LONDON — Manchester United beat Leicester 2-1 at Wembley in the Community Shield on Sunday as Zlatan Ibrahimovich was the hero.
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Zlatan scored the winning goal late on but that didn’t tell the whole story as Leicester pushed United back and a disjointed Red Devils side somewhat snatched the win.
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Here’s a look at what we learned from an intense encounter at Wembley.
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UNITED’S REBUILD NOWHERE NEAR COMPLETE
Stood on the sidelines with his hands in his pockets, Jose Mourinho cut a frustrated figured on the sidelines in the sun at Wembley. He has every right to be.
After a calamitous preseason tour to China — their friendly against Manchester City was canceled due to a poor pitch — ate into his precious preparation time ahead of his debut season in charge of United, his team looked off the pace for large periods of the Community Shield against Leicester. Even when Jesse Lingard scored a superb solo goal following his slaloming 40-yard run it came against the run of play.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic labored up front but his first touch let him down on numerous occasions and he looked rusty, despite his game-winner late on. Wayne Rooney tried to get involved but again looked off the pace. Marouane Fellaini‘s horrendous error to let in Jamie Vardy for his goal summed up his game, while Michael Carrick alongside him was over run.
Even when Paul Pogba’s arrival is announced in the coming day, that won’t solve United’s issues in midfield. He will run and maraud forward but there’s no enforcer, no destroyer to break things up. Mourinho always has one of those and right now it is the one gaping hole United need to address. Fast.
Behind Mourinho’s smile at the final whistle there was an a shrug of the shoulders as he embraced Claudio Ranieri. That told you all you needed to know.
Yes, United won, but there’s still plenty of work to do on the long road to recovery. Over half of the United players on the pitch realize they are walking on a tightrope and must improve or face the same fate as Bastian Schweinsteiger and others who have been cast aside by a ruthless and hungry Mourinho.
BAILLY A BEAST
Much has been made about the imminent arrival of Pogba and United’s capture of the enigmatic Zlatan this summer but Eric Bailly‘s signing has flown under the radar. It won’t for much longer.
Arriving from Villarreal for short of $40 million, 22-year-old Bailly has been a force during United’s preseason and he continued that impressive form on Sunday. Several times he stepped in to snuff out chances before they developed and his pace and power allowed him to face Vardy and come out on top. He made a superb sliding tackle midway through the first half as Vardy raced clear and his calmness on the ball to try connect passes was applauded by Mourinho on more than one occasion, even if a couple of his other efforts when into touch. He’s in the team to tackle, head and defend and he does that with ease.
Bailly was booked by referee Craig Pawson in the second half for a shoulder barge on Vardy but it was harsh. With Antonio Valencia looking solid at right back and Luke Shaw easing himself back in at left back, United’s biggest question defensively is who they now play alongside Bailly. For now it is Daley Blind but neither he or Chris Smalling seem like long-term solutions. The young Ivorian defender certainly does.
SAME OLD LEICESTER
Leicester were very, very unlucky on Sunday. Shinji Okazaki went close and hit the bar in the first half, plus Ahmed Musa headed just over late on as they pushed United hard.
Ranieri will be pleased with how his team performed but something has been cropping up in preseason which didn’t impact them last season: defensive errors. Against Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona in preseason games Leicester conceded four goals on both occasions. Making the step up to the UEFA Champions League this season, Ranieri’s men are picking up valuable lessons and must now figure out how to learn from them.
On Zlatan’s game-winning goal Valencia was given too much time to make his move, surge down the right and clip the ball to the back post where Ibrahimovich was waiting. Captain Wes Morgan hardly ever seemed to be beaten in the air last season. Zlatan bossed him. On Lingard’s opener a huge gaping hole opened up in the area of midfield N'Golo Kante patrolled expertly last season. Replacing him will perhaps by Leicester’s biggest worry this season.
Little mistakes were creeping in but overall it was the same old Leicester we saw battle to the title last season. Vardy was a pest. Musa and Demarai Gray injected even more pace in the second half to great effect and the Foxes never gave up.
We won’t see anything different from Leicester this season as they pressed high, worked tirelessly and played in the same formation with virtually the same personnel as last season, Kante aside. The problem for Ranieri is that teams have now had two months over the summer to decipher just how they could stop Leicester.
The biggest issue for Leicester is not that other teams have figured them out. It is perhaps that they already seem more likely to beat themselves than they did at any point throughout their incredible, mystical campaign in 2015-16.