United off to a steady start

Goals from Pogba and Shaw puts a brief smile back on Mour­inho’s face

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - Daniel Tay­lor at Old Traf­ford

Was that, very briefly, a smile on José Mour­inho’s face?

Blink, and you might have missed it, but at least Manchester United have be­gun the new sea­son with a vic­tory and af­ter all the sul­len­ness of pre-sea­son, the com­plaints about the club’s trans­fer busi­ness and the over­whelm­ing sus­pi­cion that some­thing is not right, this was a re­minder how win­ning matches can make every­thing feel so much bet­ter.

For now at least, Old Traf­ford feels like a happy place again. But they strug­gled at times to im­pose them­selves against a ro­bust and attacking Le­ices­ter side.

Paul Pogba car­ried on where he left off in the World Cup. Fred, the ¤59 mil­lion ac­qui­si­tion from Shakhtar Donetsk, had a com­pe­tent de­but and Luke Shaw’s con­fi­dence should be boosted by scor­ing the 82nd-minute goal that ul­ti­mately de­cided the match.

Jamie Vardy, one of Le­ices­ter’s sub­sti­tutes, en­sured a ner­vous fi­nale with a stop­page-time goal but the away team al­ways had their work cut out af­ter Pogba’s third-minute penalty.

Pogba’s selec­tion came as a sur­prise given that he re­turned from his post-World Cup break only four days ear­lier. Pogba was wear­ing the cap­tain’s arm­band in the ab­sence of An­to­nio Va­len­cia and, af­ter one of the slow­est run-ups imag­in­able, it was an el­e­gantly struck penalty to send the ball be­yond Kasper Sch­me­ichel into the top cor­ner. Costly mis­take Daniel Amartey, the Le­ices­ter player was re­spon­si­ble for giv­ing away the penalty, with only 75 sec­onds gone as ref­eree, An­dre Mar­riner, was left with a rel­a­tively straight­for­ward de­ci­sion.

Wes Mor­gan was in the way to block Alexis Sánchez’s seem­ingly in­nocu­ous shot but when the ball ric­o­cheted Amartey’s way he im­pro­vised by jut­ting out his arm to bring it un­der con­trol. It was a costly mis­take and in those dif­fi­cult early stages, with United pumped up and dom­i­nat­ing the open­ing quar­ter of an hour, it looked omi- nous for the vis­i­tors.

But the pat­tern of the game had changed con­sid­er­ably be­fore half-time though Le­ices­ter ar­rived here with only one open­ing-day vic­tory from their pre­vi­ous nine at­tempts. As the first half wore on, how­ever, James Mad­di­son be­gan to show why Le­ices­ter had paid ¤27m to sign him from Nor­wich City.

De­marai Gray seemed keen to ex­plore the the­ory that Mat­teo Darmian, deputis­ing for Va­len­cia as United’s right-back, might be vul­ner­a­ble and the vis­i­tors probed for op­por­tu­ni­ties be­fore the in­ter­val.

The home crowd would have been en­ti­tled to expect more from their play­ers. Mar­cus Rash­ford, in par­tic­u­lar, looked rusty at time. Sánchez has rarely shown Old Traf­ford the gifts he once dis­played for Arse­nal and United en­dured some dif­fi­cult mo­ments at the back – bear­ing in mind their de­fence was made up of four play­ers who were largely used as un­der­stud­ies last sea­son.

Harry Maguire, one of the cen­tre-backs Mour­inho wanted to re­cruit this sum­mer, re­mind­ing us why Gareth South­gate eu­lo­gised in the World Cup about the player’s knack of “get­ting his bonce on every­thing”.

South­gate was here, too, and no doubt will have noted Luke Shaw re­turn­ing to Mour­inho’s team. Yet the at­ten­tion of the Eng­land man­ager might also have been drawn to the op­po­si­tion left-back, Ben Chilwell, who had a fine game.

For United, Pogba was the out­stand­ing player – the nut­meg on Ri­cardo Pereira, just af­ter the hour, was a joy – while An­dreas Pereira fit­ted neatly into mid­field.

Over­all, though, Mour­inho’s team looked what they prob­a­bly are: a work in progress,

David de Gea had to keep out a de­cent ef­fort from Mad­di­son and Le­ices­ter could also re­flect on the chance that Kelechi Iheana­cho skimmed just wide of the far post. Too of­ten, United were let down by an er­rant pass, par­tic­u­larly in the fi­nal third of the pitch, and that con­tin­ued af­ter Mour­inho de­cided to bring on Romelu Lukaku mid­way through the sec­ond half.

Lukaku was one of the play­ers given ex­tra time off to re­cover from the World Cup, but it was ob­vi­ous United needed more from their front play­ers and it needed a fine save from Sch­me­ichel to deny him a goal.

Shaw had one awk­ward mo­ment when Vardy dis­pos­sessed him close to his own penalty area but United’s left-back got away with that one and made amends shortly af­ter­wards by hook­ing a di­ag­o­nal shot past Sch­me­ichel from Juan Mata’s pass. Vardy’s goal was a close-range header af­ter Ri­cardo’s cross came back off the far post but Le­ices­ter could not con­jure up any more late drama.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: AN­DREW BOYERS/AC­TION IM­AGES VIA REUTERS

Manchester United goalscorer Paul Pogba holds off Le­ices­ter City’s Wil­fred Ndidi at Old Traf­ford last night.

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