Rash­ford res­cues United to spare Lukaku’s blushes

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Premier League - By Luke Ed­wards at Old Traf­ford

It is al­ways worth re­mem­ber­ing that if August proves to be your best month of the sea­son, it is safe to as­sume it will have been a dis­ap­point­ing one by the time May ar­rives, but Manch­ester United could not have done any more than this.

Early days, per­haps, but heady ones all the same for Jose Mour­inho’s side, who made it three wins out of three as they go into the in­ter­na­tional break sit­ting top of the ta­ble, look­ing down on all the other ti­tle con­tenders. Ten goals scored, none con­ceded, United have looked the best team in Eng­land up to this point.

This was not as eye-catch­ing as the crush­ing vic­to­ries over West Ham and Swansea, but that ar­guably makes it more sig­nif­i­cant. This was an im­por­tant box to tick given their re­cent fail­ings. Beat­ing res­o­lute, well-or­gan­ised teams with a lim­ited game plan had proved too much, far too of­ten last term.

Le­ices­ter made them work in­cred­i­bly hard, de­fend­ing su­perbly and when Kasper Sch­me­ichel saved Romelu Lukaku’s penalty in the sec­ond half, it threat­ened to turn into an­other one of those ex­as­per­at­ing days that sucked the life out of United’s Premier League chal­lenge last sea­son.

Yet, while Lukaku had a game he will want to for­get quickly, Mour­inho was able to send on Mar­cus Rash­ford as a sub­sti­tute. Hav­ing won a cor­ner, link­ing up well with Paul Pogba, the young Eng­land in­ter­na­tional was then in the right place to vol­ley it in.

Re­lief and joy en­gulfed Old Traf­ford. Le­ices­ter’s spir­its were bro­ken and an­other sub­sti­tute, Marouane Fel­laini, added a sec­ond, de­flect­ing in Jesse Lin­gard’s cross with his hip.

It brought a dif­fi­cult game to a suc- cess­ful con­clu­sion, although it is worth point­ing out that United also won their open­ing three games last term, yet still con­trived to fin­ish well off the ti­tle pace in sixth place. This is a good start, but that is all it is.

“This is about the mo­ti­va­tion of the team,” said Mour­inho. “I’m re­ally happy, not for me, but for the play­ers. We had games like this last sea­son which we didn’t win, but we didn’t play many matches last sea­son with the same level of con­trol as we had to­day.

“Le­ices­ter were very dan­ger­ous against Arse­nal, I watched the game three times and they were. Were they dan­ger­ous against us? No.

“We kept play­ing, we kept cre­at­ing, we kept get­ting cor­ners. We are play­ing well but I’m not get­ting car­ried away, it’s just three games.”

United be­gan with a bril­liant at­tack, slic­ing through Le­ices­ter’s back­line with sharp, pre­cise pass­ing, the ball even­tu­ally mak­ing its way to the feet of Hen­rikh Mkhi­taryan, but his shot was well blocked by Harry Maguire.

It looked omi­nous for Le­ices­ter. Lukaku should have been on his toes to cap­i­talise on a missed clear­ance, but he at least kept the dan­ger alive and when Sch­me­ichel could not hold on to his shot on the turn, Juan Mata tucked in the re­bound only for an off­side flag to be raised – a tight, but prob­a­bly cor­rect de­ci­sion.

United had their foot on Le­ices­ter’s throats, Pogba al­most steer­ing a deep cross from An­thony Mar­tial into the far cor­ner, be­fore Sch­me­ichel was at full stretch to tip away a clever curl­ing ef­fort from Mata. Le­ices­ter were gasp­ing for air and the game was not even half an hour old.

United con­tin­ued to pep­per the Le­ices­ter goal, but Sch­me­ichel did not have too many saves to make. It was start­ing to be­come a con­cern. That is why they spent £75 mil­lion on Lukaku. United’s new No9, though, was quiet, well-marked by Maguire and his cen­tre-back col­league Wes Mor­gan.

Nev­er­the­less, he was sup­posed to make a dif­fer­ence against packed de­fences like this, but his move­ment can be pre­dictable, and when he did have chances in the sec­ond half, he did not take them.

Le­ices­ter fi­nally made a mis­take, Danny Simp­son sticking out an arm to block a cross in­side the area. Lukaku would not get a bet­ter chance to break the dead­lock, but Sch­me­ichel read which way he would put the penalty and made an ex­cel­lent save.

Mour­inho re­mained calm and sent on fresh legs, Rash­ford and Fel­laini both mak­ing a dif­fer­ence as Le­ices­ter faded.

“It was not an in­tel­li­gent sub­sti­tu­tion, they are just good play­ers,” added Mour­inho mod­estly.

“We knew we would have to frus­trate coming here and for large parts of the game we did that re­ally well,” said Le­ices­ter man­ager Craig Shake­speare. “But we knew they would have a mo­ment and they took it.”

Su­per sub: Mar­cus Rash­ford turns away to cel­e­brate af­ter vol­ley­ing United into the lead

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