Constructing a gulf with the past: Man United edge out Leicester in a match they wouldn’t have won last season

Match Summary

Substitutes Marcus Rashford and Marouane Fellaini scored to maintain Manchester United’s 100 per cent start and spare Romelu Lukaku’s blushes against Leicester.

Jose Mourinho’s men made it three wins from three at the start of the new Premier League campaign as second-half replacements Rashford and Fellaini made goal-scoring contributions shortly after coming on in a 2-0 success.

United had cruised to 4-0 wins over West Ham and Swansea in their opening two contests but the champions from two seasons ago were more than obdurate opponents and their goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel saved a Lukaku penalty eight minutes after the interval.

Drowning in Déjà vu

Much of the first two-third of the match must have haunted Mourinho. A repeat of last season’s terrors, he witnessed United create attack after attack only to find the sheet still showing a zero in the team’s goals column. Not that there weren’t controversies – Mata was marginally ruled as offside when he scored and Lukaku’s first penalty in red colours left him egg-faced with a brilliant save from Kasper Schmiechel as he kept his father’s former team out, at least for the time being. It was an exceptional display by him as he earlier denied Mata with his hawk-like reflexes. That had been a crucial factor in the Foxes’ title run from 2015-16 and it was on display again as United starting resorting to long balls, with Paul Pogba looking the only threat forcing the keeper into a good save with an excellent shot from distance.

On the other hand, a fairly toothless attack ensured that United never felt the pressure of conceding. Vardy and co never looked likely to score, and the Leicester defence’s ability to fortify themselves was the only thing keeping both times level.

Looking Forward in Anger

Mourinho playing his substitute card led to a change in the scoreline. Marcus Rashford left a complacent defence a goal down as he finally found the net for the first time this season, smashing the ball just out of reach of Schmeichel’s stretching hands. Dropped to the bench for this match after starting the last two, he had a point to prove and did so with forceful anger channelled into a scorching shot. Not that Leciester helped themselves with some uncharacteristically shocking marking, as they seemed to have believed that Rashford’s poor finishing will continue into this match.

Showing the new ferociousness of the Red half of Manchester, a defence still reeling from the breakthrough goal found itself another goal down via Fellani’s deflection of Lingard’s searching shot. Another substitute. Another goal.

A late six yard shot by Islam Slimani earned David DeGea best save this nascent season as United finished their third Premier League match this season with a third consecutive clean sheet.

A day of the substitutes for United as all three were involved in the goals scored.

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Man of the Match

Marcus Rashford. Dropped to the bench, he had a point to prove as a desperate United and Mourinho looked for a breakthough. He instantly began to terrorize the opposition with his runs, but unlike the last two matches, he finally found the back of the net to put his name on the score sheet. It’s a pivotal year for the young striker still trying to find a place for himself in the manager’s plans and this kind of clinical finishing will serve him excellently if he can build on it in the future.

Some reflections

Manchester United is showing a brilliant adaptability so far this season, as they have been challenged in different ways across all three matches so far but unlike last season when they failed to react, this season have seen those pivotal moments created that destroyed the opposition resilience. They still have more challenging tests, but going into the first international break they can be pleased with the effort so far as they looked poised to finish top of the table for another week. One of the major challenges in attack have to be quality crosses, as over thirty were attempted this match to minimal conversion. If they continue to use the wings, they have to optimize it – especially against more potent defences.

For now, two former Premier League champions left the field with a more status quo result of yesteryears than the recent exploits would have predicted.

A history lesson

  • Manchester United tonight finished on the top of the table for the 14th night of the season – that’s the total nights they have spent at the top for the past two seasons
  • Every season Manchester United have kept a clean sheet in their opening three league games of a season they have failed to win the league that year.
  • This match broke Lukaku’s goal spree since joining Manchester United. He has scored four goals in three matches for them before this one – with one against Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup and three in the League so far including a double against West Ham United.
  • This was David De Gea’s 79th clean sheet in the Premier League. Petr Cech is still on top in the all time Premier League list with 190 clean sheets for Chelsea and Arsenal.

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Avishek Chatterjee

A Devil of reddish intent, waiting for a theatre to dream again while he writes and knows things.

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