Vishakh’s latest “The Manchester Musings” column.
After a tough week for all at Manchester United, all eyes were on Old Trafford for Saturday’s early kickoff against Leicester.
This was shaping up as a tough fixture as the two teams had drawn both games last year (the second game which ended up as the point which won Leicester the title).
Injuries also meant that the PFA player of the year, Riyad Mahrez, would be up against a second-choice left-back, with the added threat of £30 million man Islam Slimani dovetailing with Jamie Vardy in a 4-4-2.
Manchester United took the big (and required) step of leaving Wayne Rooney on the bench – however Juan Mata was preferred as the number 10 in a 4-2-3-1.
Marcus Rashford started on the left hand side of midfield, while Jesse Lingard started on the right. Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera formed the double pivot, with the latter acting as the ‘holding’ midfielder.
The start was tentative – Old Trafford was unusually quiet, and Leicester settled down well on the ball.
A couple of cross-field balls left United exposed, and better quality in the final third could well have led to a Leicester goal.
Around the 22nd minute, in one of their rare forays forward, United won a corner, and from that the game changed.
With Rooney benched, Daley Blind stepped up to the corner flag, and whipped in a terrific ball into the six yard box. Chris Smalling (wearing the captain’s armband) lost Robert Huth, and powered in a header down to Zieler’s left and into the net.
This was the first time United had scored a corner in over a year – against the same opponent incidentally.
After that, the Red Devils were rampant.
Wave after wave attacked the Leicester goal – two notable chances being an old-school counter attack that Marcus Rashford snatched at and shot wide after great work by Ibrahimovic, and the second being a stunning passing move which led to Pogba chipping the ball into the Swedish striker’s path.
Ibrahimovic chested the ball and spun in the same move, but blazed the ball into the stands.
One got the feeling that United needed the second to kill the game, and it duly came. A move that involved all outfield players culminated in a three touch move – Mata clipping the ball to Pogba, who used the outside of his foot to find Lingard, to passed it around the corner to Mata who had continued his run.
The number 10 cut across the ball and fired into the far corner.
Very soon after, the third and fourth goals arrive.
The third came from a well-worked corner, where Blind found Mata in the box (Daniel Amartey switching off), and Mata squared the ball for Rashford to score his third in three appearances.
It was poor marking again from Leicester, and United were running rampant at 3-0 up in 40 mins.
It soon got worse.
Another Daley Blind corner found Paul Pogba in the box, who outmuscled Fuchs to head the ball into the net and get his United tally off the mark. It was a deserved goal for the world’s most expensive player.
United went into halftime 4-0 up, the first time they had done so in 15 years.
The second half naturally saw a more cautious United, giving Leicester more time and space on the ball.
Ahead of a Champions League tie on Tuesday, Claudio Ranieri took off Mahrez/Vardy and sent on Demarai Gray and Andy King.
Gray looked very impressive, and without any pressure, really put himself in contention for a starting berth against Porto. He scored a wonderful goal, cutting in from 20 yards and firing the ball into the top corner past David De Gea.
Leicester might have felt they could have a sniff, but this was soon snuffed out by United who just took care to control possession and work the ball around.
The last 20 minutes passed by without much incident, Ibrahimovic trying his best to get on the scoresheet but it didn’t happen for him on the day.
A comfortable and dominant victory for United, and a good way to respond to a lot of the critics.
- Paul Pogba was given Man of the Match by the commentators, and he did have a strong game. He was involved everywhere, but he never tried too hard to influence play (a failing in previous games). He looks to be settling in more and more, and with the monkey off his back with the first goal, fans will be looking forward to see him do more and more. Watch out for the eventual 30-yard screamer that will fly into the net (its coming…)
- While Pogba was MotM, Daley Blind will have a strong case. Not the quickest of players by any means, the way he dealt with Mahrez was superb (leading to Mahrez being subbed at HT). His corner delivery was also fantastic, and it is a testament to his quality that three goals came from that corner side.
- Ander Herrera was also a strong contender for the award, sitting in front of the back 4. The Spaniard shielded the defence well, winning a lot of interceptions, and was largely responsible for setting the tempo of play with controlled and calm distribution.
- Mourinho made a point that Ibrahimovic needed pace around him – and Lingard/Rashford definitely provided that. The two Mancunians have a terrific understanding between them, and they seem to have developed a good understanding with the Swede as well.
- The final note, as usual, rests with United’s club captain who was benched. It is no secret that his abilities have been waning for the past few years, and it might actually be beneficial for him to be a squad member. He definitely has a lot to offer, but he should not be playing every game. Club legends like Scholes/Giggs have all played this role towards the end of their careers, and it looks like that is the fate that will befall Rooney though. He will also definitely have something to contribute at some point this season.
Written by Vishakh Chandrasekhar
Follow Vishakh on Twitter @VishC24
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