Manchester United got back to winning ways in the Premier League on Saturday, recording a convincing 4-1 victory over reigning champions Leicester City. Chris Smalling, Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba netted in a first half blitz, with Demarai Gray scoring a consolation for the Foxes soon after the restart.
Leicester actually made an ominously solid start to the match, displaying the kind of defensive discipline that saw them to the title last season. United were too ponderous in possession, allowing Claudio Ranieri’s side to retreat into an impregnable defensive shape. The visitors occasionally threatened on the counter, too, though profligate finishing ensured David de Gea remained untested.
The match was thus rather cagey when United managed to find a breakthrough, with Chris Smalling leaping above everyone to power a Daley Blind corner past Ron-Robert Zieler midway through the opening period. But the old adage that goals change games proved very much the case, and before long United were playing some of the best football Old Trafford has witnessed over the last few years.
They twice went close to doubling their lead in quick succession: first Marcus Rashford snatched at a low Zlatan Ibrahimović cross, before Ibra himself volleyed over after taking receipt of a fine Paul Pogba chip with his back to goal. Leicester were struggling, and United smelled blood.
It took 10 minutes, but eventually United did have a second. A rasping Juan Mata drive beat Zieler after some intricate build-up play involving both Pogba and Jesse Lingard, as the hosts looked to turn the screw.
From there, United added two more before the interval, with both coming from corners. The first was poked home by Rashford after the Leicester defence was caught short by a quick take, while the second was an emphatic header from Pogba, who opened his United account on a perfect Blind delivery. The halftime whistle sounded with United four goals to the good, and with Leicester looking totally outclassed.
Ranieri reacted by pulling off both Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez at the interval, seemingly accepting defeat and the chance to rest two of his key players ahead of the midweek Champions League fixtures. With a bolstered midfield, Leicester looked a little more sturdy after the restart, and United a touch more pedestrian.
However, the hosts were reminded they were still in a game just short of the hour, when halftime substitute Demarai Gray skipped past both Jesse Lingard and Antonio Valencia en route to curling a spectacular shot into the top corner of de Gea’s goal. United had to raise their game, and ensure it was to be nothing more than a consolation.
Mourinho’s men didn’t manage to recover the dominance of the first half, and indeed further chances fell Leicester’s way. But fortune favoured the hosts, who held on for a comfortable win that provisionally moves them up into third place in the Premier League table.