Manchester United maintain 100% start but have to battle for victory over Leicester City

Manchester United 2 Leicester City 0: Jose Mourinho's substitutions helped to find a breakthrough against Craig Shakespeare's solid Foxes

Mark Critchley
Old Trafford
Saturday 26 August 2017 20:33
Manchester United maintained their perfect start to the Premier League season
Manchester United maintained their perfect start to the Premier League season

Last season, Manchester United may well have drawn this game. Instead, they are three points better off, their 100 per cent record remains intact and as we head into the September international break, they will be the Premier League's early pace-setters.

This victory over a limited but organised Leicester City did not come easily though, and when the excellent Kasper Schmeichel denied Romelu Lukaku from the penalty spot at the start of the second half, those who saw the points shared on 10 occasions at Old Trafford last season could feel a case of déjà vu coming on.

The breakthrough came just as Jose Mourinho’s side appeared to be running short on inspiration. It was a set-piece and the quick reactions of substitute Marcus Rashford which eventually edged them in front, with the teenager’s finishing first-time direct from Henrikh Mkhitaryan corner. His fellow substitutes, Jesse Lingard and Marouane Fellaini, combined to add the second, which the latter bundled home from an offside position.

This was a controlled display but the verve in United’s play seen during the rout of West Ham United was missing, as was the shift in gear displayed at Swansea City last Saturday. Lukaku, in particular, had something of an off day. Yet after each of those opening 4-0 victories, Mourinho reminded reporters of how hard it would be to maintain such a level of performance. It would be more important to simply keep winning. United did just that, in a year when their ability to put deep-lying teams away has been doubted.

Backed by a vocal, abrasive away end, Leicester made it clear from the start that United would not have it all their own way. Daley Blind’s place at left-back is probably the most vulnerable of any in Mourinho’s first-choice starting line-up and Riyad Mahrez had some initial joy on that flank. Jamie Vardy assumed his usual position, stalking on the shoulder of the last defender, but Eric Bailly and Phil Jones successfully cut him off in the opening exchanges.

The hosts gradually began to assume control and fashion clear-cut chances. After Leicester struggled to clear a Paul Pogba cross, Lukaku muscled Christian Fuchs off the ball in the area and turned to shoot. Schmeichel could only parry the ball into Mata’s path and the Spaniard converted from close range, only then to be flagged offside. Mata believed the call was incorrect and television replays appeared to vindicate him.

Not to be deterred, United pressed on and enjoyed a flurry of chances in quick succession. The last and best of them fell to Mata, still smarting from his disallowed effort, but he was to be frustrated again when a curling effort that looked destined to break the deadlock was instead spectacularly clawed out of the air by Schmeichel and pushed to safety.

United sensed an opening now and their visitors’ brief moments of promise were a mere memory, but after those few frantic minutes, Leicester successfully limited Mourinho’s side. Pogba peppered Schmeichel’s goal with several efforts from range but not one of them beat the Dane. They would be United’s best opportunities until the second-half penalty.

Lukaku missed a penalty but it wasn't to matter 

When it came, it was awarded for a handball against Danny Simpson but the Leicester full-back had a case to argue. The deflection off his right arm hardly seemed deliberate and Anthony Martial’s cross was struck at close quarters, but referee Michael Oliver nonetheless pointed to the spot. Lukaku, hoping to become the first United player to score in his first three Premier League appearances, took the ball confidently but he was denied by a two-handed stop that offered no hope of a rebound. Old Trafford used to enjoy spectacular saves by a goalkeeper with the surname Schmeichel. This one, not so much.

The away end, of course, was delighted and Mahrez soon tried to give them more to crow about. The Algerian showed neat feet to slip inside the United penalty area on the hour mark and found space for a near post shot. De Gea’s legs turned the effort away but it was a clear reminder of Leicester’s threat on the break.

Rashford climbed off the bench to grab the opening goal 

Indeed, at the stage, Craig Shakespeare would have been hopeful of taking a point or more against his side’s increasingly frustrated opponents. Then Rashford struck and Leicester’s good work was undone. The finish was impressive, taken first-time despite the youngster’s view of the ball being obstructed by Bailly’s decoy run.

From there, United felt like certain victors but needed a second to make sure. It came after Lingard was played through by a clever pass from Rashford. The winger stood up Leicester captain Wes Morgan, waited for the right moment and then slipped a cross in for Fellaini, who converted. The Belgian appeared to be stood beyond Leicester’s last man but it stood and United’s return to the top of the table was assured.

Manchester United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Jones, Blind; Pogba, Matic; Mata (Rashford 67), Mkhitaryan (Fellaini 74), Martial (Lingard 76); Lukaku.

Substitutes not used: Romero, Smalling, Herrera, Darmian.

Leicester City (4-4-2): Schmeichel; Simpson, Morgan, Maguire, Fuchs; Mahrez, Ndidi, James, Albrighton (King 60); Okazaki (Gray 60), Vardy (Slimani 76).

Substitutes not used: Hamer, Chilwell, Iheanacho, Amartey.

Referee: Michael Oliver (Durham)

Attendance: 75,201

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