Jose Mourinho calls on the cavalry to ride to Manchester United's rescue
Second-half substitutes Marcus Rashford and Marouane Fellaini score to preserve United's winning start to the season against Leicester
Old Trafford can seem the spiritual home of the super-sub. It is 18 years since Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came off the bench to make Manchester United Champions League winners. Javier Hernandez’s brilliance in cameos is more recent. Now, once again, United can attribute their prowess to their strength in depth.
Anthony Martial had started the season by scoring in successive substitute appearances. As he was promoted to the starting 11, Marcus Rashford was demoted. The Englishman scored four minutes after his introduction to provide the elusive breakthrough against an obdurate Leicester side. Jesse Lingard and Marouane Fellaini, the other replacements Jose Mourinho used, then combined for a second. United have 10 league goals this season and, remarkably, half have come from substitutes. It shows their resources, even before the re-signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic is fit to figure.
Those 10 goals have produced nine points. It helps, too, that they have three clean sheets. This is an immaculate start, one in keeping with Mourinho’s past. More recent history came to mind when Leicester held out.
United were undermined by draws at Old Trafford last season. Their new-found attacking intent was apparent from the off. They showed positivity and persistence, unleashing a barrage of attempts.
Leicester defended with great determination. They were boxed in, but they showed a willingness to block anything that came into their penalty area. They also ensured the majority of United’s many efforts came from outside the box. This is a challenge United will face again: can they break down such packed defences?
Eventually they did. Henrikh Mkhitaryan extended his outstanding start to the season with a fifth assist in three games with a corner that Rashford volleyed in. The catalyst played a part in the second, too, releasing Lingard. His shot was turned in by Fellaini, with his knee and possibly offside.
But the marginal calls evened themselves out. Juan Mata had a goal chalked off when he was deemed offside after converting the rebound following a Schmeichel save from Romelu Lukaku.
This is an interactive Opta map. Click on the two circles to see how each goal for Manchester United was scored.
It was not the only one. Schmeichel spent some of his youth seeing a Danish goalkeeper making superb saves at Old Trafford. It was like winding back the clock to the 1990s, albeit with United frustrated rather than elated by a display of athleticism, when he somehow tipped Mata’s chip away.
Yet it may not have been his best stop. When Martial crossed and the Old Trafford old boy Danny Simpson handled, Lukaku was afforded an ideal opportunity to become the first player to score in his opening three Premier League games for United. Yet Schmeichel guessed right and saved his spot kick.
An opportunity to make history was spurned. The Dane is a penalty specialist and this was a special stop. It was to United’s credit, however, that they retained the persistence that was a feature from the off. They are a more attack-minded side this season; as last season’s top five all outscored them by at least 23 goals, they needed to be. They recorded 22 attempts in total.
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The ambition of Paul Pogba was evident when he came close with a wonderful effort from long range. He tried his luck seven times in 17 minutes, four from outside the penalty area, in signs of the confidence coursing through his veins. His was another dominant display
Meanwhile, Leicester’s attacks were sporadic but they could have led soon after Lukaku’s penalty. Roma have bid for Riyad Mahrez and he has voiced a desire to leave but, once again, his commitment could not be questioned. David de Gea denied both him and Andy King. United have yet to drop a point and they have yet to concede.
Updated: August 26, 2017 10:57 PM