Van Gaal, who praised the contributions of Juan Mata and Martial in a fine all-round team display, called on United to produce the consistency that will put recent troubles behind them.
He said: “Mata participated in all three goals and that is what I like to see, but every player has to prove it every week – even my captain Wayne Rooney. He has to do that. Everybody forgets he was substituted against Stoke City on Boxing Day, but it is always the same with me.
“You have to prove it every game and in every training session, and if you do you play. But when Rooney plays like this you cannot say to him ‘come to the bench.'”
Jesse Lingard’s 14th-minute goal eased Old Trafford tensions – ending the run without a first-half goal stretching over eight hours 40 minutes.
And Van Gaal said: “It was a great performance, not only defensively but in attack. The difference in the first half was that we scored and that made things easier. Michael Carrick said to me that when you score early like that everything goes more easily.”
Van Gaal welcomes Guardiola
Van Gaal took his first chance to welcome Pep Guardiola, who played under him at Barcelona, after it was revealed he will take over at rivals Manchester City next summer.
“He was my captain at Barcelona so I will be very pleased to see him,” said Van Gaal. “I can also speak Spanish which is convenient for him.”
Jamie Vardy scored twice as Leicester beat Liverpool to stay three points clear at the top of the Premier League.
The England striker opened the scoring with a brilliant 25-yard strike over goalkeeper Simon Mignolet from Riyad Mahrez’s long ball forward.
And he sealed the victory when he turned home Shinji Okazaki’s deflected shot from close range.
The Foxes fully deserved their victory, with Mignolet touching an Okazaki header onto the bar in the first half.
Foxes move closer to history
Leicester’s title bid is unique in the Premier League age and with each victory, they move one game closer to winning their first ever top-flight title.
There was a feeling the next two weeks could define Leicester’s season – this game against Liverpool is followed by trips to title rivals Manchester City and Arsenal.
But they came through the first of those three games in style. Vardy caught Mignolet off his line with his goal-of-the-season contender and then added a second 11 minutes later.
The Foxes had most of the game’s big chances, Mignolet brilliantly denying a Mahrez curling strike as well as touching Okazaki’s effort onto the crossbar. Moments before Vardy’s second, the hosts should have had a penalty when Mamadou Sakho brought down Okazaki.
Foxes midfielder Danny Drinkwater said: “We’re staying on the ground but if we carry on the way we are then why not have the belief [to win the league]? It would go down in history surely.”
He let Mahrez’s long ball bounce before smashing it over Mignolet. After the game he revealed he had seen the keeper stray off his line on previous occasions and decided to try his luck.
‘Goal sums his season up’
Leicester midfielder Drinkwater told BBC Match of the Day: “His first goal was incredible. You think he’s going to square it but he hits it top corner. It sums his season up. He can turn an average ball into a great ball.”
Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri said: “Amazing. The first goal was unbelievable. Jamie is very fast and can create a lot but it was unbelievable how Mahrez found him and how he had the time to see the keeper out of the goal and score a fantastic goal.”
Reds look out of form
Liverpool, who are now eighth and 16 points off top, look a long way from the side who beat Manchester City 4-1 and Southampton 6-1 in November and December.
With Daniel Sturridge frequently injured and Christian Benteke out of favour, the Reds started with Roberto Firmino as their central forward but the Brazilian only had two efforts, one blocked and one off target.
When BBC Match of the Day’s Jonathan Pearce praised Liverpool’s work ethic to Reds boss Jurgen Klopp, the German replied: “It’s rare a journalist says something more positive than the manager.
“I’m not too fine with our game today. We could have played much better. We had a few shots where we could pass and a few passes where we could shoot. We created half chances but not real chances. Today would have been a good day to show we are ready for this. I need a few more seconds to calm down. I have to watch it again.”
What’s up next?
Leicester’s next game is their biggest of the season to date. They visit second-placed Manchester City on Saturday lunchtime, knowing they could either be knocked off top – or go six points clear.
“The team is in good condition,” said Ranieri. “Now it is important to recover the energy because we have to run a lot against Manchester City. We are free of pressure. The players have a good feeling.”
Liverpool are at home to second-from-bottom Sunderland.
The stats you need to know
Liverpool prevented the opposition scoring with their first shot on target for the first time in 2016 in the Premier League.
Mahrez and Vardy have combined for seven Premier League goals this season – the joint most with Ozil/Giroud and Ighalo/Deeney.
Vardy has 18 league goals for the season, only one fewer than Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez.
Leicester have 50 points, only five short of their all-time top-flight record total (55 in 1999-2000).
Liverpool have conceded 13 goals in their past six Premier League away games.
Manchester United kept in contention for a top-four Premier League place and gave manager Louis van Gaal a rare night of relaxation as Stoke City were outclassed at Old Trafford.
Van Gaal and his players were jeered after defeat by Southampton in their previous home game – but it was all a sharp contrast here as United, inspired by youngster Antony Martial, won at a canter.
