Manchester United’s stunning first half display saw them rip open Leicester City in a 4-1 thrashing at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Despite dominating the first half, United sat back in the second half with Leicester having most of the ball but Jose Mourinho will be happy enough that he has shut up those “football Einsteins” for the time being.
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Here’s what we learned from Old Trafford.
UNITED DYNAMIC WITHOUT ROONEY
When United’s captain and talisman was left out of Mourinho’s starting lineup, it wasn’t too surprising but still
In the week Mourinho slammed “football Einsteins” for trying to erase both his and United’s history. Many were simply pointing out that Rooney and Marouane Fellaini were out of sorts and should be dropped. No matter if he slammed the Einsteins, Mourinho listened to them.
With Rooney out of the team and only coming on in the final 10 minutes for a brief cameo, he may find it tough to get back into Mourinho’s plans. United’s attacking unit looked more fluid without their captain sitting in the No.10 role and slowing things down as he has been with his loose passing and long balls out wide.
Rooney is still a quality player and will likely become United’s all-time leading goalscorer at some point this season but in this current United team he looks out of place. He won’t start up front ahead of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcus Rashford and the likes of Juan Mata and Paul Pogba seem better suited to playing in the attacking midfield roles.
Perhaps Rooney will find a starting spot out wide in this Mourinho team? Right now, he’ll just be grateful to play but this was a big call by Mourinho as his team looked much more dynamic in the final third without Rooney. Just as most of us assumed.
UNLEASHED POGBA RETURNS
Paul Pogba was sublime in a more advanced role on Saturday.
In the first half alone he dinked a majestic ball through to Zlatan who volleyed over, sprayed a lovely long ball wide to Antonio Valencia, lobbed after great pass to Jesse Lingard in the build up to Mata’s goal and then powered home a header to make it 4-0.
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He was so positive in possession and his clever balls to Zlatan kept putting Leicester on the back foot. Mourinho has finally found a way to get the best out of Pogba and as the most expensive player in the world dabbed in celebration following his first-ever goal for the Red Devils, his sense of relief was palpable.
Dropping Rooney and Fellaini was a big call but the balance between Pogba, Mata and Ander Herrera in central midfield was almost perfect. Not playing in a more defensive midfield role for the first time this season, the shackles were off Pogba and on Saturday he controlled the game in a man of the match display.
FOXES DEFENSIVE WOES CONCERNING
Leicester City have now conceded four goals in each of their last two away games and basic defensive errors are costing Claudio Ranieri‘s side. Against United it was switching off from set pieces which was their downfall.
Robert Huth lost Smalling for United’s first, Daniel Amarety switched off on a short corner for United’s third and Chrstian Fuchs couldn’t handle Pogba for United’s fourth. If you were to record the way Leicester defended those set pieces, you’d show them to a youth team under the title “how not to defend defensive set pieces.” So often we take for granted the form of Simpson, Huth, Morgan and Fuchs last season but let’s remember, they all played at 100 percent and hardly put a foot wrong in their title-winning campaign. That can’t continue for a sustained period of time.
Yes, Leicester have lost three of their opening six games this season (the same number of games they lost in the whole of last season) but we have to put this start into perspective. Having an away game in UEFA Champions League sandwiched in-between trips to Liverpool and United, plus home games against Burnley in the PL and Chelsea in the EFL Cup, have overloaded Ranieri’s side. They looked a little jaded throughout and only the introduction of Demarai Gray and Andy King at half time livened them as the talismanic duo of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez were subbed out.
Ranieri clearly had Tuesday’s UCL home game against FC Porto on his mind but at the back of his thoughts he’ll also have lingering doubts about his defensive unit. That’s something he never had last season.