Wednesday 23 October 2019

Solskjaer's spot of bother finally ended

Manchester United 1-0 Leicester City

Fans sang Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's name at end. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Fans sang Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's name at end. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

Daniel Taylor

The good news for Manchester United is that they have rediscovered their winning habit. They won this game despite missing a number of key players with injury and, for that alone, Ole Gunnar Solskjær can probably accept the fact their performance never got any higher than six out of ten - lots of huffing and puffing, but none of the old panache.

Leicester had enough of the ball to believe they ought to have extended United's winless sequence to four matches. However, Solskjær and his players can reflect on a decent afternoon's work bearing in mind Leicester have ambitions of their own to break into the Premier League's top four this season.

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Ricardo Pereira of Leicester City is challenged by Manchester United's Fred. Photo: Gary Prior/Getty Images
Ricardo Pereira of Leicester City is challenged by Manchester United's Fred. Photo: Gary Prior/Getty Images

Marcus Rashford's seventh-minute penalty was the game's decisive moment and, in particular, it must have been a satisfying day for Harry Maguire given the Leicester supporters, for reasons not particularly clear, spent large parts of the afternoon targeting their former player with a very unflattering chant. Maguire played well, winning his personal battle with Jamie Vardy, on an afternoon when United started with great energy before fading around the 20-minute mark and never looking so sharp again.

Solskjær was certainly entitled to feel happy about the commitment of his team - encapsulated by Scott McTominay's hard but fair challenge on Ben Chilwell in the first half - and it was certainly one of Andreas Pereira's better games for the club.

Daniel James showed some nice touches and Rashford was always a difficult opponent. Solskjær's team might have reminded us of their flaws at times but, if nothing else, nobody could doubt their determination to make it a happier season than the last one.

They also demonstrated that they have not completely forgotten the art of taking a penalty kick. With Paul Pogba missing because of an ankle injury, at least this time there was no debate about who should take it. Both players had missed one in United's opening four league fixtures and, in those circumstances, Rashford could probably have been forgiven if he felt slightly apprehensive approaching the ball.

Leicester's Demarai Gray (left) vies with Manchester United's Harry Maguire. Photo: OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images
Leicester's Demarai Gray (left) vies with Manchester United's Harry Maguire. Photo: OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images

He did not give that impression, though, steering his kick to Kasper Schmeichel's left as the goalkeeper shaped to go the other way.

Anthony Martial's absence meant Rashford had been given a role through the middle. It is the position Gareth Southgate says does not bring out the best in the player but, while there may be something in that argument, it was also Rashford's quickness to the ball that led to the penalty. Caglar Soyuncu did not seem to realise how speedily his opponent was going to get across to the ball and, as soon as Rashford got there ahead of him, it was always likely the attacking player would go over the defender's trailing foot. The VAR replays confirmed Soyuncu had clipped him and Pereira deserves a mention for the sliding tackle on Hamza Choudury that turned the ball into the penalty area.

By the time of the penalty, Schmeichel had already denied Pereira with a scrambling save to keep out a free-kick. James Maddison had threatened to punish United for some dithering defending in the opening exchanges but it took a while before Leicester, having gone behind, started to attack again with the potency that might have been expected. When they did, however, it must have been startling for the United crowd to see how quickly their own players lost momentum. Chilwell's volley brought a flying save from David de Gea and there was enough danger for the home team to realise a difficult second half lay ahead.

Sure enough, Leicester started brightly but, for all their possession, there was not one occasion when they found a pass to release Jamie Vardy. De Gea's better saves actually came in the opening half. The expected late onslaught never materialised and Rashford was close to settling the match with a curling free-kick that struck the angle of the crossbar and post. Tahith Chong's introduction brought some energy to the United attack and the game concluded with the Stretford End singing Solskjær's name.

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