Minimal summer signings but Pogba and Shaw give Mourinho a reason to smile
Manchester United up and running with a 2-1 win over Leicester
Paul Pogba and Luke Shaw inspired Manchester United to an opening-day victory as they ignored background noise and their deadline-day frustration to overcome Leicester.
A summer of discontent at Old Trafford appeared to come to a head on Thursday as the transfer window ended without the reinforcements their manager had so publicly declared a priority.
Jose Mourinho’s relationship with his players has also come under scrutiny, but any such tension was forgotten as Pogba and Shaw – a duo that have endured ups and downs with the United boss – secured a 2-1 win against Leicester.
Victory in the Premier League opener was a much-needed shot in the arm after weeks of doom and gloom, with summer target Harry Maguire’s inclusion in the Foxes’ line-up serving as a reminder of what they missed.
But for all that could have been this summer, Mourinho certainly has the talent at his disposal to make this a successful season, especially if Pogba can replicate Friday night’s display.
Showing few signs of rust despite only returning to training this week, the World Cup winner, wearing the captain’s armband, impressed in possession and without it, leading by example and keeping his cool from the spot.
United had several chances to extend their lead against a Leicester side that called David De Gea into action more often that Mourinho would like.
But the manager’s overriding emotion will be delight after the oft-criticised Shaw directed home his first goal for the club to put the result out of reach, despite substitute Jamie Vardy pulling one back in stoppage-time.
Mourinho lent heavily on those that served him well during a disrupted pre-season at Old Trafford, but such options are no slouches and it showed after 77 seconds when Shaw fed Alexis Sanchez to get away a shot handled by Daniel Amartey.
Referee Andre Marriner pointed to the spot with none of the hesitation shown in Pogba’s run up the spot-kick. The shuffling lead up may well become a meme, but a superb finish past Kasper Schmeichel justified it.
Leicester looked startled by United’s early intensity but began to fell their way into the match as debutant James Maddison impressed and their wide men made in-roads.
Demarai Gray clipped in a smart ball that Kelechi Iheanacho followed with a strike just across the face of goal, before a fierce Maddison shot was denied by De Gea.
City were making United rock, yet the hosts held firm and ended the half well.
Andreas Pereira, making his first United appearance since February 2016, looked sharp in midfield as did Pogba, who saw a long-range shot denied before Shaw’s tried his luck.
Matteo Darmian, hoping for a return to Italy before the end of the month, tested Schmeichel at the near post early into a second half that United started with bundles of possession but few clear-cut chances.
Their best chance for a stretch came when skipper Pogba threaded through Sanchez, whose laid off for Juan Mata to get away a shot that was deflected just wide.
But it was far from one-way traffic. Eric Bailly did superbly to get back to deny Iheanacho and substitute Vardy bundled Shaw off the ball to send in a cross that Gray would have flicked home had De Gea reacted well.
"In my career so far, it’s probably the best feeling I’ve had. Honestly, the best feeling to date was today."— Manchester United (@ManUtd) August 10, 2018
🎉 We couldn't be happier for you, Luke! pic.twitter.com/vv7WgfbxFb
United were not to be denied, though, even after substitute Romelu Lukaku saw a low attempt stopped by Schmeichel, and it was Shaw, who has endured such a rough ride from Mourinho, who was the unlikely hero.
With seven minutes remaining, he flicked the ball around Leicester debutant Pereira before sending a low left-footed strike home in front of a rocking Stretford End.
Vardy pulled one back in stoppage time after Ricardo Pereira’s cross came back off the post.