Manchester United beat Leicester City for the third time this season – an emphatic and largely comfortable stroll-in-the-park 0-3 victory at the King Power Stadium after goals from Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Juan Mata.
United started with a similar line-up to the one that demolished the champions at Old Trafford back in September, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marcos Rojo this time in place of Jesse Lingard and Daley Blind. The visitors, after a slow start – for the first 20 minutes, managed to score the opening goal out of virtually nowhere when the Armenian picked the ball up in the halfway line and ran the remaining length of the pitch to score past Kasper Schmeichel and give Mourinho’s side the lead.
The first goal came following a minor tweak in the side around the 20-minute mark. From what looked like a 4-4-1-1 at the start, Mourinho switched to a 4-2-3-1 with Mkhitaryan in the hole and Marcus Rashford out wide hugging the touchline. United were then able to attack with pace through the middle and Mkhitaryan’s diligent work ethic (5 tackles completed) meant they were rarely going to be outnumbered centrally like they were in the initial periods of the first half. Another goal followed within two minutes when Valencia found an unmarked Ibrahimovic within eight yards of goal – and the 35-year old duly converted to score his 20th goal in all competitions (15 in the league) giving the away side some much needed breathing space ahead of the second half.
The game was truly put to bed about four minutes into the second half when Mkhitaryan combined with Mata, setting up the latter for his eighth of the campaign – killing any residual hopes of a comeback reminiscent of 2014/15. United controlled the game for most part but more importantly, they managed to convert their chances – something they have not done in almost all of their 9 draws this season. Mourinho stressed on the importance of the win and three points in a weekend when fellow top four rivals Arsenal and Liverpool had dropped points. He said,
“It was really important for us. We lost two points in the last match at home and had three consecutive draws so we needed the points. I am happy. We don’t have a league defeat since October and if we tried to transform the unlucky draws to victories, we would be in an amazing position.”
United are unbeaten in the league since October (15 games in total), which is testament to how hard this side has become to beat under Mourinho. At the back, their approach has, as Mourinho would describe, been ‘no nonsense’. Chris Smalling, for instance, completed 19 out of 20 clearances at the King Power Stadium in a game the Red Devils won 3-0 – only 2 players in the Premier League have made more in a single match this season.
But there is a growing influence of Mkhitaryan in this new look unyielding United side as they seem more fluid and off-the-cuff in possession than they have been in recent years and definitely much more direct than under the previous regime. Although the management of him has been questionable at the best of times, the player has come out in flying colors, vindicating the manager’s decision to go down a route that may not always work. Especially with young players like Anthony Martial.
The Frenchman was left on the bench as an unused substitute for the second game in a row at a time when United could really do with someone as tenacious and penetrative as him down that left flank, a position that Marcus Rashford is currently filling in, albeit only temporarily, given his hot and cold performances.
Having scored 17 goals in all competitions last season, there is sufficient evidence that suggests Martial would do more than most in this Manchester United squad in terms of easing the burden on Zlatan Ibrahimovic to score goals which is the primary issue at Manchester United.
Mourinho has always had it his way in the end in all the previous clubs he managed with the exception of his final season at Chelsea but it remains to be seen whether he would compromise his ego-driven management ideology for a genuine shot at improving the team ahead of a taxing footballing schedule.