Manchester United continued their perfect start to the season and with a 2-0 win over Leicester City at Old Trafford
The Red Devils maintained their firm grip on top spot in the Premier League, producing yet another convincing performance to head into the international break with maximum points out of nine at the start of the season.
Jose Mourinho’s men had to bide their time against an organized and driven Leicester defence that gave little space to their hosts for more than an hour. Manchester United’s frustrations grew even further when Kasper Schmeichel saved Romelu Lukaku’s penalty at the start of the second half.
No. 1⃣ in the @PremierLeague
Good times 😎 pic.twitter.com/Fsb6DEfTvv
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) August 26, 2017
However, the deadlock was finally broken in the 70th minute as Marcus Rashford caught the visiting defenders sleeping to convert from Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s corner. The match was then put beyond any doubt when Marouane Fellaini doubled the hosts’ lead by deflecting Jesse Lingard’s shot.
Manchester United now have three wins in three, scoring ten goals while conceding none, and have created a convenient two-point cushion heading into the international break. The Hard Tackle now takes a closer look at the talking points that emerged from the hard-fought win for the Red Devils.
Super Subs Do The Work For Mourinho Yet Again
The season couldn’t have begun any better for Manchester United, with three wins in three and ten goals into the back of the net. But, more impressively, a theme is starting to emerge when it comes to their goalscoring prowess – a theme that highlights their strength in depth.
Jose Mourinho has been spot on with his substitution thus far this season, with the Red Devils suddenly turning on the style up a notch towards the climactic end of matches, when three men are unleashed from the bench.
Manchester United were 1-0 up in their season opener against West Ham United when, after sending Anthony Martial and Marouane Fellaini on they grabbed three goals in quick succession. It was more of the same against Swansea last week, when the duo changed the face of the game once again.
Mourinho brings on Rashford, Lingard and Fellaini.
— United Xtra (@utdxtra) August 26, 2017
This time around though, Fellaini, alongside Marcus Rashford clinched the match for the hosts. The duo, along with Jesse Lingard, took advantage of the tiring Leicester defence to grab two easy goals within 13 minutes.
Bear in mind that the indefatigable Ander Herrera, as well as playmaking force Michael Carrick are yet to be utilised this season. With such options on his bench, Mourinho has a lot of quality at his disposal. Perhaps, the Manchester United boss has found the missing link to finally clinch the Premier League title for the Red Devils this season.
Another Schmeichel Masterclass At Old Trafford
Old Trafford, for several illustrious years, bore witness to a goalkeeping powerhouse – Peter Schmeichel – that often let little past him. And on Saturday, his son, Kasper stood true to his father’s legacy, producing a strong-willed performance that kept the hosts frustrated for large parts of the match.
In fact, if not for the Danish goalkeeper, the scoreline could have borne a similar look for Manchester United as their first two games. Called into action early on in the match, Schmeichel stood tall and strong.
1 – Kasper Schmeichel (1) has now saved more Premier League penalties at Old Trafford than Peter Schmeichel (0). Eclipsed. pic.twitter.com/ILSOPPPQBi
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 26, 2017
But, it was in the 20th minute when he showed that it will be a game of patience for Manchester United on the evening. Schmeichel pulled off an acrobatic save that reminded the home fans of their own custodian at the other end and, of course, Peter Schmeichel all those years back.
The 30-year-old then kept his side in the game early on in the second half as he made a powerful, albeit relatively simpler, save to deny Romelu Lukaku from the spot. The shot stopper could have perhaps done a little better for Rashford’s goal.
But, all in all, it was Schmeichel who should be thanked in large part for keeping Craig Shakespeare’s men in the match for 70 minutes.
The Martial Matter
Jose Mourinho finally responded to the Manchester United fans’ cries, making their wishes come true on Saturday as he finally handed Anthony Martial the long awaited start, after the Frenchman had turned in two eventful cameos against West Ham and Swansea.
The player has endured a tough time under Jose Mourinho thus far, struggling during the Portuguese’s debut campaign at Old Trafford last season to become a bit-part player. The Manchester United boss has though, emphasised on many occasions that he still has faith in the talented youngster.
