Manchester United hosted the Premier League Champions on Saturday in uncertain circumstances. Having lost the first three games of the month, United swept aside Northampton Town in the EFL Cup with ease. The win over the League 1 team did not reignite the optimism of United fans however, as the performance was not completely satisfying with a number of players playing below the standards Mourinho sets.
The visit of the potentially deadly Leicester City was not the ideal fixture for United to bounce back as they were trying to pull themselves out of their own slump. Leicester have underperformed so far this campaign, potentially connected to a hangover from their League triumph last season, with losses to Hull, Arsenal and Liverpool. The Foxes were out at Old Trafford to prove that their unbelievable achievement last season was not just a one off. Unfortunately for the travelling fans, United seemed to find their rhythm at just the right moment.
The criticism around Rooney’s performances have ramped up in recent weeks, with the United faithful unhappy with his consistent inclusion when performances have not been up to scratch. Against Northampton, Rooney looked very poor, missing three decent opportunities to score past the League 1 opponents when played as a central striker. Seeing as Mourinho had stated before the match that Rooney’s role was “to get goals”, many predicted that Rooney was to be dropped against Leicester, and they were right.
Smalling was named United captain, as Rooney took a seat on the bench, in the Red’s most impressive display of the season, defeating the Champions 4-1. The fluid and interchangeable attack of Rashford, Ibrahimović, Mata and Lingard was the most threatening United have looked all season. It is important to note that three of United four goals came from corners, something which United have been quite simply rubbish at for the previous three seasons. The only real downside from the game was not keeping a clean sheet, however, that being said, Grey’s unbelievable strike was applauded by United and Leicester fans alike. A step in the right direction by Mourinho and his players as far as the fans are concerned.
De Gea: 7
Could do nothing about Demarai Grey’s wonderful strike and pulled off a brilliant save to stop the youngster doubling his tally. Made a few very simple saves and distributed the ball reasonably well. The only reason the Spaniard does not have a higher rating is because he simply was not tested enough, something which falls to the good work of the players in front of him.
A very solid game for the Ecuadorian, looking much more at home at right back than he has for the last few weeks. Worked really hard to get up and support attacks as well as keeping Albrighton reasonably quiet on the right hand side. Struggled to deal with Grey’s pace in the second half and did not meander forward as often as the game was already comfortably in United’s hands.
Another remarkable display from the newest defender at United. Was tasked with dealing with Vardy and did his job so perfectly that the star striker was removed by Ranieri at half time for not being involved enough in the game. Superious in the air and strong in the tackle, Bailly has all the physical attributes to become a world class central defender. There were moments when Bailly misjudged Leicester moves, but his pace and strength allows him to recover in next to no time.
Looked more like the Smalling who very nearly won Manchester United’s Player of the Year award last season. The makeshift skipper battled the physical Slimani and did not lose out once. While not as imperious as Bailly, he looked very comfortable dealing with Leicester’s threat and snuffed out attacks with ease, especially in the second half. The Foxes made it too easy for Smalling to open the scoring, allowing him an uncontested jump from a corner which the English international seized upon with an emphatic header.
One of United’s star performers. Remember when Blind was rumoured to leave United in the summer because he was not a “Mourinho player”? How silly those rumours look now. Blind has been one of United’s most consistent performers so far this season and had a flawless game against Leicester. Won more tackles than any other United player and kept last year’s PFA Player of the Year so quiet that he, like Vardy, was hauled off at half time for being so anonymous. The Dutchman’s intelligence allows him to excel in so many positions, so while Blind is not a wing back like Luke Shaw, he managed to turn his position into one of the most influential playmaking areas of the pitch, linking up with Pogba, Herrera and Rashford effectively. Put two brilliant deliveries from corners into the box for Smalling and Pogba to nod home and set up Rashford’s goal with a smart low ball into Mata.
Another brilliant performance from the Spaniard who many predicted would flourish under Mourinho. Played a very similar role to Carrick against Northampton, shielding the defence and restarting attacks, only with much more dynamism than the 35 year old. Herrera’s high-tempo pass-and-move style gives the team a much more urgent impetus in attack. The gap between Leicester’s midfielders and forwards was where the Spaniard sat, intercepting passes and showing impressive distribution from the base of the midfield. Ran tirelessly throughout the match and, with this display, may have displaced Fellaini from the starting eleven for good.
While not as audacious a performance as his debut against Southampton, Pogba still managed to run the show with Herrera. Completed more passes than anyone else on the pitch and showed that his distribution is first class, finding passes that the average player would not see. His dink over Leicester’s defence for Zlatan’s chest-and-volley effort was a particular highlight. He played a similarly clever chipped pass to Lingard who, in turn, flicked the ball to Mata for United’s second. After testing the keeper from range with a superb curling effort, it seems only a matter of time until Pogba finds the net with a rocket from outside the box.
What the United academy product lacks in technical ability, he makes up for in pure hard graft. Adds real pace to a team which does sorely lack runners when neither Lingard nor Rashford are on the pitch. Showed good awareness to assist Mata’s goal and stopped Fuchs rampaging up the pitch as the Austrian is known to do.
Added real guile and class to United’s attacking movement. Seems to have a telepathic connection with Herrera, consistently linking up with his Spanish teammate for quick, short passes. Took his goal with a sweet connection which left the keeper helpless and showed great awareness to make himself available to Blind for United’s third goal.
The youngster’s pace, direct running and subtle rotation with Ibrahimović and Lingard gave Leicester’s defence a torrid time, constantly pulling them out of shape. I would say that he will never score an easier goal than his finish from United’s well worked corner routine, but his finish against Northampton midweek was similarly only a yard out from an open net.
Despite not scoring a goal or getting an assist, this was the big Swede’s most prominent display. While often isolated when playing with Rooney, Zlatan was the centrepiece of almost all of United’s moves, linking up well with Mata and Pogba and constantly playing through balls to the pacey Rashford and Lingard. Would have scored an impressive volley on another day but can be very pleased with his performance.
Came on to shore up United’s midfield in the late stages of the second half. Added calmness to an already solid team performance.
When starting his warm up by jogging past the Stretford End, the United faithful gave the skipper a standing ovation and sung his chants with real heart. While Rooney may not be the same player he was five years ago, which frustrates most, he will always have the respect of the Old Trafford crowd for his years of incredible service. Did not get enough time on the pitch to get involved in the result.
Was brought on to replace Mata’s tired legs and help sure up the result. No real impact in the five minutes he was on the pitch.
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