After all that was said and done in the build-up to this new season, it begins with two players who have had their issues with Jose Mourinho earning him and Manchester United a much-needed win.
The problems that have circled around this club and dominated the back pages all summer remain. This victory over Leicester City, courtesy of an early Paul Pogba penalty and a late Luke Shaw strike, does nothing to address them.
It does, however, suggest they can be worked through. Mourinho’s squad, for all his complaints, will still be among the strongest to compete in this year’s Premier League. There will be difficult evenings and afternoons – this first of the campaign was particularly challenging at times. Yet the quality is there to overcome them.
Claude Puel’s Leicester will rue a first half when they were the better, more proactive side. The visitors deserved an equaliser in that period for their efforts but were frustrated by David de Gea, who produced one outstanding save to deny James Maddison.
A goal eventually came through Jamie Vardy but only after Shaw had doubled United’s advantage with his first career goal. Pogba, United’s opening scorer, will look back on this win with fondness too. Mourinho named him captain for the evening.
United’s first shot of the new season produced their first penalty and, ultimately, their first goal.
Wes Morgan blocked Alexis Sanchez’s attempt, only for Daniel Amartey to needlessly control the loose, deflected rebound with his upper arm. While Amartey protested in vain, United’s captain for the evening picked up the ball.
Pogba’s protracted, stuttering run-up on the spot-kick tempted fate, but fate could not take him up on the offer. Kasper Schmeichel saved a penalty at the same end of this ground last season but could not reach Pogba’s clean, confident strike.
Over the minutes that followed, Old Trafford’s J and K stands – the designated ‘singing section’ – chanted their manager’s name. Mourinho acknowledged the gesture with a wave but grew increasingly tetchy as Leicester grew into the game.
The United manager hid a notepad behind some water bottles on the edge of technical area throughout, and knelt down to scribble furiously after Demarai Gray’s dink over the top allowed Kelechi Iheanacho to drag a shot across the face of goal.
Leicester were particularly enjoying themselves against Matteo Darmian, the right-back who wishes to return to Italy before the end of the month. This performance will not attract potential suitors.
And, like on so many occasions last season, United went into the break ahead thanks mainly to David de Gea.
Leicester’s James Maddison, a summer recruit from Norwich City, deserved to score an equaliser for an influential performance, but his attempt on the half-turn was brilliantly saved one-handed by De Gea.
After the interval, however, Maddison faded a touch and became needlessly embroiled in spats with fellow new boy Fred. Both received yellow cards for their cattiness. With their talisman distracted, Leicester lacked the verve and imminent threat of the first half.
Puel elected to replace Maddison with Vardy on the hour mark in an attempt to end his side’s long spell without a shot on goal. United, for their part, had not threatened much at all but Juan Mata soon fired narrowly wide after Sanchez’s neat work through midfield.
Vardy lacks Maddison’s guile but has energy and intent. That much was clear to Luke Shaw, who suddenly found himself robbed of the ball by the substitute deep in his own half. Vardy centred, found Gray but De Gea was equal to the close-range effort.
Romelu Lukaku replaced an ineffective and potentially injured Marcus Rashford, who had struggled with a hamstring issue since the early stages. Lukaku should, perhaps, have settled it when found by Sanchez in the closing stages, but his effort deflected off Schmeichel’s underside and looped over the crossbar.
What Lukaku could not do, Shaw could. Having latched onto Mata’s ball out to the left, he beat Ricardo somewhat fortunately before hooking an effort past Schmeichel. Mourinho, so often a critic of Shaw’s, celebrated vigorously, fists clenched, among his backroom staff.
The scares of the first half were revisited in stoppage time, with Vardy nodding home at close range after a cross came back off the post. Leicester went in search of another but, as when on top in the first half, an equaliser eluded them.
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