It was a day when Old Trafford bore witness to four goals in the first half – including three goals in the space of five minutes that effectively settled the game before the half time whistle as Mourinho managed to get a spectacular response from his side, in the face of some serious criticism following the three defeats in the past week for Manchester United.
United were under a lot of pressure very early in the season when they welcomed the Champions to Old Trafford but a confident start, something that was missing in the last few games – which Mourinho acknowledged himself in the post match interview, was probably the best opening 15-20 minutes they have had since the Portuguese took charge. Despite the improved intensity in their approach, it was the away side that had the best of the chances and Manchester United were looking for some inspiration from his star players until Smalling popped up with a wonderful header off a brilliant Daley Blind corner and the floodgates were open.
It was remarkable that United managed to win 4-1 against what is usually a tough nut to crack, by doing the simple things right, which they haven’t, so far. They started with a 4-2-3-1 with Herrera and Pogba in the middle and Rooney on the bench – dropped on the back of his poor showing in recent games.
But what started as a two-man midfield, gradually changed to a three-man midfield, with Lingard often dropping deeper to support Herrera as Pogba was allowed that extra freedom to venture forward with the ball. Not to mention Ander Herrera’s contribution in the game, his quick and intelligent passing coupled with his mobility, enabled Pogba to play with less pressure than he would normally have, alongside Fellaini. It suggests Mourinho might have finally found his best midfield pairing for the big games.
As a result, he was more influential in the first half against Leicester than he has been in the rest of the games put together, with the 23-year old creating three very good chances from open play that would set the tone for the rest of the match.
The link-up play between Pogba and Lingard was more efficient in front of goal than the likes of Wayne Rooney and Ibrahimovic, which was telling in the build up to the second goal – a wonderful one-touch passing move from Pogba and Lingard leading to a fine Mata finish.
With Paul Pogba, Smalling, Bailly, Ibrahimovic and Rashford in the box, all well over six feet, United naturally posed a superior aerial threat to the alternatives like Rooney or Martial and this proved to be key in three of the four goals that the Red Devils scored, especially the final goal that the Frenchman himself scored to get himself on the score-sheet for the first time in England.
The delivery of Daley Blind, who was my man of the match, was crucial as much as the quality of the aforementioned players, which really makes one wonder why he does not take corners for United on a more regular basis as the conventional taker of corners at United has not assisted a goal from a corner since the back end of 2013. Again, it’s a case of United not doing the basics right.
The second half was a more even contest as the home side clearly took their foot off the gas – but the damage was done in the first half. Sky Sports Pundit and Manchester United legend Gary Neville called the fifteen minute spell in that first 45 the best he had seen in a long time and it cannot be far from the truth. United played with a swagger that was believed to be lost and an air of authority which has been admittedly missing in them since Sir Alex stepped down as manager.
The general consensus regarding Rooney’s waning influence (some would say negative) was proved to be true on Saturday and although it is just one isolated game and performance, the difference in the side with and without the most authoritative figure at Manchester United – bar the manager – was something that Rooney himself would not have expected, to say the least. Whether Mourinho will publicly admit it or not is a different story. But the Einsteins, were after all, right again.