The Premier League returned with a slow start rather than a big bang at Old Trafford on Friday as Jose Mourinho’s men carved out a 2-1 win over Leicester City. World Cup winner Paul Pogba’s 3rd minute goal and Luke Shaw’s 83rd minute strike was enough to hand Mourinho 3 points to start his 3rd campaign as Manchester United manager.
The three points preserved his 100%-win record in his 9th opening day fixture. Substitute Jamie Vardy gave the home supporters a scare in 90+2 minutes when he pulled back one for the visitors and smeared what would have been a perfect night for Mourinho.
It was the second time the opening game is being played on a Friday and Leicester City was featured in both fixtures. The last time these two met was August 1998 where Manchester United came from 2-0 down to draw the game with goals from David Beckham and Teddy Sheringham.
Manchester United were off to a flyer when Alexis Sanchez unleashed a cracker towards goal and the ball struck Daniel Amartey on the top of his arm from a deflection off captain Wes Morgan and the referee pointed to the spot. After a lengthy deliberation between captain Pogba and Sanchez over the responsibility of the penalty, the Frenchman took matters in his own hands. Pogba stuttered on his run up, taking an age to arrive at the ball but when he did his powerful shot zoomed over a hapless Kasper Schmeichel for a 1-0 lead.
One would have thought after Leicester conceded that early goal it would have knock the stuffing out of them, but it however caused them to dig deeper. They maintained possession for long spells, pegging Manchester United in their own half.
New man Fred, who was handed his debut by Mourinho conceded a soft foul on James Maddison in a good left-sided position for Leicester. Ben Chilwell delivered the set-piece . but it was headed away to safety. Demarai Gray was barged over by Matteo Darmian in an even better position and this time Maddison delivery was a good one, but Pogba cleared with no Leicester player inside the six-yard box to attack it.
Manchester United despite getting an early lead seems to be the weaker team in the contest as they just sat deep and chased In the 20th minute Gray bamboozled Darmian with a few tricks but Eric Bailly was in a very good position to stab his low cross away at the near post,
Wilfried Ndidi rifled the loose ball low at David De Gea from 25 yards who handled it smartly. Shortly after Leicester came again and Kelechi Iheanacho flashed one just wide from an angle, although he was flagged offside. At this stage Leicester has the lion’s share of the ball, United seemingly content to wait for the counter.
Ricardo Pereira in one of his daunting runs down the right flank whipped in a teasing ball in to Maddison who found some space in the box, to fire off a screamer from 12-yards out but his shot was superbly saved by De Gea. Iheanacho could not make anything of the spill.
With five minutes to the half United finally got hold of the ball and started to put a few passes together. Sanchez dazzled away from a few of the Foxes players down the left but was dispossessed easily as he waited for Shaw to overlap.
Manchester United came out from the break looking sharp. They swept forward in the 56th minute and Darmian drilled one low at Schmeichel from the top of the box, who gathered at the second attempt. The second half was certainly being played more in Leicester territory than the first. In the 62nd minute, Bailly who arguably the best player on the pitch, defended superbly in getting across to prevent Iheanacho – who has scored at Old Trafford for Manchester City – from getting onto a long pass.
Puel decided to change things up a little by putting Jamie Vardy in for Maddison who was quieter in the second half, Amartey was taken off and was replaced by Rachid Ghezzal.
A glorious chance came for Mata in the 70th minute from a dazzling first-time ball from Pogba, which bypassed the Leicester midfield and gave Sanchez the chance to tee the Spaniard up, but his side footed effort from 18 yards was deflected wide, but a goal kick was given.
Six minutes later Leicester City’s talisman Jamie Vardy barged Shaw off the ball – legally, despite the home protestations – near the right byline, had acres of space and whipped a low-ball in. Gray met it on the run and jabbed it towards goal, but De Gea was down smartly to clutch to his right. That could have been 1-1, it was the best thing they had done all half.
Deep into the second half it was all Manchester United. Sanchez hustled well and squared a ball to a completely unmarked Romelu Lukaku 10 yards out, but Schmeichel deflected his shot just over the crossbar with a leg! Fine goalkeeping but that should have been game over. It was United’s first clear chance since the penalty.
A game of two halves, Manchester United continued to press while maintaining possession and they managed to get the insurance goal through an unlikely source.
Mata dinked a ball across to Shaw, who had gone clear of his man. Shaw seemed to have mis-controlled it but, the ball stayed within his grasp and he managed to hook it across Schmeichel and into the far corner! In the end it was a great finish.The celebrations, from Mourinho too, was long and exuberant. It was the first goal of Shaw’s career!
One would have thought that would be curtains but Vardy had different intensions. In the first minute of time added on Ricardo Pereira found a totally unmarked Vardy, who volleyed a well weighted delivery over the crossbar from 10 yards.
A minute later, Ricardo Pereira sizzled in a sublime cross, which caught De Gea and Bailly in two minds. The ball pinged off the post, and fell to Vardy,who fired in from point-blank range. It was a scary end to the opener for the home team, but they managed to get over the line to settle the nerves of the worrying fans.