August 26, 2017
Manchester United were eventually able to break down a resolute, organised Leicester side winning 2-0 at Old Trafford.
Solid as a rock
Having scored eight goals in their first two matches, Manchester United came into the match being praised for their free flowing attack. While goals always make the headlines, it would be a disservice to ignore the defensive performance of the team. Leicester City had scored five goals in their first two games and have regained their decisiveness in attack under Craig Shakespeare. United, however, were able to snuff out every Leicester counter attack with little trouble, conceding just one clear chance which was well saved at the near post by David De Gea. Riyad Mahrez was only able to get the better of Daley Blind on one occasion and Valencia was equally impressive on the right-hand side of the pitch, only being beaten on one occasion by second half substitute, Demarai Gray. Leicester’s goal poacher, Jamie Vardy, wasn’t allowed a single shot by centre-backs, Eric Bailly and Phil Jones. United have been putting a lot of attacking pressure on teams but they would not be able to maintain that pressure without the defence breaking up opposition attacks and getting the ball back into opposition territory.
Pick your poison
Presumably having watched Nemanja Matic marshal the game in central midfield at home against West Ham, Craig Shakespeare decided to have Shinji Okazaki man mark the Serbian. Although this did stymie Matic’s influence on the game, particularly early on, it meant that Paul Pogba was afforded space in deep positions. Despite being outnumbered two to one by Leicester’s midfielders Pogba frequently found spaces in midfield and out wide, allowing him to dictate and control the match. Whether he was playing long, diagonal passes to Daley Blind or freeing himself for long shots, Pogba repeatedly took advantage of the space that Leicester’s deep lying midfield afforded him. In Leicester’s defence, trying to man mark a player who moves around the pitch as much as Pogba is likely to ruin the teams shape but having reduced the influence of Matic, Leicester brought an official Premier League man of the match performance from Pogba.
Flying full backs
It was no surprise that Manchester United dominated possession at Old Trafford on Saturday evening. They were a huge team playing at home against a team in Leicester City that is happy to cede possession to the opposition. It was however surprising that the often risk averse Jose Mourinho allowed both of his full backs to push up into wide positions and overlap the wide men in front of them. Although United’s width didn’t yield a goal it was an important factor in keeping the pressure on Leicester throughout the match and taking advantage of Leicester’s narrow back four. Both full backs provided reliable attacking outlets and prevented United’s wide men from being defended by two Leicester players.
In United’s first two games the team were ahead when the first substitution was made; today the substitutes made the breakthrough. First Marcus Rashford turned in Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s corner, then Lingard ran at a tiring Leicester defence before cutting in and having his right footed strike deflected in off another substitute Marouane Fellaini. These were the third and fourth goals scored by substitutes this season which goes to show the strength and breadth of attacking options Jose Mourinho has coming off the bench regardless of who starts.
Manchester United can go into the International break with confidence having proved to themselves that they can break down teams that defend in numbers and turn last season’s draws into victories.