Sunday 25 February 2018

United dig out the points to continue bright start

Manchester United 2-0 Leicester City

Marouane Fellaini was on target Photo: Reuters
Marouane Fellaini was on target Photo: Reuters

Luke Edwards

It is always worth remembering that if August is your best month of the season, it is safe to assume it will have been a disappointing one by the time May arrives, but Manchester United could not have done any more than this so far.

Early days, perhaps, but heady ones all the same for Jose Mourinho's side, who made it three wins out of three as they go into the international break sitting top of the table.

Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku has a penalty saved Photo: Dave Thompson/PA Wire
Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku has a penalty saved Photo: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

This was not as eye-catching as the crushing 4-0 victories over West Ham United and Swansea City, but that ­arguably made it more impressive. This was an important box to tick given their recent failings at home.

Leicester City made them work ­incredibly hard, defending superbly and when Kasper Schmeichel saved Romelu Lukaku's penalty in the second half, this threatened to turn into another one of those exasperating days that sucked the life out of United's Premier League challenge last season.

United, though, have more strength in depth now. Lukaku had a game he will want to forget quickly, but Mourinho was able to send on Marcus Rashford.

Having won a corner, linking up well with Paul Pogba, the young England ­international was then in the right place to volley it in after Pogba had failed to connect with Henrikh Mkhitaryan's centre.

Manchester United's Paul Pogba (right) and Leicester City's Matty James battle for the ball Photo: Dave Thompson/PA Wire
Manchester United's Paul Pogba (right) and Leicester City's Matty James battle for the ball Photo: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

Relief and joy engulfed Old ­Trafford, although Mourinho's scream of ­delight was still caught on the pitch-side ­microphones. He knew what it meant.

Leicester's spirits were broken and another substitute, Marouane Fellaini, added a second, deflecting in Jesse ­Lingard's cross with his hip.

It brought a difficult game to a successful conclusion, although it is worth pointing out - as Mourinho did in his programme notes - that United also won their opening three games last term.

This is a good start, but that is all it is.

United began with a bounce, slicing through Leicester's backline with sharp, precise passing, the ball eventually ­making its way to the feet of Mkhitaryan. The Armenian made room for a shot, but his effort was well blocked by Harry Maguire, who will link up with the England squad this week.

It looked ominous for Leicester. Even if they are a team set up to contain and counter-attack, they were under almost constant pressure.

Lukaku should have been on his toes to capitalise on a missed clearance, but he at least kept the danger alive and, when Schmeichel could not hold on to his shot on the turn, Juan Mata tucked in the rebound only for an offside flag to be raised.

United had their foot on Leicester's throats and pushed down, Pogba almost steering a deep cross from ­Anthony ­Martial into the far corner before Schmeichel was at full stretch to tip away a clever curling effort from Mata.

Shinji Okazaki's weak shot from distance did at least require a save from David De Gea, although Pogba caught a shot from a similar distance far more sweetly, Schmeichel relieved to see it beat both him and the far post.

Pogba repeatedly tried to find his range from outside the area, although he failed to get any of them on target. It was starting to get a little worrying.

These were the sort of games United repeatedly failed to win last season, which is why they spent £75million on Lukaku. One of the Belgium international's strengths at Everton was that he repeatedly scored against the supposedly smaller clubs, the same teams United had developed a nasty habit of struggling to break down.

United's new No 9, though, was quiet, well-marked by Maguire and his centre-back colleague Wes Morgan, even though he was supposed to make a difference against packed defences like this.

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