Manchester United played incredibly to beat Leicester 4-1 at Old Trafford. It was the best performance I’ve seen since United beat Arsenal at the Emirates in February, but while that seemed like a one-off, this wasn’t. Goals from captain Chris Smalling, Marcus Rashford, Juan Mata and, most importantly, Paul Pogba, gave United the win despite a goal-of-the-season contender from Leicester’s teenage sensation Demarai Gray.
Manchester United started brightly, with Daley Blind and Zlatan Ibrahimovic flashing shots wide in the first 10 minutes. The tempo of the match from both teams was at a very high pace for the first time this season, in United’s case. The first attempt of the match fell to the Foxes in the 17th minute, from a corner, but Danny Drinkwater’s two attempts were both blocked by Paul Pogba before Robert Huth fired well over the bar from wide-right.
The game slowed down a lot before some excellent link-up play between Pogba, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford allowed Blind to win a corner. The resulting effort, in the 23rd minute, ended up being a Blind assist for a towering Chris Smalling header into the back of the net.
United was afforded an opportunity to counter-attack in the 25th minute, when Lingard’s pressing allowed Ander Herrera to play an outstanding ball to Ibrahimovic and start a counter. Ibrahimovic didn’t have an angle to put Rashford completely clear, and Ron-Robert Zieler’s goalkeeping was on point to deny him the angle. By the 27th minute, United was showboating, with Pogba playing a phenomenal ball into Zlatan for a volley. Ibrahimovic’s effort was (just) wide.
Pogba continued the attacking efforts with an incredible strike from almost thirty yards that Zieler had to push out for a corner. The corner was cleared and killed by Leicester’s pressing, but United kept the ball for another spell of triangular possession football.
United made it 2-0 in wonderful fashion, as Lingard had a wonderful chest-down to Mata for an incredible half-volleyed finish. Mata’s goal solidified opinions that this has been the best United performance so far by a mile.
That opinion was solidified in the 40th minute, as Mata picked up the assist for Rashford’s 4th goal of the season. It came from a clever corner routine in which Mata lost his marker for a short pass into the box from Blind, and Mata slotted to Rashford who had almost nothing to do. United made it 4-0 in the 42nd minute from the man, Paul Pogba, who capped off an excellent first half performance with a goal. Blind picked up yet another assist as well.
After half-time, Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy were replaced by Andy King and Demarai Gray, and the latter scored an absolutely ridiculous goal in the 60th minute with a stunning strike that was unstoppable. Leicester was the better side, pressing well and trying to create opportunities against a United side that seemed to be holding their own.
Jesse Lingard had a chance of his own, created by Mata and Valencia down the right. He had a chance to fire an effort from the top of the box, but it was just over and Zieler had it covered if it was a little bit lower in the 64th minute. Lingard did the same for Ibrahimovic in the 67th minute, but Ibrahimovic’s low effort was well saved by Zieler and deflected out for a corner from which nothing came.
Chances of the same type were created by Leicester, with Gray squaring for fellow substitute Andy King, who should’ve done more with the effort. United was offered an even match in midfield and conceded more chances as a result, but King wasn’t able to capitalize on this one. United’s first substitution occurred in the 78th minute as Carrick replaced Lingard to give United the extra man in midfield again.
Rooney made his bow, as did Young, for Rashford and Mata late in the game, and United pressed the opposition some more, but nothing really came from it as the match wound to a close. United played extraordinarily in the first half and the visitors wouldn’t have been disappointed with Gray’s superlative strike to console the Foxes. Ultimately, it was a great performance and a starting point for the next couple of weeks, when United can settle down and begin to rotate the squad properly.
Goals: Chris Smalling 22, Juan Mata 37, Marcus Rashford 40′, Paul Pogba 42′
Assists: Jesse Lingard 37′, Juan Mata 40′, Daley Blind 22′, 42′
Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Bailly, Blind; Herrera, Pogba; Lingard (Carrick 78′), Mata (Young 87′), Rashford (Rooney 83′); Ibrahimovic
Substitutes Not Used: Romero; Fosu-Mensah, Rojo; Fellaini