Manchester United recorded only their second league victory of the calendar year on Sunday, earning a 3-0 win away at struggling Leicester City. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Zlatan Ibrahimović netted twice in quick succession shortly before the break, with Juan Mata adding a third soon after the restart. United are now only two points adrift of fourth-placed Arsenal, with a Champions League charge very much on.
Despite having been two up at halftime, the opening period was initially anything but plain sailing for United. It quickly became clear that José Mourinho had elected to mirror Leicester’s shape by shoving Marcus Rashford up alongside Ibrahimović in attack, though the Foxes matched their visitors in midfield, and United struggled to make anything stick. It was arguably one of the more disjointed performances from Mourinho’s men so far this season.
It wasn’t until United reverted to a more familiar formation, with Rashford out on the left, that things perked up. The first clear opening came midway through the first half, and tellingly it was Mkhitaryan who was chiefly responsible for its creation. Having initially started out wide, the Armenian was given a freer role in the reshuffle, and interchanged nicely with Mata before pulling a low cross into the area. It sat up nicely for Rashford, though his half-volley lacked control, and sailed over the Leicester crossbar. The teenage attacker was involved once again when the game’s next chance arrived, though his near-post snapshot was tipped around the post by an excellent Kasper Schmeichel reflex save.
Slowly but surely United were turning up the pressure, and when the opening goal arrived shortly before the interval, it came as no surprise. Mkhitaryan got to a Chris Smalling header before an overeager Robert Huth, nicked past the German defender, angled a pacy run away from Wes Morgan, and slotted home via a deflection off Schmeichel’s knee.
Leicester subsequently crumbled, and within two minutes found themselves as many goals down. Ibrahimović was inexplicably allowed to pull away from three Foxes defenders to meet a low Antonio Valencia cross, and took full advantage of his hosts’ generosity by slotting a first-time shot into the Leicester goal. Having made life so difficult for United for so much of the opening period, the Leicester’s meltdown was sudden and surprising. Poor Claudio.
Ranieri’s attempts at halftime reorganisation proved entirely in vain, with United adding a third within five minutes of the restart. The Mata-Mkhitaryan combination continued to blossom, with the latter slotting home from close range after an embarrassingly simple one-two through the Leicester defence. In all, it was three goals in seven minutes for United, a veritable tonic after a string of three impotent league performances.
Only after Mata blew a golden opportunity to add a fourth did Leicester finally muster a reaction, though it was far too little and equally late. David de Gea remained largely untested, and United had no problems seeing out what was eventually a comfortable win.