MANCHESTER — Three quick thoughts as Manchester United beat Leicester City 2-0 at Old Trafford.
1. Man United made to work for third win
You cannot win every game 4-0, of course, but in a game that might have ended 0-0 last season, Manchester United still found a way to come out on top. They were made to work by Leicester, and it wasn’t until the 70th minute that Marcus Rashford came off the bench to break the deadlock. Another substitute, Marouane Fellaini, added a second eight minutes from time.
The goals mean that United have won their first three Premier League games for the second season in a row. Mourinho insists, because of what happened last season, that it means nothing, but this team has more of a swagger about it. There was a feeling of inevitability about the goal when it came. During those 10 home draws last season, that sense was missing.
By half-time, United had squashed Leicester into two banks of blue on the edge of their own penalty area but still ended the first 45 minutes with nothing to show for their dominance. They walked off having had nearly 70 percent possession and 14 attempts of goal with Paul Pogba, freed to go forward with the insurance of Nemanja Matic behind him, had six on his own.
Juan Mata had a goal harshly ruled out for offside, Pogba should have scored from Anthony Martial’s cross and Kasper Schmeichel produced a stunning save to deny Mata. It was a better first-half performance than in either of the 4-0 wins over West Ham and Swansea, but United should then have gone ahead shortly after the re-start.
After Danny Simpson had handled Martial’s cross in the box, Lukaku saw his penalty saved by Schmeichel. Had he scored, the Belgium international would have become the first United player since Jimmy Hanson in 1925 to score in his first four competitive games.
There was a scare when David De Gea was forced into a save at his near post from Riyad Mahrez, but then Rashford took over. Coming on for Juan Mata, he steered in Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s corner from 10 yards out. Then it was just up to Fellaini to add the finishing touch.
United have now scored 10 goals in three games. But for all the talk of the attack, they have also gone more than seven hours without conceding a league goal, a run stretching back to mid-May.
2. Rashford rises to Mourinho’s challenge
Mourinho made just one change to the team that thumped West Ham and Swansea, bringing in Martial at the expense of Rashford. The France forward deserved his chance after scoring twice from the bench this season, but equally, Rashford hasn’t done a lot wrong. He was made to wait until the 67th minute to get his opportunity, but the teenager didn’t take long to grasp it.
After winning a corner on the right, Mkhitaryan swung the ball in the penalty area, and Rashford finished a difficult chance to lift the growing frustration at Old Trafford. He’d only been on the pitch three minutes.
If Mourinho was throwing down a challenge to Rashford with his team selection, then the 19-year-old delivered the perfect answer. Mourinho has been at pains to stress that he is finding it difficult to pick a squad at the moment, let alone a team. Captain Michael Carrick and new £31 million defender Victor Lindelof were not even in the matchday 18 on Saturday.
It may be that Martial and Rashford are locked in a battle to start all season. If Martial had the upper hand after two games, Rashford made a point of his own with his first goal of the season.
3. Leicester can look up, not down
When Leicester turned up at Old Trafford early last season, it felt like the title-winning champagne was still wearing off and United were 4-0 up at half-time. Leicester’s form didn’t pick up until Craig Shakespeare took over from Claudio Ranieri in February, and the reigning champions began to climb away from the relegation places.
They shouldn’t have the same problems this season.
Leicester were unlucky to lose to Arsenal on the opening weekend and ran out comfortable winners against Brighton at home last week. There is enough about Shakespeare’s team to suggest they should be looking to challenge for a place in Europe rather than looking over their shoulders at the bottom three.
They will want to keep Mahrez despite interest from Roma as this was one of the games when the Algeria international decided to turn it on. He gave Daley Blind a tough time down Leicester’s right and forced De Gea into a good low save early in the second half.
Mourinho said before the game that Leicester are back looking like the team that won the title, and he is right. There is no reason why they shouldn’t have their eye on the top eight this season.
Rob is ESPN FC’s Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.