Jesse Lingard headed in Cameron Borthwick-Jackson’s perfect delivery after 14 minutes to end a shocking sequence of 11 matches without a first-half goal at home stretching over a period of eight hours 40 minutes.
Martial scored the goal his performance merited with a fine curled finish shortly after before setting up the third for Wayne Rooney from close range eight minutes after the break.
It was a win United’s performance fully deserved and the victory margin could have been even greater, leaving them in fifth place, five points behind fourth-placed Arsenal.
As Manchester United have struggled through this colourless, painful season there has been one shaft of light offering real hope for the present and the future.
Anthony Martial’s £36.5m signing from Monaco, when he was only 19, in September was regarded as a gamble by Van Gaal.
On this night of rejuvenation at Old Trafford it looks even more like money well spent.
The wisdom is that the rangy youngster will end up playing as a central striker, but Van Gaal has used him regularly from wide positions and, stationed on the left flank here, he tortured Stoke’s defence and made former England defender Glen Johnson’s night a misery.
He showed all the pace and athleticism that will be an asset to United for years to come as he was a threat all night, showing wonderful technique and composure to curl in a right-foot shot for the second goal then showed calmness and vision to lay the third on a plate for Rooney.
It was his sixth goal and third assist in the league, with the promise of plenty more to come. He departed to a deserved standing ovation with 11 minutes left.
Some of United’s work in the transfer market since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson has been justifiably criticised – not a bit of it with Martial.
Relief at last for Van Gaal
Manchester United’s 64-year-old manager has been a besieged figure this season, seemingly facing a crisis and an uncertain future on a weekly basis, scrutinised once more on Monday when neighbours Manchester City announced the world’s most coveted coach, Pep Guardiola, would be joining them in the summer.
He received a subdued welcome as he made his way down the Old Trafford touchline to his technical area before kick-off, acknowledging a smattering of applause with a couple of waves.
Van Gaal was able to make the return journey at the final whistle with cheers ringing around Old Trafford after their most impressive performance in months, a display designed to support his theory that things will eventually get better.
It has been a good few days for Van Gaal, with a potentially hazardous FA Cup fourth-round trip to Derby County safely negotiated last Friday and now this convincing victory.
Old Trafford elated
When Lingard stooped to head in Borthwick-Jackson’s superb cross after 14 minutes, the roar that went around Old Trafford was tinged with relief and delight.
How United and Van Gaal needed that. The first groans of frustration had surfaced moments earlier when Chris Smalling drove into Stoke City’s half but lost momentum because of lack of movement from his team-mates – but the pressure valve was released by Lingard’s goal.
Old Trafford was in buoyant mood for the rest of game, United’s supporters able to sit back and enjoy their team exerting total control and playing with a fluency rarely seen this season.
Man of the match – Anthony Martial
What they said:
Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal: “I think we have played in the first half attacking- wise very good. In the second half we were more controlling and we didn’t give any chances away against a team like Stoke. That is remarkable because they always make it difficult.”
Stoke boss Mark Hughes: “We didn’t start in the right manner. We conceded early on, were too passive and for the first goal we didn’t get close enough to people. Avoiding going 1-0 down early on is what you talk about before coming to Old Trafford, and unfortunately we conceded another poor goal for the second.”
Manchester United travel to Chelsea on Sunday (16:00 kick-off), while Stoke host Everton on Saturday (15:00 GMT).
The stats you need to know:
Jesse Lingard scored Manchester United’s first first-half goal at Old Trafford since they netted one against Wolfsburg in the Champions League in September 2015
It was the first time since April 2015 against Manchester City that the Red Devils had scored twice in the opening 45 minutes of a Premier League game at home
Wayne Rooney scored his 99th Premier League goal at Old Trafford
Rooney scored and provided an assist at Old Trafford in a Premier League game for the first time since Boxing Day 2014 against Newcastle
A Hollywood A-lister has agreed to become the honorary president of a small Anglesey football club.
Naomi Watts said she was “very excited” to take on the role for Glantraeth FC, based in Malltraeth, which has a population of 400 people.
The English-born star of Mulholland Drive and King Kong spent time as a child on her grandparents’ farm nearby.
Glantraeth FC play in the third tier Welsh Alliance football league division one and get crowds of 40 people.
After former president Sir George Meyrick stood down last August, secretary Stan Strickland suggested Ms Watts as a replacement.
He sent a letter to her agent who is based on Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, and received a positive response on Monday night.
Mr Strickland said: “She spent three years of her childhood here and attended school in Llangefni before becoming a major film star.
“I just thought ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’.
“She has now got her publicist involved, so we could end up in the New York Times.”
Mr Strickland is expecting further correspondence with Ms Watts about her involvement over the coming days, but said her name will appear on the website, letterheads and match day programmes, while she will be provided with annual performance updates.