Anthony Martial created more chances (4) than any other player on the pitch in the first half at Old Trafford.
Causing a few problems. 💨 pic.twitter.com/c1ZiqChyld
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 26, 2017
While his first two performances did provide promising signs, his outing on Saturday showed that he is perhaps turning a corner at Manchester United. Often chastised for his lack of work rate, Martial put a shift in, backing up Daley Blind whenever Leicester broke through on the counter.
Up front, he provided the width and pace on the left flank, while often switching positions with Mata and Mkhitaryan to create space for Paul Pogba to exploit. And while he may not have had a goal to show for his efforts, he provided enough signs to show that there’s only one way for him at Manchester United and that is up.
The Frenchman is unlikely to start week in week out, and the early signs point towards a regular rotation between him and Marcus Rashford on the left side of attack. But in doing so, Jose Mourinho may have found a way to keep both players happy and get the best out of them.
Positives and Negatives For The Foxes
For a good seventy minutes, the visitors kept the relentless Manchester United attack at bay, erecting the “Blue Wall” in front of Kasper Schmeichel that gave very little away. Craig Shakespeare had clearly done his homework, and it showed in the performance.
The compact defensive lines denied Mkhitaryan and Mata to thread through passes through the middle for Lukaku to exploit, often leaving Manchester United with no choice but to attack with long balls. The strategy was right in their ball park as Harry Maguire and Wes Morgan used their height to good effect to clear balls away with ease.
Harry Maguire’s game by numbers vs Man Utd:
100% take-ons completed
5 aerial duels won
Continues to impress. pic.twitter.com/AzLGQYQbTw
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 26, 2017
It was Maguire, in particular, who showcased his abilities in yet another impressive outing. The summer arrival, who has recently earned his first England call-up, was a rock at the back for the Foxes, not allowing Lukaku free space to strut his stuff, and keeping things tight with his organisational abilities.
But while defence may “win you titles”, you do need a clinical attack to “win matches”, and that’s where Shakespeare’s men faltered. Jamie Vardy and Shinji Okazaki, beyond their superb work rate going back, offered little up front, and were largely ineffective.
Meanwhile Riyad Mahrez did produce a few moments of brilliance to give Manchester United defenders some jittery moments, but he had very little end product to show for it. In fact, the only time the David de Gea was actually tested was in the dying moments of the match when Andy King forced him into a solid save.
So while Shakespeare looks to be doing away with the chinks in his side’s defence, his attack needs to add a lot of bite to it to have any chance of finishing in the Top 10 and perhaps, even challenging for a place in Europe next season.
Defensive Solidity – Devilish At The Back Too
Manchester United attackers are earning a lot of plaudits for their attacking pursuits, and deservedly so. Jose Mourinho’s men have often looked untouchable in the final third and on early signs, his team seems to be the most potent attacking side in the Premier League this season.
But, that should not take away the credit that his defensive players should receive as well. Nemanja Matic has been raved about quite extensively thus far, with the Serbian midfielder giving the front five the freedom to attack without worrying much about defensive workload.
Phil Jones game by numbers vs. Leicester:
96% pass accuracy
2 aerial duels won
1 clean sheet
0 fouls committed pic.twitter.com/ee20PdxHnF
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 26, 2017
But, the Manchester United back-four stood as tall as any other player in Mourinho’s unit, having been truly tested for the first time this season. The central defensive pairing of Phil Jones and Eric Bailly kept Jamie Vardy and Shinji Okazaki quiet for the most part.
Meanwhile, Antonio Valencia snuffed out any danger that Marc Albrighton or Demarai Gray could provide. Daley Blind gave a good account of himself against the tricky customer that is Riyad Mahrez, with a little help from Phil Jones.
So while Mourinho looks to have added the attacking verve that his side lacked last season, he has done so without sacrificing the solidity in defence. Should they stay fit for the large parts this defence could well set Manchester United up to win their 21st league title at last.