson, Khazri.
United: Romero; Darmian, Bailly, Rojo, Shaw (Blind 61); Fellaini (c), Herrera; Lingard (Rashford 64), Pogba, Mkhitaryan (Martial 78); Ibrahimovic.
Subs not used: J. Pereira, Fosu-Mensah, Tuanzebe, Carrick.
Booked: Shaw, Fellaini, Lingard, Martial, Darmian